What kind of work did you do before you came to city government?

I’m originally from Louisville, Kentucky. I have a master’s in urban planning from University of Delaware and a PhD in geography from the University of Kentucky and a BA from Kentucky State. When I began graduate school in Delaware, I was focused heavily on community development and housing inequality. A lot of the work I did while working at the NC Housing Finance Agency informed the work I was doing there. We were looking at issues like gentrification and housing insecurity.

That led me into a more academic terrain when I went to University of Kentucky … looking at the origins of the urban crisis, which was connected to many of the racial zoning laws in the 1800s and 1900s. As geographers, we look at points and lines, but my work specifically is about the idea of belonging, that people are looking for places to feel and call home.

What did you do at Brandeis University?

I was the director of DEI [diversity, equity, and inclusion] programming, education, training, and development, where I was leading the conversations around inequality. One of the things I was working on at Brandeis is ensuring we really have an inclusive model in dealing with inequity. That we are talking about racial inequity, anti-Blackness and anti-Semitism, transphobia, homophobia, classism, we’re talking about mental health. We live in a city that has multiple different communities, and most communities overlap. So how do we help them feel safe?

What do you want to do as Raleigh’s new director of equity and inclusion?

Add empathy and feeling into the work. DEI is a big buzzword, especially in the past couple years. But for me, it’s not just a buzzword— it’s really about empathy and compassion. In addition to our commitments and the positions we have, some of the best, best work we can do is one-on-one conversations.

The work that we’re doing is looking internal but also external. That means really being involved with the community members. There are people who have been historically marginalized and excluded [from this work], and we’re trying to bring them into the conversations, learn from them. Inclusion isn’t just a one-off, a conversation we had in response to something. It means we’re always curating and cultivating belonging.

What’s on the top of your to-do list?

Building partnerships between everyday citizens and the municipality. I think it’s easy to look at people in government as being people on top of a hill, not having connections. So our plan is to have more dialogue, conversations.

We’re also focused on how we can deliver services that can ensure equity is embedded in everything. The council and the mayor are extremely passionate about ensuring the work I’m leading is not just off in the corner. I’m having conversations with housing and planning, with the police department, the fire department. 

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Follow Staff Writer Jasmine Gallup on Twitter or send an email to jgallup@indyweek.com.