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Updated: May 15, 2023 Editorial

Editorial: Worcester steps up funding on diversity initiatives

In her February 2022 resignation letter as the City of Worcester’s chief diversity officer, Stephanie Williams wrote when it really came down to it, New England’s second-largest city treated diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts as extracurricular activities. She added if the City wanted DEI initiatives to truly succeed, the person who would fill her shoes would need more than just a title to overcome the significant institutional barriers that kept her from affecting change.

At the time, it appeared the City’s DEI efforts would go the way of so many other well-meaning initiatives started in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The intentions were noble, and in some cases represented a genuine attempt to address systemic racism, but as time passed, those priorities faded. While some business and public sector leaders have stuck with their DEI initiatives, the hope of creating a community where people of all backgrounds are given equal opportunity to best use their talents has fallen short.

The City of Worcester, though, is stepping up its commitment with an important vote of support: increasing the money behind its DEI efforts.

In his proposed budget for fiscal 2024, City Manager Eric Batista is calling for a 67% increase in the funding for the Executive Office of Diversity and Inclusion, which will add three positions to the previously two-employee department. Although an increase to an $744,423 annual allocation is a drop in the bucket of the City’s $848-million budget, this is still a significant increase from what Williams was operating with when she stepped down. Beyond the significant DEI increase, the budget calls for individual City departments to dedicate time and resources to diversity efforts within their own ranks. This is a significant leap forward from where the City was a year ago and sends a strong signal about Batista’s priorities as city manager.

When Williams resigned, Batista was serving as assistant city manager and was named as interim chief diversity officer when the position became vacant. After then City Manager Edward Augustus left in May 2022, Batista was tabbed as his replacement, becoming the first person of color in the position. He vowed to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority. This included an external audit released in September showing the main faults in the City structure, a reorganization to give the Executive Office of Diversity and Inclusion more power in that structure, and seeking an executive search firm to find Williams’ replacement.

Like with all DEI efforts, none of these bullet points – including the 67% increase in funding – are going to solve the problem, as addressing systemic racism is an ongoing battle requiring sustained resources and focus. Worcester is an incredibly diverse city, and creating opportunities for all its citizens to serve will only make it stronger. We applaud Worcester’s efforts in learning from past mistakes and investing in its future.

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