CEO Eric Larson and CAO Lila Asante-Appiah talk about DEI within DDP

Eric B. Larson

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Earlier this summer, I asked our Chief Administrative Officer, Lila Asante-Appiah, to take some time to talk about Juneteenth and more broadly about diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs. DEI is a central part of Lila’s role at DDP. It was a thought-provoking and insightful conversation and I’m excited to share some of her thoughts with you today.

Lila was a consultant before we brought her in for the role as CAO. I asked her about first impressions:“I was very pleased to see that the DDP has been focused on DEI for some time — long before I got here. That means we’re not starting from ground zero. Currently, we’re looking to strengthen what we’re doing to develop and reinforce a more broad-based, comprehensive approach. It’s important to recognize that a lot has happened around the country in the last few years.  As a result, individuals’ perceptions and perspectives have changed in many different areas in our lives. To acknowledge that, we are taking a step back to gather input from the team regarding their perceptions, desires, and thoughts relative to DEI. This feedback will help us get the right inputs as we create a sustainable DEI plan that we can execute and continuously measure.”

On DEI at the DDP:
“I am looking to intentionally expand the DDP’s efforts internally and externally and do so in partnership with the entire team. I say that purposefully as this DEI journey requires everyone’s intention and effort. This is hard work that falls to all of us, particularly the leadership and board’s active commitment. My role is to lead the charge in identifying strategies that we can leverage to sharpen our approach as it relates to DEI at the DDP.”

Her advice for other companies and organizations:
“Building a sustainable DEI program is difficult to do from the middle of the organization. Several findings indicate that true commitment from leadership is absolutely critical to achieving real progress. Leaders, those who have a formal leadership title or consider themselves a leader, have an opportunity for ownership.  What I mean by this is that leaders have an obligation to reflect on their biases and resolutely leverage their privilege and/or share their power to help others who have been historically disadvantaged, marginalized, objectified, or underprivileged.  Individuals within a leader’s sphere of influence are listening to what the leader is saying and watching what the leader is doing in equal measure. Inaction is no longer acceptable

“Diversity within an organization will not organically lead to an inclusive and equitable environment. Organizational leaders must create an environment where team members feel a sense of psychological safety and belonging and are valued, respected and heard. Where they can bring their whole selves to work if they choose to do so.”

On Juneteenth (recognizing the first anniversary that African Americans in Galveston, Texas learned of the Emancipation Proclamation, more than two years after it was initially issued):“I look at this day, that the DDP will observe on June 20, as an opportunity for folks to stop, step back and think about what Juneteenth means to our country. Do some research to discover how it impacted and still impacts Blacks within and outside our borders. I encourage us all to learn, do, or connect.  Challenge yourself to learn by watching a documentary*, listening to a podcast, attend one of the many Juneteenth celebrations or patronize a Black-owned business. Last but not least, connect with others and raise awareness by talking to people within your network about the impact of Juneteenth on American history.”

As you can see, Lila’s work is a critical aspect of DDP’s mission and is supported fully by our Board and leadership. I encourage everyone to consider Lila’s words and take a minute this weekend for reflection and expanded understanding. Below we share some events happening around our parks and other institutions for Juneteenth, as well as some of her learning recommendations. Please use these as the discovery opportunities Lila so pointedly emphasizes.

This week we also share news on some incredible wellness activities in the parks. Dance, yoga and fitness classes are available in the parks in the morning, lunchtime hours and in the evenings to accommodate everyone’s taste, fitness level and schedule. If you’re not taking advantage of these free events, you’re missing great opportunities to take care of yourself, meet new people and enjoy our spectacular public spaces.

Read more about DDP’s DEI mission statement on our Diversity and Inclusion page.




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