As it strives to embrace people of all backgrounds, Arlington has hired a diversity coordinator to promote equity at town hall and in the community.

On Dec. 30, Jillian Harvey became Arlington’s first coordinator of diversity, equity and inclusion. She provides professional and administrative support to the town’s Disability, Human Rights and Rainbow commissions; works on racial equity training for town employees; and serves as Arlington’s Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator.

The town joins nearby communities such as Somerville, Cambridge, Boston and Brookline in dedicating staff resources to diversity.

Arlington is about 80% white, but it looks to become more inclusive. Communities struggle when making decisions without the active and direct participation of all stakeholders, Harvey said.

“I would say the biggest challenge is not having some of the voices at the table that should be there,” Harvey said. “One of my biggest goals is getting real voices involved, of people who are often spoken for, or of. You can’t move forward equitably without having everyone’s voices represented.”

Otherwise, municipalities risk losing out on the contributions and talents of people who have been treated as though they don’t belong, Harvey said.

“When you don’t feel like you’re welcome and included, it inhibits your wanting to be there,” Harvey said. “It doesn’t just affect the person’s experience. It’s a community issue.”

As a person of color, Harvey has experienced racism herself. In school, she advocated for equity and inclusion, and stood up for classmates facing similar obstacles.

“I didn’t want anyone else to feel that way,” she said.

The Framingham native earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from UMass Amherst, and a master’s degree in public affairs from Brown University. She has worked as a teen youth leader in Brookline and as a senior patient experience representative for the Autism Spectrum Center at Boston Children’s Hospital.

In Arlington, Harvey is helping to facilitate the town’s work with both the Government Alliance on Race and Equity and the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity And Leadership (REAL) initiative.

In January, about 65 town employees completed a day-long REAL training, the first of several to be held this year. The first session provided an overview of racism, covering topics rarely mentioned in history class.

“Those were a lot of ‘aha’ moments for folks,” Harvey said.

Future REAL sessions will go into greater depth, identifying ways to break down barriers to change within the town. More than a dozen participants from the January session have volunteered to join a smaller core group to address these issues more intensively.

“The enthusiasm is there,” Harvey said. “It will take a bit more time mapping out the specific ways in which we can move forward and make changes.”

Town Meeting approved funding for the diversity coordinator position in 2019. Town Manager Adam Chapdelaine said Harvey “can be a point person for the staff.”

“Having Jillian, who can be the person who keeps the ball rolling while I’m busy with other things, and while the director of health and human services is busy with other things, is so critical,” Chapdelaine said.

Even though inequality transcends municipal borders, Chapdelaine said local officials can help create a more equitable society.

“Do changes need to be made at the federal level? Yes. Do changes need to be made at the state level? Yes,” Chapdelaine said. “But for this to work, change needs to be built from the ground up, person by person. These are not easy conversations, these are not short conversations, but they are worth having.”

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