Opinion: Inclusion Should Drive San Diego Leaders’ Efforts in 2017

Voice of San DiegoOpinion by Dwayne Crenshaw
Published in Voice of San Diego on January 3, 2017

More than ever, it’s urgent San Diegans come together. Our county’s election results suggest we’re closer than other American regions. But there are more steps we can take with intentionality to increase the quality and depth of relationships among San Diego’s diverse people. I believe we get there through a determined focus on inclusion. So, I offer San Diego a resolution to commit to learn and practice inclusive leadership. The capacity for inclusive leadership is not just in some of us, it is within all of us.

Inclusion waltzes well beyond diversity. It’s likely a vast supermajority of San Diegans conceptually embrace diversity. Unfortunately, the diversity concept has simply become a celebration of perhaps Black History or International Women’s Month; Cesar Chavez or Harvey Milk Day; donating to or volunteering with a charitable organization for the elderly, disabled, refugees or otherwise marginalized; or, going to that cultural event or diversity training. Diversity has become a numbers game; inclusion is about quality – the beautiful choreography of relationships.

Inclusive leadership invites us to a richer rhythm of social interaction. It’s beyond counting heads, respecting differences, discovering commonalities or not being offensive. Inclusion is a fusion of all these things and more. A couple of quick dance moves for San Diegans to get started with as we learn and practice inclusive leadership: Lead with love and not from a place of authority, position, title or privilege. Listen to understand and not to respond, make a point or win an argument.

A few advanced moves for various San Diego County elected officials, policymakers and persons of influence:

  • In a clear demonstration of a priority value on inclusion, how about local governments and agencies adopt a new budget policy, which I call a Dime for Democracy. In every public budget, for every line item practical, let’s allocate the first 10 cents of every dollar to reimagining the idea of “we the people.” Investing in efforts to increase civic engagement, seating new faces at the table and adding new voices to the discussion. Let’s open government through partnerships with our high-tech community to make more information publicly available online and to make it easier to access services, as well as communicate and do business with government. How about setting aside community space in public facilities? Who knows what other creative ideas we can come up with to enhance full, inclusive democratic participation if we put our money where our mouths are.
  • Give real attention to creating affordable housing in every corner of the county with a critical focus on reversing the unacceptable and dramatic surge in local homelessness. Politicians, all of us actually, would benefit from using and thinking in more inclusive language such as “San Diegans without homes,” as opposed to the labeling of the others; in this case, too commonly and casually known as the homeless.
  • For Mayor Kevin Faulconer, the San Diego City Council and Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman, timely follow-up on the troubling results of the SDPD racial profiling study is of the essence. We cannot afford to have this issue swept under the rug and all of us can practice inclusive leadership by ensuring it isn’t by holding our city leaders accountable to concrete actions to better protect and serve black and brown San Diegans.
  • Local school boards as well as our state and federal legislative delegations have to act urgently to implement new policies and procedures highly disruptive to the preschool-to-prison pipeline. Quality education is the great equalizer and a pathway to a truly inclusive community.
  • Dancing dangerously close to a sacred cow of higher education, it’s time for local college and university trustees and administrators to tap into the absurdly large and greatly underutilized endowment funds they’re sitting on. Admittedly, local endowments are not as ridiculous as others across the nation, but there is more than enough to open the doors of higher education to more San Diegans. Innovative investments should be made in programs and activities such as SDSU’s Compact for Student Success, USD’s anchor institution initiatives, UCSD’s proposed downtown campus and, perhaps most excitingly, free college tuition for deserving local students, as is happening under the San Diego Community College District’s “San Diego Promise” effort.
  • Lastly, and likely more popular and easier to swallow, we need our leaders to proactively and meaningfully figure out how to be more inclusive of San Diego’s truest small businesses, “the mom and pops” and neighborhood shops, in providing and delivering goods and services. All of us in San Diego should resolve to discover and patronize a new small business each month in a neighborhood other than where we live, work or regularly frequent.

In 2017, and every year, let’s resolve to be inclusive leaders in our workplaces, churches, schools, neighborhoods, public service – everywhere. We all can do this. It’s a New Year San Diego, so let’s dance.

Dwayne Crenshaw is CEO and co-founder of RISE San Diego.