When Denver Public Library’s Community Connections Program Coordinator Ozy Aloziem began planning in February 2020 for a symposium on “Advancing Racial Equity and Inclusion in the Workplace,” she was expecting about 100 attendees. Then COVID-19 happened, affecting nearly all meetings and conferences, and the symposium went virtual.
Estimates are that some 3,000 plus people across the country attended the three-day symposium, July 8-10, supported by an Institute of Museum and Library Services Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Services grant, as well as by Visible.
Aloziem was overwhelmed at the outcome and success of the event.
“I’m not sure that there’s language rich enough to describe this symposium experience,” she said.
‘I believe seeds have been planted’
“Our intention was to co-create new ways of moving through our workplaces, new work environments that are rooted in racial justice and centered around the well-being of all employees,’ Aloziem explains, “but specifically the ones most in need of support, those historically underrepresented. I believe some of those seeds have been planted. I’m eager to watch them take root, and to share its bountiful harvest.”
Denver Public Library leadership had encouraged applying for a grant to support the library’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Receiving the grant was important to further the library’s work in this area as well as in terms of a national conversation in libraries.
“To remain relevant as institutions that function as important civic centers trusted by residents, libraries must have staff and leaders who reflect the community’s diversity and create a culture of inclusivity,” the proposal stated. “Until libraries grapple with their legacy of institutional racism, some members of the community will feel unwelcome.”
Exchange of ideas about equity, diversity, and inclusion
Receiving the grant allowed the library to proceed with a virtual symposium, which was a first-of-its-kind opportunity for a discussion and exchange of information and ideas about equity, diversity, and inclusion.
“The Denver Public Library is committed to promoting racial equity and to utilizing community connections to do just that,” said Aloziem in her welcoming remarks. “Now more than ever, we feel it’s crucially important to engage in critical conversations around what it means to co-create a more equitable workforce.”
Aloziem asked participants to keep questions at the forefront of their minds, including: “Take a moment to think: why are you here? What had to have occurred for you to be here today? What are we choosing in this moment that we will continue to pursue? What work do we need to do in order to be able to do that?”
Sessions ranged from Preparing and Planning for Organizational Change, a World Café Dialogue, and Promoting and Sustaining an Inclusive Work Environment and Support Staff of Color.
Presenters included Bobby LeFebre, Colorado Poet Laureate; Twanna Hodge, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion Librarian from the University of Florida; Dr. Cerise Hunt, Director for Center for Public Health, University of Colorado; and Shannon Bland, Founder of @BlackLibrarians.
With a maximum capacity of 1,000 people in sessions, participants were able to join on the library’s YouTube channel when sessions filled to capacity. Moderators monitored live chat on YouTube and passed questions to speakers and panelists.
Kudos and praise for event
Participants were impressed and energized by the discussions and presentations.
Bill Fulton, Founder and Co-Executive Director of The Civic Canopy, had lavish praise for organizers and wrote to Aloziem and Michelle Jeske, Denver Public Library City Librarian, immediately following the event.
Ozy, from your first moment on-screen on Wednesday you have been the embodiment of truly human leadership in its best form—your insights, your energy, your ability to engage everyone in this virtual environment, and the tone you have set that has made this one of the most wonderful experiences I’ve been a part of.
At a time when so many people are looking for new ways to be, to act, to come together, you have been just what is needed. There is so much to dismantle in this broken world, but you have also been a reminder of what it means to build people up, and to create spaces of vitality that transform our current models and understandings.
Another participant wrote in the chat:
I will say, library symposiums can be brutally dry sometimes but, as a poet myself especially, I am very geeked about how much the arts were incorporated into this symposium. makes a world of difference. great selections, too. Well done to all those involved.
“I’m humbled and honored to have been able to create such a beautiful, engaging, and heart-filling learning space,” Aloziem said. “I feel transformed by this experience and so deeply grateful to and for everyone who helped make this event happen.”
The event was free and open to the public. Recordings of the sessions can be found here.