A Public Service Profile for Diversity & Equity
By County Manager, Chris Coudriet
In June 2020, New Hanover County established the Office of Diversity & Equity. The mission of this new office was clear – promote an inclusive and fair work environment while building a culture, both within our government and our community, where everyone feels respected, valued and understood for their own identity.
Linda Thompson was named as Chief Diversity & Equity Officer and she immediately pulled in qualified and talented individuals to help fulfill the department’s mission.
One of her first hires was Travis Corpening, a well-known presence in New Hanover County for his prior work at Cape Fear Community College and as the founder of the Young Mogul Development Group, a non-profit working to educate young people and help support their career aspirations. Travis’ reputation within our community speaks for itself and has made him a resource people could instantly trust and respect. Which is part of why he has served so well in his role as a Diversity & Equity Specialist for almost two years now.
For this month’s public service profile, I asked Travis to share some information about himself, what he sees as the future of our county in terms of diversity and equity, and how his work will impact our plans and investments in the community to help address violence and provide wrap-around resources for our residents. That conversation is below…
While the Office of Diversity & Equity is a relatively new department, you all have been very active in our community in a short period of time. What are some of the accomplishments or initiatives you’re most proud of since coming onboard?
Honestly, through the phenomenal leadership of Linda Thompson, our office never stops moving. And this is because she never stops dreaming and planning. There have been so many efforts that I have been proud of and learned from that it’s difficult to select one. But, if I had to, it would be our work to coordinate the vaccination of more than 3,000 residents of color, along with those from different ethnic backgrounds. Everyone can’t be reached through the same channels and everyone doesn’t get their information from the same avenues. Therefore, it is imperative to know how communities receive information, especially when you are talking about saving lives. If COVID-19 showed us anything, it showed us that when something affects one of us it touches all of us. And our work assisting the minority community with vaccinations won a National Association of Counties award for innovation in the civic education and public information category, which I’m proud of as well.
Diversity & Equity has played a large role in helping structure our Community Building Plan. Take us through a little bit of what has been going on behind-the-scenes, specifically how this plan has been built and why that process is important.
From the onset, our thought was to make sure we, as a county, partnered with those already on the ground doing work in the community and allowing them to help us define “community violence.” The important thing was not to define it in general terms, but with our specific community, history, needs and challenges in mind. Non-profits, community activists, school officials, parents, students, health specialists and other entities gathered for months to put in the work to try and ensure that we as a community got this right. We researched evidence-based efforts in other communities that we may glean from and meticulously made sure those at the table agreed with what the team was crafting. We also went into the high schools to hear from students on what would help them feel safer and what resources would improve outcomes for them and their peers. Our goal wasn’t to just do what has been done before, but to do what needs to be done to have a lasting impact and change for current and future residents. That not only includes addressing violence, but its roots including economics, education, lack of adequate opportunities (like access to food), equity and racism.
What should people know about Port City United and the other community building initiatives being developed? What, in your opinion, is the key to making them effective?
First of all, people should know that Port City United, and any other initiative being introduced by the county around the issues of violence and community building, were formulated by a team of trusted community workers and organizations. Decades of vision, expertise and experience were poured into the plan. Many of them were people I have worked side-by-side in the trenches with. Port City United is the most highly talked about county-led initiative that puts individuals in positions to work through these issues, but it’s not the only piece. The county is supporting the great work the community is already doing, along with providing new resources that will disrupt the seeds of violence. From supporting families with Pre-K assistance and classes, providing support to trusted non-profits with evidence-based programs, removing barriers for individuals to go to college, supporting parents so they can get the help they desperately need, there are a ton of pieces that go beyond our walls. Port City United is one important piece, but the community itself has also put in the work for years and the county wants to support that work.
What is your hope for the future of diversity and equity in the county? What impact do you hope to make?
Well, my hope is that we respect and continue to learn from each other and our differences. One of the only ways to do that is through connecting. Making connections with people that are different than ourselves, or simply making an honest effort to see things from other’s perspectives can make a huge change in the way someone treats you. It can change whether they hire you. It can change whether they let you make decisions. My hope is that through our office we are a catalyst for this change.
You can easily see Travis has an undeniable passion for lifting others up in our community. That’s why he is a such a crucial piece of our Diversity & Equity staff. I am truly grateful for the work he has done in such a short period of time and is continuing to do now. And, over the coming months, I look forward to sharing stories from more of our dedicated staff throughout New Hanover County.
Travis Corpening with Linda Thompson, after receiving the James Fullwood Award from the Gamma Kappa Lamda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. in December 2021.