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Hashim Taylor goes from ‘Parks and Recreation kid’ to Cedar Rapids’ new director
Taylor aims to keep ‘boots-on-the-ground’ experiences
CEDAR RAPIDS — Moving to the beat of the music only in his soul, Hashim Taylor lifted his arms up and began to shimmy about the Northwest Recreation Center.
While waiting for more citizens to trickle into the room, Taylor, the new Cedar Rapids Parks and Recreation director, shifted one foot forward at a time and kept his body in motion. No music was playing yet, but his first belly dance class would soon begin.
“Hashim’s warming up,” instructor SanDee Skelton said with a smile.
The Cedar Rapids newcomer came wearing a Raygun T-shirt with “RAPIDIAN” written on the front, but he was missing the belly dancing attire. For the class, he was lent a multicolored coin belt.
“Is this me?” Taylor exclaimed as the belt was placed around his hips, adding some golden and rainbow-colored shine and a bit of a jingle to his shimmy. He logged the activity in his Apple Watch to get credit for his exercise, and continued with his warmup.
“I’m sure we’re going to make it his greatest experience — or he’s going to make it ours,” Skelton said before the small class of returning dancers and Taylor began.
Trying out a belly dance class is just one of the new experiences Taylor has had as he gets acquainted with Cedar Rapids and embraces Parks and Recreation facilities and programs at the ground level. And if he’s successful, it could be a new team-building activity for the city directors and city manager.
A self-described “Parks and Recreation kid,” Taylor said he grew up in a single-parent household and often went to what was then called the Cora Kelly Recreation Center in Alexandria, Va., near an elementary school, after he was done with classes for the day. He spent most of his time there until his mom could pick him up after work.
The kids would drop their backpacks off, do their homework and then participate in a number of activities — arts and craft days, swimming or basketball and other sports.
“It was the involvement of the positive role models there, from the program manager, the actual activity leaders or anyone at the rec center, it was always a learning opportunity,” Taylor said of what sparked his passion for parks and recreation. “I learned how to tie my first tie at the rec center and double knot my shoes.”
After initially majoring in business at Old Dominion University, Taylor switched to pursue a bachelor’s degree in parks, recreation and tourism, and began working with the community and getting involved with the student recreation center.
“I wanted to be that positive role model that still provided people opportunity for learning and structure, but just not in a school setting,” Taylor said.
As a Virginia native, the Midwest is new to Taylor. It was Cedar Rapids’ “City of Five Seasons” nickname — a nod to the extra time afforded to residents to enjoy life and the beauty of the four seasons — that caught his attention when he first learned of the director opening.
He researched the city and learned about the damage from flood events and the aftermath of the 2020 derecho. Despite these major setbacks for the city, Taylor was impressed that Cedar Rapids’ Parks and Recreation Department was still able to secure accreditation from the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies and the National Recreation and Park Association.
After meeting people when he came for his interview and enjoying their kindness, he decided he could call Cedar Rapids home and help make a change. He moved in December and will eventually be joined by his wife and a golden doodle named Moose.
“I've been loving every bit of it, except for the cold,” Taylor said.
Does Hashim Taylor watch the NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation?” While he hears references made at many national conferences, Taylor said he hasn’t gotten into the show himself. But his wife says he’s most like Ron Swanson, the character portrayed by Nick Offerman.
Taylor will lead the city department that operates municipal golf courses, about 100 parks, Ushers Ferry Historic Village, Old MacDonald’s Farm in Bever Park, two athletic complexes, six swimming pools and more. It employs the equivalent of 125 full-time staff. He will earn a salary of $119,993.54.
Taylor succeeds former director Scott Hock, who said he was stepping down after about three years to move to Central Iowa.
Since starting in January, Taylor has seen the Rollin’ Recmobile, visited facilities including the municipal golf courses and tried winter activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and even sledding for the first time in his life.
Climbing up the ladder to the executive level can sometimes disconnect people from boots-on-the-ground experiences, but Taylor doesn’t want to lose that perspective.
“I want to make sure that I still have those experiences, whether that's on a weekend or in my free time, that I'm participating in those because that's the rewarding work — seeing the positive impact that we're doing to the community,” Taylor said.
Taylor, taking his experiences from various parks and recreation agencies in Virginia, wants to ensure that, regardless of people’s income or backgrounds, all Cedar Rapids residents have the same experience and access to facilities and programs.
In Virginia, Taylor said he worked on initiatives such as pop-up stations in underrepresented areas of Prince William County to provide youth with materials to teach them about science in their own backyards, and in Virginia Beach the department partnered with schools to provide swim lessons.
Residents can expect to see Taylor out in the community — and on the department’s Facebook page — being part of various events and activities. He welcomes feedback to keep improving and appreciates when residents greet him while he’s out.
“We'll continue to come together and work together as a community to enhance the life of every Cedar Rapids resident,” Taylor said.
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