116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NORTH LIBERTY — Following the murder of George Floyd in 2020, North Liberty — like many communities across the country — had conversations about how the city can be more welcoming and serve all residents.
One piece of that conversation was seeking the city’s first outreach and equity coordinator. Micah Ariel James, who spent the last almost six years working at Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, stepped into the role on Nov. 1.
“I found in my journey in this sort of work the kind of revelations that 2020 brought about really stirred up in me a desire to engage more deeply in that direct work of engaging communities in thinking about how to be more equitable, how to be more inclusive, how can we better support each other and build deeper community,” James said.
North Liberty had been discussing the position since 2019, said Nick Bergus, the city’s communications director. Initially, the position’s focus was more on collaboration between city departments and bridging gaps in programming. The city refocused the role last year to prioritize inclusion and equity in addition to collaboration, Bergus said.
The position is within the city’s Communications Department and will focus on outreach and equity initiatives on programs for seniors, low-income residents, non-native English speakers and people of color. Bergus said the role will help make adjustments to programming, make the community center more inclusive and develop new initiatives.
“Micah's energy was palpable when we first sat down and talked with her,” Bergus said. “She's approaching this with conversation and collaboration, and those are so important to the way we work and how we envision the role to operate.”
James’ role focuses both on making the city’s Community Center, 520 West Cherry St., more welcoming and accessible, as well as how to make the city more inclusive.
“The city is interested and hopeful that it can build capacity to be more inclusive, to be more welcoming, to be more supportive of its increasingly diverse population,” Bergus said.
Before her role with the city, James was the associate director of education and community engagement at Hancher. Through her work with Hancher, James said she developed “a strong appreciation and commitment” to building community and aiming for inclusive practices to make everybody feel comfortable.
She sees her new position as an expansion of her previous work and also sees “so much potential” for the arts to be integrated in her new role.
In her first few weeks, James said she has had lots of conversations with colleagues and community members to learn about what the city has been working on, assessing progress on previous initiatives and how to move forward.
“What I have found so far in speaking with community members and my colleagues here is there is an excitement for this kind of work,” James said. “There is a commitment toward it, and I really feel like there is a lot of potential for good things to happen because people are so committed to it and willing to explore things.”
One of the programs James will take on is developing the city’s youth council. James has started connecting with youth and local community organizations to get a sense of the needs and interests of youth in the city. The youth council will be developed over the next several months and launch in 2022, James said.
Both Bergus and James mentioned how inclusion and equity is everybody’s job in the city, but it’s important to have a position that keeps those priorities in focus and pushes the city to make progress on its promises.
“It is really exciting that there is a position that can focus on making sure that it's not all just talk,” James said. “ … The reminder that this work is important, that it is vital, and it matters that people feel connected and welcome and engaged in the place where they live and work.”
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