SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — The city of Springfield’s first-ever diversity officer officially started on the job the week of May 16.
Taj Suleyman’s official title is the director of diversity, equity, and inclusion and he plans to work toward his goals as he begins in his new position.
He speaks three languages: Arabic, French, and English.
“I was born and raised in Lebanon, that’s in the middle east. From a Saudi mother and a Sudanese father,” said Suleyman, “21 years ago, I came in as a refugee.”
Suleyman’s position was needed for the goal of engaging diverse representation on all levels in the city, “the idea that we want to be as competitive of a market as also making sure that we have an inclusive vibrant, positive work environment,” Suleyman said.
The new diversity officer said he wants to focus on officials first.
“The first few months will be focusing on learning about the city organizations, also learning about the community,” said Suleyman. “What the community leaders are doing.”
After Suleyman feels he understands the community, he will start working on his long-term goals.
“Eventually, we would like to develop professional developments as training, different topic training, also how we advance them into measuring how these training, how these conversations we’re having are going to be productive,” said Suleyman.
Suleyman wanted to be clear on what his role will be as diversity officer.
“My job is not going to be the diversity police running around whistling, blowing the whistle saying ‘hey, this is not right, this is not wrong,'” said Suleyman. “Rather than actually being proactive in addressing why do we need to diversify our workforce? Why do we need to equip our police officers with the right knowledge?”
Before coming to Springfield, Suleyman was an equity outreach coordinator for the city of Dubuque.
He will be working with and reporting directly to Springfield city manager Jason Gage.