"Diversity is not limited to what you usually hear, such as race, sex, orientation, ethnicity, and so forth," said Emmanuel Ngomsi to those in attendance. "It is all aspects of human nature."
A special focus group session for the newly established Blue Springs Human Relations Commission was held Wednesday night. Participants discussed a variety of topics, ranging from jobs to food, in Blue Springs. Although it was not an official meeting, it was a session for the commission to gather viewpoints and ideas from nine selected Blue Springs citizens on what issues or obstacles they believe the city currently faces. The meeting was mediated by Emmanuel Ngomsi, a consultant for the HRC, and hosted by Blue Springs Police Chief Wayne McCoy and detective Matt McLaughlin.
Ngomsi asked a series of questions, and the participating citizens asked that their names and businesses not be mentioned.
"How can Blue Springs foster inclusion?" Ngomsi asked the group.
One person mentioned the city's Citizens Police Academy as way for people to meet and become involved in their community. Another suggested the local Blue Springs Ministerial Alliance where residents of all types can come together in order to practice their faith.
"Culture and religion go hand in hand," one member of the group said.
"What obstacles stand in the way of Blue Springs citizens, whether economically or racially?" asked Nogmsi.
One mother in the focus group, who said she had an adult child with special needs, said she had a "grave concern about the vast increase of children being diagnosed with autism." She also asked the group how Blue Springs could facilitate this growing population.
"Blue Springs could use a community-based day hab program," she suggested to the group.
"I think communication is another obstacle," another group member said. "You'd be surprised how many people still do not have computer access."
Another group member pointed out the growing Hispanic population in Blue Springs and the need for English as a Second Language programs.
McCoy suggested that Mid-Continent Public Library has both computer access and offers ESL programs as well.
"Have you been a victim of prejudice?" Ngomsi asked the group.
The focus group became quiet, but McLaughlin broke the silence with an issue he said his police department encounters.
"There is an old, established neighborhood where if a minority is just simply walking down the street with their dog, we get a call," he said. "It still happens."
One focus group member brought up Hope House, a domestic violence organization, and said Blue Springs should provide a larger shelter since those in need are being rejected on a "day to day basis."
McCoy said domestic violence is an issue for the city, with more than 600 related cases in one year. He added the reason for the lack of a bigger Hope House facility in Blue Springs is funding.
"Funding is not there to do what is needed."
A businessman in the focus group pointed out that prejudice can occur in the workplace.
"A number of people do not have the skillset required for a job."
Plus he added that small businesses are inadequately training their employees and "they need to know what's legal or not."
"Career preparation is key."
Allowing chickens in a backyard was another topic discussed with the focus group. One member pointed out that Blue Springs is the "only city in the area" that does not allow raising chickens in a residential backyard.
"Some people want to have an organic diet," she said, "but it is really expensive. We need to be allowed to grow our own food."
"We lost common sense," another member said. "It's easy to point out what is wrong instead of helping out."
Ngomsi concluded the session by elaborating on the role of the HRC. "We're looking into the community for what's important." He added that the commission is intentionally looking for diversity and that Mayor Carson Ross once said to him, "I want diversity to be an asset, not a liability in Blue Springs."
He also added that citizen feedback will be reported to the nine commissioners, who are currently undergoing training on ways to mediate for people of all types.
The goals of the Blue Springs HRC are:
• To gain a mutual understanding of residents.
• To eliminate prejudice.
• To establish cooperation among citizens.
"Diversity is misleading," said Ngomsi. "It covers the whole spectrum of human differences. We all have them. It even comes down to the people you live with at home."
He elaborated on his definition of diversity by using a sports team analogy, where every position on the team is different, but all work together as one cohesive unit.
Ngomsi said he is originally from Cameroon, Africa, and that he has lived in Missouri for the last 23 years. Since then, he has been consulting for other HRCs throughout the state.
He said one time he was approached by a person in a nearby city who was happy being isolated from other kinds of people and was against the changing cultural climate. He replied, "That may be, but the world is coming to you."