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City of Columbia’s DEI officer discusses accomplishments in role, advocacy group frustrated in lack of change one year after hiring


Columbia advocates are frustrated with the lack of change after nearly one year since the city hired its first diversity, equity and inclusion officer.

D'Andre Thompson was hired in the role by Columbia's City Manager De'Carlon Seewood in April 2023. After officially beginning his role on May 1, Thompson said his initial goal of ensuring all people in the city have access to resources is a work in progress, but said the city has made some improvements.

"I think it's been a slow and steady pace," Thompson said. "I think that with anything of this size and this magnitude, it is going to take time to really see the results. But I do think that we are on the right trajectory."

Thompson said he is currently working with city leaders, the City Council and various departments to conduct an equity audit. He said this will allow him to learn from a third-party source of the lingering gaps that persist in Columbia.

However, Traci Wilson-Kleekamp of Race Matters, Friends said the group isn't happy with the "slow and steady pace," and the lack of communication with the community.

"Someone in that role needs to be on hand when we talk about homelessness. I don't feel like he's a convener," Wilson-Kleekamp said. "I don't know what he's been charged with doing.... What is that $80,000 getting us? What is it getting us? What are we building with it?" 

Wilson-Kleekamp also said Thompson shouldn't be blamed for the speed at which things are moving.

When he was hired last year, the city had stated that Thompson would lead "the development and implementation of DEI initiatives that help support the City's Strategic Plan."

Thompson had told ABC 17 News in April 2023 that recruiting and retention were going to be aspects of the city he was going to look at. City spokesperson Sydney Olsen had stated at the time of his hiring that Thompson would focus on internal issues first.

Olsen also previously said the city hoped to implement the use of an equity toolkit. Thompson said on Tuesday that the city is still in its "pilot stage" of rolling out the toolkit. He said it will likely be implemented "sometime in the fall."

The toolkit would serve as a "checklist" for various departments with clear, definitive language and information that allows them to look deeper at their engagement process, according to Thompson. After a comprehensive guide is written, it will be debuted, Thompson said.

Thompson said he expects the toolkit to have a huge improvement in his role and expects even more growth over the next year.

"So, for those who may be uncertain as to why this position is important: Take a step back and look at maybe some of the changes that they're seeing in their neighborhoods," Thompson said. " They're seeing different levels of people from different social identities, people from different status groups that are starting to converge in these places."

ABC 17 News reached out to December Harmon, who previously served on the Citizens Police Review Board and is running for U.S. Senate. Harmon wrote in an email that she doesn’t feel much has changed within the city since 2022.

“I don't feel anything has changed. The City still has not recognized its role in its abuse of their own Black citizens and if anything, it's worst since I served on the CPRB."

Article Topic Follows: Columbia

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Nia Hinson


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