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'For Colored Girls'

The cast of "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf," which was presented in February and again in August at Auburn Public Theater.

I directed the choreopoem "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf" by Ntozake Shange at Auburn Public Theater this year. Kudos to the theater for having the courage to produce a play featuring a cast of nine African-American women, a first-time experience for this little theater located in downtown Auburn. The production was so well-received that diverse audiences came from across the state to see the original dates and three encore performances. The Auburn Public Theater is a shining example of an organization demonstrating — in word, action and deed — a commitment to diversity and inclusion as part of its business strategy. Angela Daddabbo and Carey Eidel are local leaders understanding the importance of diversity and inclusion as an ongoing growth strategy for their organization. Because of this, Auburn Public Theater is building a reputation as a place in Auburn large enough in spirit and customer service for “all of us,” regardless of who we are.

I describe Auburn Public Theater as having “courage” to produce this play for a specific business reason. It is my experience that Auburn is not in the habit of intentionally focusing on the lives of African-Americans and other minority populations as part of its economic development strategy. This statement may upset some. Before you get yourselves in a tizzy, hear me out.

Auburn is at a very interesting tipping point. The opening of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and the the Equal Rights Heritage Center place the lives and stories of African-Americans and others seeking equal rights at the center of a major economic development project. Are we fully prepared for what this means to the downtown business district?

Increased numbers of diverse people are coming to Auburn to honor Harriet Tubman. My hope is that each visitor experiences Auburn as a community large enough in spirit and customer service to welcome “all of us” in every venue. There are specific actions we can take to ensure that diverse visitors to Auburn have an unforgettable experience regardless of racial/ethnic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation or age.

Achieving this experience requires the community to ensure that the minute visitors enter city limits, Auburn is prepared to welcome them in all their glorious diversity. This is called "the moment of truth.” The concept states that within 10 seconds of coming into our community, people pick up cues about what visiting Auburn will be like. We must be intentional about first impressions.

Our community can do a number of things to improve the “moment of truth” experience for diverse visitors coming to our community:

1. Conduct focus groups with diverse groups on customer service experiences in Auburn. Integrate feedback into community-wide customer service strategies.

2. Host community-wide events for local tourism businesses on providing quality customer service to diverse populations. Emphasis should be placed on recognizing and managing unconscious bias and microaggression in customer service interactions.

3. Ensure all major local tourism organizations have staffs reflecting the diversity of the individuals visiting the community.

4. As the opportunities present themselves to downtown, attract businesses aligned with the needs and wants of diverse populations of people. For example, ethnic restaurants, nightlife and specialty shops.

5. Collect data to measure the impact of taking these actions on the visitor experience in Auburn. This provides information for continually improving customer service experiences for diverse visitors.

Auburn is poised to take its reputation as History’s Hometown to new levels with the opening of the Harriet Tubman National Historical Park and the Equal Rights Heritage Center. I look forward to seeing many diverse groups visiting our beautiful city. Let’s welcome them as we did Harriet Tubman by demonstrating in word, action and deed, regardless of your background, that Auburn is a community large enough in spirit and customer service to welcome you just as you are.

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Founded by sought-after lecturer, conference keynote speaker and leadership development expert Gwen Webber-McLeod, of Auburn, Gwen, Inc. exists for the sole purpose of helping leaders achieve business goals by focusing on the competencies of confidence, competence, courage and calm. The company’s hallmark division, The Leadership Connection: A Resource Centered on Great Leadership, provides leadership education, professional consulting/facilitation, mentoring/coaching and technical assistance in organizations, businesses and public venues. Gwen, Inc. also produces You Can’t Fail, a conference for professional women of color and those who support them. For more information on Gwen, Inc., visit gweninc.com.

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