At this weekend’s Juneteenth celebrations, several organizations and businesses announced the formation of the Chautauqua County I.D.E.A. Coalition, a cross-sector and collective initiative committed to pursuing Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accessibility (I.D.E.A.) strategies in the community. The I.D.E.A. Coalition’s goal is to make Chautauqua County a place where everyone belongs and has opportunities to thrive, especially those who have been historically marginalized. They are committed to addressing, prioritizing, and giving voice to directly impacted by such things as racism and social injustice in the community.
“After the George Floyd murder in 2020, we knew there was a need to proactively address racism in our community,” said Amy Rohler, Executive Director of United Way of Southern Chautauqua County—which is serving as the backbone agency for the I.D.E.A. Coalition. Rohler added that the incident prompted several informal conversations with individuals from educational institutions, law enforcement, local businesses, and nonprofits across the county. “Over and over, we kept hearing the same themes from everyone, like ‘what can our organizations do to address equity and inclusion internally and externally in very practical and concrete ways?” said Rohler, “at some point, we realized that we would be more effective if we worked collaboratively and strategically with each other.” United Way of Southern Chautauqua County initially engaged Battle and Banner Consulting, a firm with expertise in community initiatives and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training to develop a framework for strategic community change. The initial group—which included representatives from both North and South County in a number of different sectors—began meeting monthly in April 2021. Over many months and many conversations, primary goals and outcomes were identified. At every meeting, new participants joined the conversation.
Amit Taneja, Senior Vice President and Chief IDEA Officer for Chautauqua Institution, is a member of the steering committee for the Coalition. He said, “the Coalition is designed to serve as a bridge between those who have been impacted by racism and social injustice, prioritize their concerns, and then work collectively to create systemic and sustainable change in our community.” Taneja added that the members of the Coalition want to better understand the needs of community members and incorporate those needs into their own strategic plans and goals.
Alize B. Scott, Director of Social Justice and Race Equity at YWCA Jamestown (also a steering committee member) said, “this Coalition is necessary because we have a larger impact when we are working together. We can collectively work towards building and repairing trust in communities that have been historically marginalized and we can also have a positive impact in this county when it comes to economic and workforce development needs.” Steering committee member Kristan McMahon, President of the Robert H. Jackson Center, added “we want to create space for collaboration and collective work across businesses and organizations in this county to address barriers and concerns.”
Steering Committee members emphasized that while their initial efforts would start with engaging the African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino communities, they would expand efforts and conversations to other historically marginalized populations in the county.
In May 2022, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County hired Bishop Leecroft Clarke to be the Project Director for the I.D.E.A. Coalition. Originally from Jamaica, Clarke moved to Jamestown 22 years ago to work for SKF as a Business Development Manager; he also worked for TitanX Engine Cooling for almost ten years. In addition, he worked in various engineering and project-leader positions for The Torrington Company (located in Connecticut) for more than 12 years. Clarke has a Bachelor of Engineering, a Master of Business Administration, and has almost completed a Doctor of Ministry degree. He is currently the lead pastor of Healing Word Ministries Church of God. His extensive community service includes his roles as the chairperson of the Addiction Response Ministry of Chautauqua County, co-chairperson of the Racial Reconciliation Taskforce of Chautauqua County, past board member for the HOPE Chautauqua Coalition, and a past member of the ESPRI Taskforce. “We are fortunate to have someone with Bishop Clarke’s diverse experience and skills in this important leadership position,” said Rohler.
Current Coalition members include: the Chautauqua Center, Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua Opportunities Inc, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, the City of Dunkirk, the City of Jamestown, Dunkirk Public Schools, Jamestown Community College, Jamestown Public Schools, M&T Bank, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, Robert H. Jackson Center, United Way of Northern Chautauqua, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, UPMC Chautauqua, and YWCA Jamestown. Participants in the yearlong planning process included individuals from law enforcement, business, banking, grassroots organizations, both Dunkirk and Jamestown city governments, and Chautauqua County Health and Human Services and Economic Development departments. With the public launch of the I.D.E.A. Coalition, membership is open to any organization interested in supporting its initiatives and signing the membership agreement. In addition to United Way of Southern Chautauqua County’s investment, the I.D.E.A. Coalition has received grants to fund its work through Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, and the Cummins Foundation.
“This Coalition is committed to both anti-racist and broad social justice work,” said project director Bishop Clarke. At both Juneteenth Celebrations in Jamestown and Dunkirk, Clarke spoke extensively about the work of the Coalition and its plans: “We plan to prioritize the concerns of historically marginalized communities in our county and create space for collective and collaborative work that address those concerns.” Clarke added that this critical initiative would take time to implement, butthat there is a role for everyone in the strategy to make the county more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.
More information about the Coalition can be found at www.uwayscc.org/ideacoalition. Organizations and businesses interested in becoming a member can contact Leecroft Clarke at IDEA-Director@uwayscc.org.