Virginia Capitol Connections Winter 2022

Virginia Capitol Connections, Winter 2022 19 In 2019, Governor Northam appointed Dr. Janice Bell Underwood, a careereducator and community leader to become the commonwealth's first Chief Diversity Officer. In this article, Dr. Underwood outlines some of the key accomplishments of the Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) which occurred under her inaugural tenure. Now that the commonwealth is preparing to embrace the 74th Governor and his administration, it is important to reflect upon the calls for racial justice in 2019 and 2020 and all that we’ve accomplished to make Virginia a national exemplar in service to our 8.5 million people. In 2019, Governor Ralph Northam, the 73rd Governor of Virginia created the Commonwealth's Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Officer position. After 400 years of inequitable policies, a system of exclusion, and resistance to inclusion—this was the first cabinet-level position in Virginia and across the nation to serve in a Governor's cabinet focused on reconciling historical inequities across all dimensions of diversity and building innovation through the use of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) frameworks, namely, the Inclusive Excellence Framework. Since being appointed in this inaugural role, it has been quite a journey with many highs and lows, celebrations, and time for deep reflection. That said, there also have been significant accomplishments since 2019 for which all of us must hold the future administration(s) accountable to further. For example, in 2020 the Governor's Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and this historical position were codified, made permanent for every future administration to build upon the work that had already begun. Later in 2020, I created a dynamic team of equity gladiators because real change agents know that this work cannot be done alone or in a silo. Therefore, now that the Virginia Code places a statutory obligation on all Virginia governors to appoint someone to carry out the obligations of the Commonwealth’s Chief Diversity Officer, it is up to “We the People” to demand that this work continues, uninterrupted. The new legislated obligations of this position include: (i) develop a sustainable framework to promote inclusive practices across state government; (ii) implement a measurable, strategic plan to address systemic inequities in state government practices; and (iii) facilitate methods to turn feedback and suggestions from state employees, external stakeholders, and community leaders into concrete equity policy. I've been keeping track of the receipts to document how history will judge how I leveraged this once in a lifetime opportunity for DEI to thrive in non-partisan spaces, and for it to become the way of business across state agencies and the commonwealth. So, in addition to the hundreds of equity-related pieces of legislation or programming that have been created since February 2019, which are too many to list, there is remarkable evidence of my exceeding everyone’s expectations across these three big statutory accomplishments. First, with the support of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, the Virginia Coalition of Immigrant Rights, the state NAACP, the COVID-19 Health Equity Working Group, and hundreds of activists, we declared racism as the larger public health crisis during a time when we were dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and the calls for racial equity. This declaration would set the commonwealth on a path to go beyond the diagnosis and into the work of reconciliation. Secondly, commensurate with these three new statutory obligations of the Chief Diversity Officer, my team and I created: (i) The Equity-in-Action and Equity-at-a-Glance dashboards, the statewide framework that uses social determinants of health and builds upon the declaration of racism as a public health crisis to increase inclusive practices across the state and within 133 local governments; (ii) The first-ever statewide DEI strategy, the ONE Virginia Plan for state agencies and all of higher education; and (iii) The Virginia equity leadership task force, our formal mechanism to turn internal and external feedback into concrete equity policy and now serves as a model and an exemplar for other states. Lastly, the inaugural Governor’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion have co-labored to partner across secretariats and agencies, with the General Assembly, and with community leaders to ensure that equity is embedded intentionally and genuinely, such as with the implementation of the ONE Virginia mission, off-shore wind initiatives, coastal resilience, marijuana justice, and increased language access for multilingual speakers, people with disabilities, and those with low English literacy, just to name a few. Thus, as we prepare for the inauguration of the 74th Governor of Virginia and the 2022 session, it is incumbent for all Virginians to advocate for continued inclusive excellence, where everyone has access to success and an expectation for participation. Embracing and further investing in our new DEI infrastructure is also the only way we will win the best state for which to do business, given the new CNBC metric for diversity and inclusion. Therefore, our integrated DEI strategy is precisely how we will get closer to increased economic prosperity and the original promise of justice and equality for all. Thus, the ONE Virginia mission and vision belongs to all of us, at least for the next 400 years. Dr. Janice Underwood serves as Governor Northam's Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Striving toward “We the People” By DR. JANICE BELL UNDERWOOD WORDSPRINT.COM/VCC-PUBLICATION-ORDERS.HTML Order the 2022 Red Book today! This edition includes contact information for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General and 2022 General Assembly. Ordering online is simple and easy! Virginia Capitol Connections 2022 Personalized Covers Available! V