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A Conversation with Elaine Hardy, East Lansing’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator

“I tell CEOs to begin where they are, don’t manufacture where they are.”

Elaine Hardy is the City of East Lansing’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Administrator. 517 Magazine’s Mary Gajda spoke with her about her passion for the area and how we can make change together.

You spent 19 years as the director of the East Lansing Hannah Community Center. How did you find yourself in your current role?

I felt like while I was at the community center, that was an ordained part of my life’s journey. When the opportunity came along with the city after we and the entire nation started grappling with racism after the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor … I felt like this was meant to happen for me. This was the natural progression for that.

For the last 25 years I have been working around youth on racial equity and social justice with the Y Achievers program through the YMCA of Lansing. Also, considering my work with the Dr. Martin Luther King Commission, I felt like this provided an opportunity to take the past two decades of work that I’ve been doing to do something professionally.

 

Your passion for East Lansing is strong.

I love East Lansing. I’ve lived here for over 30 years. My children grew up and went to school here. I just feel like this community, more than any community, is willing and able to tackle this issue of racism and work toward becoming an anti-racist community.

 

Explain how you challenge others to think more inclusively.

If you can navigate your life where you have no meaningful relationships with a Black person, what you have effectively done is disqualify some of the most beautiful things about living in America. If you know your only contact with Black people is not intentional, I challenge you to make some intentional contact with people who don’t look like you. You enrich your own life so much more by doing so.

In regard to the workplace, really seek out individuals in your work environment that you don’t necessarily have a direct affinity with. Begin to appreciate the nuances and different perspectives they can bring to your workplace.

I tell CEOs to begin where they are, don’t manufacture where they are. Own it. If you don’t have a statement denouncing racism and discrimination, get with your team and make one. If you don’t have a statement denouncing racism and inclusion, talk about what that looks like for you. Recognize it isn’t going to take a day, a week or a month. It is a continuing journey.

 

Any final words?

Dr. King said that we are all tied in a web of mutuality, and that what affects one directly affects us all indirectly. No matter where we are, we are still tied together. And we are no stronger, no more free, no more beautiful than what the least of us are. If we all aren’t free, none of us are.

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