What the 2021 Oscars Can Teach Us About Public Engagement

Photo by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

We’re less than a week away from the 93rd Academy Awards ceremony. At my house, that means we are catching up on all the nominated films.

As I’ve watched, I’ve been struck by how many lessons for improving public involvement processes can be found throughout this year’s slate of films.

Inclusive Engagement

Judas and the Black Messiah is based on the true story of FBI informant William O’Neal and his role in the 1969 killing of Fred Hampton, chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party. This Best Picture nominee shows the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion and community-led outreach. And this message resonates just as powerfully today as it did while Hampton was alive.

A community-led approach to public involvement means actively listening to the community you are working in about their needs, planning collaboratively with community members, and modifying and reshaping activities based upon community input.  The community must be actively involved in defining and measuring outcomes.  

In the film, we see Hampton’s Black Panthers work to form the multiracial Rainbow Coalition, a powerful force for community-led action and change. If government officials had tapped into this network instead of opposing it as they did at the time, results could have been wildly different.

One Night in Miami, up for three Oscars including Best Supporting Actor, builds on this theme in a quieter way. The film fictionalizes a real-life meeting of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, and Sam Cooke in February 1964. They are four men coming from different perspectives, but they have the same goals when it comes to combatting systemic racism.

Public involvement processes too often only do the bare minimum when it comes to diversity, asking one person to represent an entire population or group. Their conversations in the film remind us to celebrate the diversity in experience and approach, making sure to reach and include the most comprehensive audience possible.

Both films highlight the desire of and need for marginalized communities to have a seat at the table. In the public involvement process, it’s important for us to evaluate the processes we have in place and make sure they include all individuals—especially those who have historically been left out of the planning process.

Accessibility from All Angles

When we think about inclusion, we also need to consider accessibility in all facets of our public engagement process.

Crip Camp, my pick for Best Documentary, provides a very enlightening look into the development of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). To me, it was very eye opening to see what conditions people with physical disabilities were faced with prior to the passing of this act.

But it’s not enough to just be ADA-compliant. The process to get accommodations should be simple, clear, and prominently displayed.

The Sound of Metal, which is nominated for Best Picture, also stresses the importance of accessibility. The film follows drummer who loses his hearing and who must learn to adapt to his new reality.

The most striking piece of this film to me was how crucially it stressed that disabilities are not deficiencies. We should approach accessibility in public involvement with this same mindset. It should be built in from the very beginning, not be an afterthought.

A Safe Place for Free Speech

The public involvement process with environmental planning is often seen as the place to express opposition or support for a project. While we know that typically the process is not a vote, the general public can sometimes use it to rally opposition for a project and we can sometimes see meetings become contentious and attract protests.

The Trial of Chicago 7, a nominee for Best Picture, highlights our responsibility to provide a safe place for people to express their First Amendment rights. The film offers a dramatic retelling of the trial of the antiwar activists charged with inciting a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention, known as the Chicago Seven. The entire story provides a blueprint for what not to do.

If I expect protests for a project, I work with my clients to develop security plans in partnership with meeting venues to ensure there is a safe place for expression of first amendment rights and everyone knows what to do if things should escalate. I’ve also seen success working directly with protest organizers to understand their plans and to inform them of the meeting ground rules.

Ensure Transparency

When you know you might face pushback, it is tempting to want to limit the information flow. Over the years, I have had many conversations with clients that are afraid to share information because they are worried about the ramifications. Transparency not only contributes to equity, but it often leads to better results overall.

Collective, an Oscar nominee for Best Documentary, offers an extreme example of the power of the open sharing of information. The film is based on a 2015 fire in Romania that immediately killed 27 people and injured more than a hundred others. Four months after the fire, the death toll had risen to 64, partially due to the lack of proper healthcare and negligible medical care at the public hospitals. The documentary explores public healthcare fraud, corruption, and maladministration.

For me what stood out about this documentary, is not just the horrifying and haunting footage of the disaster itself, but the way the Minister of Health opened his doors to the documentary film crew. They are showing everything in the wake of this disaster, the corruption and cover ups. He even admits the country is not equipped to handle severe burn cases and, at one point, asks a member of the public for advice on how to solve this problem. His transparency empowers the general public and subject matter experts to weigh in on crucial decisions. This documentary is an extreme, but it shows how trust can be built by sharing information that would have otherwise perhaps been covered up.

Lessons for public engagement can be found all around us, even in pop culture. Did you have any takeaways from this year’s Oscars slate?

Water is the Essence of Life

April is Water Conservation Month, and the Avid Core team is committed to doing our part to secure safe, affordable, accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations. This month, we are donating to DIGDEEP, a non-profit organization working to provide rural communities in America with clean running water. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

Many of us take our access to potable water for granted. Take a minute to think about where your clean water comes from and how it gets to your faucet. It’s a hidden journey that only seems as easy as turning the tap on and off.

Experiencing life without the faucet changed my perspective on consumption and waste. I grew up on the Navajo reservation and my grandparents did not have running water. Clean water was hauled from a well several miles away and stored in barrels, eventually used to drink, clean, and cook. My grandparents survived on about eight gallons per day compared to the national home average of 350 gallons per day.

During the summer months, water was essential and not to be wasted. I remember spending time as a kid bringing in heavy five-gallon water jugs into their hogan (traditional Navajo home) to ensure that they had enough clean water to drink. Today, my Masaní (maternal grandmother) still does not have running water, and whenever I visit her, I bring in those same five-gallon jugs to make sure she has what she needs.

During the past year, my community suffered greatly from the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to other inequities, the virus has highlighted significant gaps in water resources among tribal communities and prompted the community to conserve our water to sustain health measures. Even beyond the pandemic, practicing water conservation is an effective method for us to maintain our water supply for future generations and for rural communities to access for future use.

Clean drinking water is an extremely sensitive resource and not an unlimited one. To help put it in perspective, only 2.5 percent of the earth’s water is freshwater, of which 1 percent is accessible for drinking, agriculture, irrigation, and power generation. With dwindling sources of fresh water and fast-growing populations, we must do our part now to conserve this sensitive resource.

Photo by Tremayne Nez

In my Navajo culture, water is a sacred resource. We have a phrase, “tó éí ííńá” (water is life) that you will likely find painted on windmills across the reservation. Water, to my people, is considered the very essence of life and existence. When we all take steps to conserve our water, we not only secure the long-term supply for future use, we sustain life for future generations.

What does it mean to conserve water?

Conserving water means to practice using water more efficiently to reduce waste. Practicing a low water use lifestyle helps to maintain our current water supply, helps the environment, saves on energy costs, and allows for future needs.   

So why conserve now?

According to a Government Accountability Report, 40 out of 50 state water managers expect water shortages by 2024, highlighting the need to conserve water usage. Bodies of freshwater across the United States have supplied Americans with freshwater for years but changes to the climate, such as more frequent longer-lasting droughts and less precipitation, have shifted the attention to a more conservative approach. Across the western U.S., aquifers are depleting quickly due to high demand.

What can you do to conserve?

This is a significant problem that will take cooperative and comprehensive solutions to solve. While we know individual actions will only play a minor role, we believe that taking small steps matters. When we all make small changes in our daily lives together, we can create lasting change in maintaining our water supply for all to enjoy.

Here are some practical strategies you can take today:

  • When washing your hands, turn the faucet a half turn instead of a full turn.
  • When brushing your teeth, turn off the tap between rinsing.
  • Install low-flow aerators designed to reduce the amount of flow and save on cost.
  • Check for toilet leaks by placing a few drops of food coloring in the back of the toilet; if a leak is present, you’ll see the color in the toilet and you’ll know to change the toilet flapper. Leaky toilets can waste 200 gallons per day.
  • Water your lawn only when necessary and avoid watering on windy days.
  • Collect rainwater to water indoor plants.
  • Only run full loads in your dishwasher and washing machine.
  • Consider replacing old home equipment (washers, dishwashers, water heaters, toilets) with newer, more efficient appliances. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), households can all reduce their water waste by 20 percent by installing water-efficient devices and fixtures to prevent dripping.

When practicing conservation in my own life, I feel inspired and empowered to start thinking of the more significant ideas and solutions.

Let’s take these steps together this Water Conservation Month and work toward securing safe, affordable, and accessible drinking water for all communities and future generations.

Around the Table with Berthine Crèvecoeur West

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Berthine Crèvecoeur West

Company: Westbridge Solutions

Where to Find You:

LinkedIn,  Facebook, Instagram, The Global Fluency Podcast, and in Global Fluency Magazine!

How did you get started in diversity, equity, and inclusion work?

My story began with what could have been considered a failure. I got laid off from my first and only job here in Atlanta, Georgia, just when I learned that my husband and I were expecting our baby. Needless to say, I was at a loss as to what I was going to do next. After one day of mourning a job I, admittedly, never enjoyed, I decided the next day to create what would become the foundation of my company and our signature training platforms. I performed a SWOT analysis on myself, not only to discover my strengths and weaknesses, but to also create a rubric that would empower me to do not only what I was great at, but what I also enjoyed doing! Oftentimes, in life, the two are not aligned and it requires a degree of intentionality and clarity on our parts to make them so.

After this analysis, I realized that I could use my multilingual skills (I am a speaker of four languages), as well as the knowledge that I had amassed while working in the corporate, legal, and financial sectors. I knew that entrepreneurship was the right and only path for me to achieve my goals and empower others to achieve theirs, as well.

So, I sought training to become a professional Interpreter. After I received my certificate, I then completed my National Certification and became the first Nationally Certified Healthcare Interpreter for Haitian Creole in the state of Georgia. My work as an Interpreter took me to various parts of the state and country. I saw the need for culturally competent and inclusive professional development within the many sectors I was fortunate enough to serve. It was then that I decided to educate myself and prepare myself to pivot toward diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) work. The rest, as they say, is HER-story.

As a professional trainer, what do you see as the biggest challenge facing companies today?

As a professional trainer, the biggest problem I have encountered is two-fold. The first is performative allyship. Too often organizations seek to have DEI trainer speak to a group and think that is all that is required. The diversity box can be checked off and then the work is done. That is actually not training. While there is a place and a space for seminars about diversity, it should not be confused with actual training. Training requires assessments, theoretical methodologies, processes, and practical applications.

The next challenge is employee engagement and executive commitment. While organizations are well-intended with respect to wanting to create inclusive and equitable workplaces, effective and successful training programs require commitment at the executive level. As a professional trainer, when speaking to the C-suite, it is imperative for me to impart upon them that DEI training is good for business and show them the potential return on investment this presents for their organization. Even a highly effective DEI program will face challenges when employees are made to attend. With committed executives spearheading this training, engagement can be fostered prior to launching the program. When programs are customized to suit an organization’s needs, as well as to energize and empower employees, employees naturally feel engaged and valued by their organizations. This will not only align them with the vision and mission of their organizations, but they will feel empowered to show up as their authentic selves.

You recently launched Global Fluency Magazine. What made you decide to branch out to this new medium?

I decided to launch Global Fluency Magazine because I wanted to create a space that allowed me to amplify other voices apart from my own. I wanted to invite different individuals from all over the world to come join the conversation, to share differing perspectives, and to explore current events with a DEI lens. There is an African proverb that states, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Global Fluency Magazine was built upon us all traveling on the road of our shared human experience… together.

In addition to your new magazine, you’re also an author and podcast host on top of your day-to-day work. How do you make mental health and self-care a priority?

It is a lot to do, but I make certain to use time-blocking strategies. For instance, I reserve Mondays as my administrative days and Thursdays as my podcasting days. Evenings and Sundays are reserved for my family. I have also adopted Warren Buffet’s strategy of using the power of saying “No.” I preserve and maintain my mental health by choosing clients to whom I know I can bring value, but who will also not undervalue me. I have also set boundaries with regard to the amount of time I invest in meetings and respect others’ time, as well. Time is a rare and valuable commodity.

Lastly, I take days off from work and when I do, I make sure that I have fun! I believe in “working smart” and being agile. As the comedian Ricky Gervais says, “The Reward is the hard work!” Because I so love what I do, it’s important that I am at my best, so I’m around to do it. That is also why I believe in going to the beach, laughing out loud, giving hugs to my loved ones, and enjoying life.

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

The best career advice that I have received was from a colleague and sales consultant, who was providing some constructive criticism about my company’s website. When she saw the “Meet Our CEO” page, she said to me “That’s a nice picture. But it doesn’t look like you and how I know you at all.” She was absolutely right!

The image was your typical conservative image of me in a suit. It was fine, but there was nothing about my personality in that picture. I could not empower others if I did not empower myself and give myself permission to show up as my authentic self. So now, not only does my online presence reflect my personality, but it allows both clients and potential clients to feel empowered by the Westbridge Solutions brand and all that it represents. Show up boldly and authentically in your business, in your role, in your life and be intentional about it. Best advice ever!

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share and why?

If we were around the table right now, I’d bring a charcuterie plate. I can literally live off meats, cheeses, fruit, and nuts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. There’s literally something on those platters for everyone! The perfect, inclusive dish!

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Avid Fans of: Logging Off

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.

Spending an increased amount of time at home and online since the pandemic started has motivated us to explore new outlets, hobbies, and activities that don’t involve screen time. Check out some of the ways we’ve been using our time that doesn’t include work or binge-watching The Crown! Sometimes logging off is just what you need to recharge and reconnect with yourself and loved ones.

Ashley — Books, books, and more books!

In effort to stop doomscrolling on Twitter right before bed, I started making it a practice to read a physical book for at least 30 minutes every night before going to sleep.

I’ve since expanded way beyond those 30 minutes. I think I’ve left a permanent dent in my couch that resembles my favorite reading position. If you need to find me on any given weekend morning, I’m likely sipping coffee and reading the book of the day in that spot. And if you need me on any afternoon, I’m likely sipping wine (or an Aperol spritz) and reading on the couch or outside on the porch.

I’ve always been a voracious reader but during this pandemic, it has provided me with a much-needed escape. Through books I have been able to travel to far off lands, fictional and real, explore different perspectives and lived experiences, and make friends between the pages. I have read from practically every genre and have laughed, cried, and fallen in love many times over. I’m always down to talk about books you’re reading, to offer and receive book recommendations, and to obsess over my favorite characters.

I’ve read 145 books since March 2020 and have no plans to slow down this year. It’s a habit I hope sticks around even after I can have an in-person social life again.

A few of my favorite books I’ve read over the past year
Photo: Ashley Dobson

Amanda — Running!

In middle school, we would have to run a mile every week. I hated it. Even though I consistently finished toward the top of the recorded times for the girls, I thought running was boring and hard work. Then, about 10 years ago, I discovered fun runs—5k courses that involve obstacles, costumes, mud, and other fun challenges. Now that I wasn’t so concerned about getting a top time, I found running to be a nice break away from the gym and a way to explore the outdoors. While this post is about no screens, new running apps do keep me motivated by my friends who post their own runs and give me kudos for mine. And my children are taking after me — every night after dinner, they run around the house in a short race to get their energy out before bed.   

Photo: Amanda Roberts

Virginia — Cooking….kinda!

I have never been a fan of cooking and am not sure I will ever “love it.” But I have found much joy in spending time with our nieces and nephews. We’ve created our own little “quarantine pod” and I have really enjoyed making traditional Mexican food like “lengua” (cow tongue) tacos and have even made beans from scratch. Most recently, we started dying empty egg shells to make cascarones for Easter. We had breakfast for dinner and it was a hit. I’m looking forward to trying traditional Filipino dishes such as lumpia and pancit. I’m discovering a love of recreating the joy my late aunts brought my cousins and me through their cooking. I loved big family gatherings growing up and I hope to create similar good memories for my kids and their cousins.

Photo: Virginia Quiambao Arroyo

Steph – Parks, trails and unique gardens

Living in a house full of high energy and curious adventurers has motivated us to venture out to new outdoor spaces on a weekly basis. We’ve learned that it is essential to pack a bag full of snacks, masks, hand sanitizer, sunscreen, drinks, bubbles, and a picnic blanket if we want to make the trip a success. Our recent adventures included Hillwood Estate’s gardens, Nanjemoy WMA to find shark teeth, Brookside Gardens to learn about the plant species, and visiting the Tidal Basin.  When we don’t want to hop in the car, we’re fortunate enough to ride our bikes to new stretches of Rock Creek Park. The fresh air combined with the ability to explore has been a great way for us to learn about the incredible history and culture in the DC area.

Hillwood Gardens in Washington, DC
Photo: Stephanie Mace
Nanjemoy WMA in Charles County, MD
Photo: Stephanie Mace

Tremayne — Wallyball!

Over the past few years, I’ve developed an interest in the sport of volleyball. I’m not very good, but thanks to some friends, I can participate and compete in the local city league. Since the COVID-19 outbreak last year, there have been no league games, and local gyms are closed to all team sports. I really missed the competition, the fast-paced action, and enjoying times with friends while getting a good workout.

Recently, my brother invited me to play wallyball. Wallyball is like volleyball but played on a racquetball court with the net at a similar height and a rubber ball similar in size to a volleyball. It follows the same rules, but instead of a line-boundary on the court, the wall is the boundary. The wall adds another dimension to the already fast-paced sport and can get intense quickly.

It took a little while for me to get the hang of it. After embarrassing myself by running into the wall a couple of times and getting hit in the head with the ball, I started to understand the gameplay and enjoy it. The sport is a strategic game as much as it is active and tests your hand-eye coordination, agility, balance, strength, and timing. It is an exciting game, small enough to be played with two to six players.  If you enjoy recreational sports, consider taking up wallyball. It’s a great way of getting in exercise while maintaining social-distancing and playing with others.

Photo: Tremayne Nez

Hana — Furniture upcycling

Since quarantine began a year ago, I have become a dedicated watcher of DIY YouTube home renovation and design videos. What started as one random recommended video turned into a slight obsession. I was living at home after coming back early from studying abroad and working from my childhood bedroom and I decided it was time for a room refresh. After doing some research, I marched to Lowe’s, picked up some paint, borrowed a sander from a neighbor, and got to work! I upcycled an old, unused desk in our house so I could have it for my remote summer internship, redid a dresser that was in my room since I was a baby, and helped my brother redo his kitchen cabinets in his new house. Although I ran into plenty of challenges along the way, it was so rewarding to learn new techniques, try out new tools, and see each piece come together. These projects made me more passionate about extending the lifecycle of furniture, clothes, and appliances to minimize trash and waste. I can’t wait to tackle more in the future!

Photo: Hana Chabinsky
Photo: Hana Chabinsky

Andrew — Homebrewing

This past year I’ve been getting more and more into making my own beer. I like experimenting with weird flavor combinations and being able to brew my own means I can get way, way more creative than anything you can find in a store. Of course, this freedom has resulted in some great and some not-so-great beers, but I like to think I’m learning what works. For their part, my friends and family have been excellent—and patient—taste testers.

Right now, I have a Jalapeño-Harissa Saison in the fermenter – don’t worry, I didn’t use the whole jar of spice!

Photo: Andrew Curtin

Avid Core Stands in Solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Islander Community

I have been mulling over this message since the onset of the rise of violent crimes and deadly attacks against Asians and Pacific Islanders. I referenced past and recent instances of my family being attacked or ridiculed with anti-Asian sentiment. I wrote about the trauma that comes with being terrorized for simply existing, for being the subject of someone’s deep-rooted hate or fetish. I wrote about how it is possible and why it is important to stand against anti-Asian hate crimes without criminalizing black and other brown communities. I went down so many rabbit holes on various topics because I felt the need to educate and explain, but I realized that it cannot be done in one message or blog post. This feeling of defeat and hopelessness is even further compounded by the terrorist in Atlanta unveiling that he sought to eliminate outlets that contribute to his sexual addiction, further exposing the vulnerability that women, especially women of color, face day-to-day.

We must remind ourselves that racial and gendered hate crimes, violence, and murders are a long legacy and the collaborative work to eradicate it never ends. I hope everyone impacted has the love and support needed to heal from the senselessness.

Virginia Quiambao Arroyo, Avid Core Co-Founder   

Avid Core stands in solidarity with the Asian and Pacific Islander community. We denounce and condemn the hate crimes and racist attacks against Asians perpetrated this week and in recent months across the U.S.  

Avid Core reaffirms our commitment to the collective effort needed to effect change.

We will continue to grow our allyship with the Asian and Pacific Islander community through enforcing our anti-discrimination policies, maintaining a safe and healthy workplace culture, creating spaces for co-workers to support each other, and speaking out and intervening when we witness discrimination.

Avid Core recognizes that to effectively address anti-Asian racism, we must also work to end all forms of structural racism leveled at Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color. We pledge to continue putting our founding values of inclusivity, integrity, and equity into practice.

In memory of the six Asian women murdered in Atlanta on March 16, we are donating to Futures Without Violence and the Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence. We are also donating to Stop AAPI Hate to support their continued efforts to track and respond to the surge in racism and xenophobia. We encourage you to join us to see where you can help—financially or otherwise—and to seek help when you need it.

Celebrating Secretary Haaland and Historic Representation for Indigenous Communities

Avid Core, along with our close partners at Cogstone Resource Management, celebrate the historic appointment and confirmation of Secretary Debra Haaland.

We believe Secretary Haaland will continue the vital work at the Department of the Interior while fostering effective dialogue and ensuring representation for Indigenous communities.

As public outreach consultants and archaeologists, we offer few recommendations for Secretary Haaland to improve discussion efforts and foster authentic and honest relationships with Tribal Nations.  

The letter below was sent to the new Secretary following her appointment:

Dear Secretary Haaland,

Congratulations on your historic appointment as Secretary of the Interior. With this appointment, the Department of the Interior is in a unique position to incorporate Indigenous perspectives on critical issues such as social injustice, responsible protection of ancestral tribal lands, climate change, and federal-tribal affairs, which have long been overlooked.

As you are aware, the Department of the Interior is responsible for managing our country’s natural resources, federal and public lands, and honoring the Federal Government’s trust responsibilities to American Indian, Native Hawaiian, Alaska Native nations, organizations, and villages. However, a deep mistrust overshadows the Indigenous community’s attitude toward the Government, specifically the Department of the Interior. Now is the time to rebuild that trust.

Tribal representation matters. As tribal and historic preservation consultants, we help government agencies rebuild relationships with tribal nations and organizations based on renewed trust. Communication challenges, non-existent tribal consultation, and ineffective policy implementation have left the Indigenous population powerless in the public policy decision-making process. As the Biden Administration and the United States Congress prepare to undertake new legislation to address social injustice and environmental issues, we are confident you will use your knowledge and experience to ensure that Indigenous leaders and tribal perspectives are present during these discussions.

To encourage successful government-to-government relationships, we offer a few recommendations on improving the consultation process and opening the lines of communication with Tribal Nations:

  1. Work with federally recognized tribes to ensure they have the available resources to engage in federal consultation.

A recent Government of Accountability Office (GAO) study reported that some tribes do not have the existing resources to engage in meaningful consultation. Native American tribes listed many factors, including limited funding, the lack of staff, and high volumes of consultation requests with short deadlines, that have prevented thorough assessments of project consultation. We recommend your agency broaden the availability of resources to assist tribes as they engage in discussions with federal agencies. We ask that your agency identifies ways to support Tribal governments in their efforts to participate in consultation dialogue.

Although the federal government only needs to consult federally recognized tribes, we recommend including state-recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in the consultation process. Many state-recognized and non-federally recognized tribes lack the resources to start the federal acknowledgment process and thus remain unrecognized even though they continue to practice their cultural traditions and have Indigenous knowledge of the land. Under federal law, the Government is required to consult with experts. Tribal members from state and non-federally recognized tribes are the experts.

  1. Be transparent and share detailed information on how tribal input is considered in public policy decision making.

In a previous GAO study, tribes emphasized a disregard of tribal relations. We recommend creating a standard information-sharing process that includes a post-project debrief for Tribal leaders. Tribal leaders would appreciate hearing information explaining that tribal concerns were addressed and accommodated, even if project planning does not favor tribal interests.

  1. Provide Tribal leadership with direct access to Department leadership during the consultation process.

As sovereign entities, Tribal leaders are responsible for decision making for their tribe. For the tribe, this is the equivalent role as the President of the United States. We believe you understand the importance of showing respect to the Tribal leader by having Department leadership or other high-ranking officials with decision-making power participate in tribal consultations.

  1. Develop a tribal consultation policy to accommodate rural Indigenous communities.

A recent Census Bureau study estimates that over half of Native Americans living on rural tribal lands do not have access to essential wireless broadband services. The lack of internet connectivity for tribal members presents difficulties when engaging in virtual consultation. Many tribal members rely on their mobile phones for online services but lack available service areas and struggle with unreliable cellular coverage. When federal agencies hold online webinars or request online public comments, they disproportionately exclude tribal members who do not have broadband access. While there have been significant improvements to communications funding on tribal lands, we recommend that your agency develop public outreach and consultation policies designed to include rural tribal community members who do not have internet access. General mailing services, text messaging systems, or public town hall-style meetings are ways for your agency to promote rural tribal communities’ inclusion in the consultation process.

We appreciate the monumental task before you and recognize that decades of structural inequity will not be dismantled overnight. As minority, women-owned small businesses, we stand ready to work with you to ensure Indigenous and marginalized voices are heard and considered through the Department of the Interior’s work.

Best wishes,

Virginia Quiambao Arroyo
Avid Core

Desiree Martinez
Cogstone Resource Management

Around the Table with Keith Scott

Welcome to Around the Table, a regular series where we talk to people in our network and share the incredible work they are doing in their industry. Pull up a chair and join us for conversation and connection.

Name: Keith Scott

Company: K.L. Scott and Associates (KLSA)

Where to Find You: Twitter (personal and professional) and on LinkedIn

What drew you to the world of government consulting?

Government exists to serve its citizens and I felt I can make the biggest impact to society in this area.  There are a lot of opportunities to improve government operations and services.  You can say I’m a servant to public servants. 

What do you think is the biggest challenge the industry is facing today?

COVID-19 and the extent of disruption to the economy.

In addition to running KLS&A, you also host a podcast, The Citizen Experience. What prompted you to get on the mic?

I love conversations on how we can improve operations and services.  I realized that there wasn’t a platform where government and civic leaders can discuss what’s working for them so that their peers can adopt their successes in their local communities. 

KLSA recently launched new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion strategic services. Why did you decide to expand in that direction?

We saw a need to help organizations that didn’t realize there was a problem until they saw George Floyd’s murder on all media platforms.  I liken it to Emmett Till.  It’s the unveiling of an underlying problem that has existed for centuries in this country.  This country will never reach its full potential until all people, regardless of race, color, religion, gender, and sexual orientation are treated equally and equitably.  

What’s the best advice you’ve received in your career?

“Kill King Kong while it’s a baby.”  Meaning never let a problem grow until it’s an insurmountable problem.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?

Spend time with my family, watch basketball or football, listen to music, and write poetry.

If we were literally around the table right now, what food would you have brought to share?

Cocktail Shrimp

Interested in building a relationship and joining us around the table? Let’s connect.

Avid Fans of: Community Trails

Avid (adjective) – having or showing a keen interest in or enthusiasm for something. It’s more than just our company’s namesake. Passion for our work and for the things we love is part of our core values. Each month we’ll share some of the things we’re Avid Fans of with you.

In the era of COVID-19 and social distancing, outdoor walks, runs, and hikes are some of the best ways to spend time. This month we’re sharing the trails we’re loving across the nation and abroad.

Virginia – Andrew Leitch Park Trail, Dale City, Virginia
I recently came to know of a trail that is part of a park I grew up frequenting with my siblings and friends! My husband and I are fortunate enough to live in the same city we both grew up in. A few months into the pandemic, we set out to explore all the trails “official and unofficial” that he biked through the years. Andrew Leitch Park is home to Waterworks Park, a summer staple if you grew up in Dale City, Virginia. It is also home to a beautiful four-mile trail that leads to the main road by my house. Our toddler loves running over the pedestrian bridges and splashing through the creeks. I look forward to running the trail this summer and I’m thrilled to know that there are expansion plans that will provide pedestrian and cyclist access by connecting trails around Andrew Leitch Park and another childhood staple, the Sharron Baucom Dale City Recreation Center. I look forward to enjoying these trails with my family for years to come!

Photo by Virginia Quiambao Arroyo

Amanda – Flatlick Stream Valley Park Trail, Chantilly, Virginia
Flatlick Stream Valley Park abuts my neighborhood and consists of both wetlands and serves as a floodplain. It also includes a paved trail that runs alongside Flatlick Branch. Despite being so close to houses and businesses, the trail is often a place of solitude—it seems like we rarely cross others and that’s perhaps also why it’s been a place of rare (for me) wildlife sightings. We’ve seen water snakes, foxes, moles, plenty of birds, fish, and clams. Recently, beavers have moved in. The trail offers options for foraging (berries, mushrooms, and wild onions), as well as beautiful wildflowers. I consider myself lucky to have access to such a beautiful resource and try to be a responsible steward. My family spent the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service out at the trail cleaning up the litter that ultimately collects from serving as a floodplain, and, just this week, we helped clear the trail after a tree fell blocking the path.  It’s wonderful having this treasure in my backyard.

Photo by Amanda Roberts

Stephanie – Shining Sea Bikeway, Falmouth, Massachusetts
A bike trail with a beach and ice cream shops?! Count us in. After quarantining for five months in 2020, my adventurous family decided we need to explore new trails. We excitedly packed up our bikes, helmets, and gear and headed to Cape Cod for the first time. The 10.7-mile Shining Sea Bikeway follows the route of a former railroad that provided service from the Cape to New York and Boston from 1872 to 1965. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s site provided the background information we needed to plan our day. Bikers of all ages enjoyed spotting the wildlife, going over the bridges, and finding relaxing places to take a water break with a gorgeous view. The trail captured the beauty of Cape Cod and was extremely family friendly. In fact, our youngest sped along on her balance bike receiving compliments from fellow bikers that boosted her confidence. We fulfilled our promise to have lunch on the beach, stack rocks, and dip our toes in the refreshing water.  We also promised to return this summer to enjoy the lighthouse views, yachts, and explore more of the trail. Until then, I’m treasuring my memories from my favorite bike ride and the special rocks we collected.

Ashley – Ensign Peak Trail, Salt Lake City, Utah
In September 2019, I was in Salt Lake City, Utah for a conference where I was running the hosting organization’s social media accounts and promotion efforts. Looking to get out of the conference center and keep my face out of screens for a bit, I decided to walk the Ensign Peak Trail. The actual trail is about one mile to the top of the small mountain, but you can walk through downtown and join up with the start of the trail behind the State Capitol building. It’s a great way to take in the whole city. The trail is well-maintained and features historical markers with information about the peak and the city below it.

Ensign Peak is where Brigham Young and the other pioneer leaders stood when they decided to settle in Salt Lake City. Standing up there myself and taking in the view at sunset, it was easy to see why.  

Photo by Ashley Dobson

Tremayne – Havasu Canyon Trail, Havasupai, Arizona
The Havasu Canyon Trail is a treasure of Northern Arizona. It is truly an oasis, surrounded by towering red cliffs of the Grand Canyon. On the Havasupai Indian Reservation, the town of Supai is listed as one of the most inaccessible cities on the continental United States. It sits along the river and is only accessible by foot, horseback, or helicopter. A few miles up from Supai are aquifers that spring up water rich in minerals and turquoise in color. The river runs through a series of five waterfalls, with the biggest one, Mooney Falls, sending water crashing down from over 200 feet. The 15-mile hike in direct sunlight with temperatures reaching over 110 degrees is all worth it once you dive into the cold, clear water below. It’s an experience you won’t forget.

Hana — Bondi to Coogee Walk, Sydney, Australia
During the spring of my junior year of college, I studied abroad in the most beautiful place on earth (cue the bias). Less than a mile from my dorm was Coogee Beach, the last stop on the famous Bondi to Coogee coastal walk — about a four-mile trail looking over some of the most breathtaking views I will ever see in my life! Within those four miles, you get mountains, beaches, the Bondi Baths, bays, and a seemingly infinite number of dogs whose lives could not get any better. I will always remember how each beach along the walk had its own personality. Tamarama was wild and unpredictable, but surfers there thrived under pressure. Clovelly was calm and peaceful, usually where families with young kids spent their days snorkeling.

Out of all my Sydney adventures, I felt the luckiest having this trail in my own neighborhood. It’s where I connected with new friends, found solitude, explored my new home, and even spent my 21st birthday. There’s no doubt that I’ll be back!

Photo by Hana Chabinsky

Andrew — East Bay Bike Path, Providence, Rhode Island
Growing up in Providence, the East Bay Bike Path was one of those trails I “discovered” as a kid that I keep coming back to as an adult.  Roughly 15 miles long, the path starts in the Fox Point neighborhood of Providence, crosses the Seekonk River and runs south along the eastern coast of Narragansett Bay. The route takes you through some stunning views of the coastline, is well maintained and offers easy access all along the way for cycling and walking.

My favorite part is the Old Bridge Path, connected just north of where the bike path begins, which takes you by the Crook Point Bascule Bridge – an abandoned railway drawbridge that’s stuck in the “up” position. The broken bridge has stubbornly avoided demolition for over 40 years and has become an oddly beautiful and sentimental icon of the city. Maybe you have to be there to understand.

Photo by Andrew Curtin

Happy First Birthday, Avid Core!

It’s been quite a wild journey! While new to owning a business, Amanda and I have known each other and worked together for more than a decade. We launched Avid Core with a solid understanding of our individual strengths and weaknesses and our established working relationship allowed us to have frank conversations and make calculated business decisions quickly. We kicked off our first year eager to endure the growing pains of entrepreneurship, but nothing could have prepared us for the bumpy road ahead.

Virginia Quiambao Arroyo (left) and Amanda Roberts (right), cofounders of Avid Core

With stay-at-home orders in place, our personal and professional worlds collided as we facilitated difficult client discussions with toddlers dancing to “Baby Shark” in the background. We developed and implemented company policies, while managing our own at home to protect our loved ones from the deadliest pandemic of our lifetime. We executed outreach strategies to disenfranchised stakeholders, while our nation continued to grapple with the pain and consequences of institutional racism and social injustice.

Like so many of us, we have done our best to face adversity and recognize the privilege and responsibilities we have as business owners and employers. There are still many lessons to learn through this journey, but this year proved our personal and professional perseverance.

So, what have we learned? What does the next year hold for us?

People and Partnerships

From trying to keep in touch with family and friends, to protecting and helping the most vulnerable in our communities, we have had to get creative to stay connected. Social distancing has taken its toll, yet it remains that there is much more to be gained through maintaining strong relationships, developing collaborative partnerships, and just generally helping others.

While our strong foundation and friendship made the transition to operating a business remotely a bit easier, building our company culture and team has been difficult. We find ways to build relationships with prospective staff in advance of hiring. We have had to tailor our recruitment strategy and rely more on our intuition to determine if someone not only has the right skillset but is also the right fit for our “core”.

Despite the hurdles that come with a new small business being forced to work remotely, we have adapted. It has allowed us to be flexible in the types of work we pursue and is valuable in many circumstances, whether it is a small, one-time project or a large effort with full-time employees. We are exploring long-term volunteer opportunities to help our neighbors and enhance our public spaces. We will also be reaching out to potential partners who share the same creative and collaborative spirit.

Expanding our network has been difficult with not being able to attend networking events and meet new people. Instead, we’ve mastered the various types of digital outreach tools (ex: Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Meet, FaceTime & GoToMeeting) to help us stay connected. Despite the distance, we look forward to hosting more virtual discussions in 2021. Please reach out if you want to connect and do not be surprised if you receive an email or phone call from us!

Certifications

We are close to receiving our Virginia Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) and Small, Woman, and Minority (SWaM) certification. This year we will be looking to expand our DBE certifications in other states to add value to projects looking for innovative ways to enhance communications and public involvement while meeting small business goals. At the federal level, we are in the queue to receive the Small Business Administration’s Economically Disadvantaged Woman-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) certification, and we are working toward eligibility for the 8(a) program. We look forward to leveraging new and existing relationships with federal, state, local, and private partners to utilize these certifications. If you would like to discuss potential partnerships under these programs, let us know!

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion

Over the last year we have witnessed a historic call to action around the world to address the need for real change in unjust practices and policies, to admit that racism lurks within our institutions, and to accept the challenge that comes with dismantling it. As a woman- and minority-owned small business, we take our responsibility and commitment to this call to action seriously. We pledge to create a company culture and workforce that reflects the rich diversity that makes us such a powerful nation. While we have taken steps to fulfill this pledge, we will continue to work with subject matter experts to routinely evaluate and refine our policies and procedures, cultivate a dialogue within our team to openly discuss difficult and uncomfortable issues. We are committed to developing solutions for those issues to be addressed.

In our work, we have always looked to employ environmental justice practices and expand culturally sensitive outreach and communications strategies to communities. We have been working with thought leaders to combine their organizational development and training expertise with our expertise in communications and outreach to create a DE&I program that is reflective of authentic experiences and equips organizations with the communications tools needed to implement their plans. Stay tuned for more on this initiative later this month!

We are ready to build off the momentum of an exciting, yet tumultuous first year. Despite the hurdles, like all of you, we showed up and overcame the obstacles. We grew our existing work. We won new work. We grew our team. And now, we look forward to the road ahead!

— Virginia Quiambao Arroyo & Amanda Roberts

Looking Back on 2020 at Avid Core

Launching a company during a pandemic has come with its own unique set of challenges. 2020 has been such a hard year for so many and we are so grateful for the support you have shown us at Avid Core.

Despite the unique set of circumstances, Avid Core has grown this year as company and put our core values into practice at every turn.

Our team has learned about ourselves and the ways we complement each other. We’ve examined how to continuously improve the work we do, and we’ve started to carve out our niche as a strategic communications and public outreach firm.

We look forward to the years to come and can’t wait to see what’s ahead in 2021!