Danielle Walker, the Village of Oak Park's first chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer | Provided

As the Village of Oak Park’s first ever chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, Danielle Walker has the ability to establish the parameters of the position and help shape the village’s future. However, she isn’t approaching the role that way. She is looking to the community to define the role.

“I definitely want it to be what the community is needing,” she said in an interview with Wednesday Journal.

Walker came to Oak Park earlier this month via Denver, bringing that community-first style with her along with a wealth of municipal equity experience. She was the first person to serve as DEI officer for the city and county of Denver in the city attorney’s office and previously served as a policy advisor for the Colorado Department of Health Care, Policy and Finance, where she focused on equity within the disability community. Walker has also spent close to a decade researching diversity, equity and inclusion strategies.

The biggest difference Walker has found between Oak Park and Denver is that Oak Park has already established itself as a place that values its historic character and equity-related efforts. Whereas, when she was in Denver, the city experienced a massive expansion that prompted an array of changes. New development versus established neighborhoods caused something of an identity crisis for the community, said Walker.

“One of the things I realized with Oak Park is that there are so many wonderful historical components to the village that I think really anchors a lot of great equity work historically to draw from,” she said.

As the Village of Oak Park’s chief DEI officer, Walker is now a part of Village Manager Kevin Jackson’s executive team. Walker will work directly with the village manager to ensure DEI efforts are employed in every village department and in the village as a whole.

Through her position, Walker is responsible for collaborating on the development and application of organization-wide equity and inclusion strategies. That includes the village’s racial equity toolkit, which was reviewed by the village board in June before Walker joined village staff. The toolkit will likely be implemented beginning this fall, according to Jackson.

Having a racial equity toolkit already in the works helped to attract her to the position because it serves as a “good foundation” for future DEI work, while providing insight into the community’s values, according to Walker. She will also have the ability to make adjustments to the toolkit as needed.

“What’s really important with DEI is recognizing that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” she said. “You are starting from somewhere, building upon things, trying new things and assessing; that’s all really part of the process.”

Her biggest project in the coming months will be the development and implementation of a racial equity plan for Oak Park’s village government. That plan, when crafted and approved by the village board, will guide village staff and elected officials in making all village policies, programming and operations racially equitable.

There is no one-size fits all approach to creating a racial equity plan, said Walker. There are many possible avenues to explore and what works for one community may not work for another.

“You really want DEI to be reflective of the community you’re serving,” she said.

To build Oak Park’s racial equity plan so that it mirrors the community itself, Walker has been researching the village’s history and recent equity efforts. She also plans to build relationships with village board members and engage with members of the public, as well as community organizations.

“It’s really important for me, building these relationships and these connections,” she said. “And so I really am grateful and honored to be in this inaugural role and to really grow with the community.”

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