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McKenzie Robinson | SBJ

2022 12 People: Taj Suleyman

New Place, New Narrative 

Posted online

Taj Suleyman acknowledges his job comes with inherent challenges. As the city of Springfield’s first director of diversity, equity and inclusion, he is working to make the city a more just and inclusive community.

“It is tough,” Suleyman says. “But people around me personally, professionally and socially have been supportive in understanding this is a tough job.”

While Suleyman has studied the field deeply, he says his personal history provides a unique perspective on interactions between multiple cultures.

In 2000, Suleyman arrived in the United States with his family as a refugee. He was born in Lebanon to a Sudanese father and Saudi Arabian mother.

“I come from a multicultural background, and I’ve always been fascinated with observing how different cultures, different identities around me interact,” Suleyman says. “I’ve always seen the beauty in people in how they engage when it’s based on some sort of understanding, because there is always a harmony that comes out of that.”

Suleyman’s spent his first few months in Springfield in observation mode, learning the culture of the community.

“My approach is, how can I support what already works and also complement it,” he says.

Suleyman’s focus is on working within the city system to diversify the workforce and make sure its departments are providing inclusive services. “I’m working closely with human resources to revamp the orientation so we can insert the conversation as part of our values and how we implement it,” he says.

He also is taking a close look at community concerns about inclusivity or lack thereof. “How do we listen and engage community members for a more effective customer-service base?” he asks.

Suleyman says the long-term goal is for the city to strengthen relationships with the community.

“I think what I’m bringing in is looking at interconnectedness with services and engagement,” he says. “I’m hoping that this will look like a department, will be a department, and eventually this department will be more involved either internally with more departments or externally with community partners.”

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