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Mayor Cooke has changed, adapted to Kent’s diverse landscape | Tate
Like Mayor Suzette Cooke, successful leaders in the 21st century must learn to adapt to the changing demands of the times.
Among the most important characteristics a local, regional or national leader can have these days is the ability to adapt to the changing demands of the times. Among the most visible signs of change in South King County and in Kent in particular is the myriad of diversity.
Although the city of Kent is more than 50 percent people of color, we are not just talking about people of color when we use the word diversity. Not only does the word diversity include white populations, but also the city of Kent now has a population that speaks well over 100 different languages, has religious beliefs from all over the world and has an immense variety of subcultures as well as what some call a dominant culture.
Leadership in this kind of 21st century U.S. macro-culture and in local communities must learn to be inclusive, not just in word but in deed. Leaders must get beyond the mid-20th century notions, such as melting pot and colorblind, to learning how to appreciate the differences and the similarities we all have. Leadership must be able serve all well, not just the dominant culture as has largely been the case with the mid-20th century paradigm.
It is quite evident that Cooke and members of her team have been able to make such adaptations in ways that foster inclusion and appreciation - doing so in ways that have the potential to move diverse populations forward with a sense of unity while simultaneously curbing cross-cultural conflict.
Some of the mayor's achievements in the area of diversity and equity may be unsettling in the minds of those who wish to maintain the status quo, in terms of hiring practices, for example. However, it requires bold leadership with a clear vision and immense courage to break through the nuances of enduring practices like nepotism and cronyism as Cooke has occasionally done to begin hiring a staff that reflects the demographics of the Kent communities being served.
Hiring a more diverse staff and a few other inclusionary practices promoted by Cooke and others in Kent are minuscule compared to leadership and governments like that in Seattle and King County, but it's a beginning.
Even so, some who would maintain the status quo in Kent feel threatened and still suggest the new hires aren't qualified. Change and adaptation is difficult for many. As an example, the Bush administration had Rice and Powell on the cabinet, and Rice continued the full two terms. But even as we speak there are some who still say Rice was not qualified. The Democratic Party and the people of the United States of America elected President Obama to a second four-year term as well, and some who resist change still say he's not qualified.
And finally on this point, the Republican Party is learning to adapt in ways that attempt to include all the people, not just a select few, in order for the party to survive in the 21st century.
Cooke has learned these lessons about serving all the people that many other mayors (and hopefuls) in South King County will have to emulate as a condition of moving forward with diverse populations. Hopefully those who seek to maintain the status quo in a lot of areas will conquer their fears in some of those areas, learn to be inclusive, and view themselves as an important part of diverse populations to be served, but not exclusively.
Mayor Cooke, perhaps you can teach other politicians and political hopefuls in all categories some of your political skill. But the courage to take on these issues and the ability to see clearly the demands of the time is another matter. Frankly, it's a calling to serve all populations well, and as mayor you exemplify what's needed in South King County relative to these issues during these particular times.
Continue to learn and grow as you have already.
Melvin L. Tate is a regular contributor to the Kent Reporter.