Growing Pains: Equity and inclusivity are ‘my driving force’

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Striving toward equity for all people has become Amy Razzaque’s life.

Professionally, she is a program development coordinator for Sources of Strength, a national suicide prevention program in schools. Her work, she said, is the integration between education, mental health and wellness as well as equity and inclusivity.

“The equity and inclusivity piece is kind of my driving force in what I do in education and mental health,” she said.

Inclusivity doesn’t always mean taking large or groundbreaking steps, Razzaque said. Sometimes, those steps can be small. Bringing products or services in for specific communities can often make someone feel more welcomed. One example Razzaque used was making sure salons were more inclusive to the needs of the black community. Food can also be another opportunity, something Razzaque witnessed herself while shopping with her mother, who is originally from Bangladesh.

“Going to the market with my mom, and seeing her just light up when she sees a fruit or a vegetable that you don’t typically find here, but she had in Bangladesh,” she said. “It’s this feeling of home and this feeling of being included and represented in this culture and in this society.”

In her home neighborhood of Overland Park, Razzaque said she saw older famillies losing their homes. Seeing different kinds of inequity based on race, class or in this case, age, drove her to join the Overland Park Neighborhood Association. She is now co-president along with Mara Owen.

Within the RNO, Razzaque and Owen try to bring events to different areas in the neighborhood to ensure everyone is included. In other neighborhoods, this might not seem like a difficult task, but in Overland, the neighborhood is divided from east to west by Santa Fe Drive. Evans Avenue divides it into north and south sections as well.

Razzaque said that the other nice thing about working with a co-president is that she and Owen bring different perspectives to the table. The two work together to see what they can do to make sure all the demographics of the neighborhood are attending meetings or making their voices heard. In Overland, there are a lot of different things going on, Razzaque said.

“There’s such a variety of need, but also a huge opportunity,” she said. “I think it’s so cool that we’re this microcosm of different types of homes and businesses and people who are looking for different things in their communities.”

But right now, Overland is in the middle of playing a catch-up game, Razzaque said. The neighborhood does not have any schools or libraries, which can make meeting in public spaces a little more difficult. Amenities such as grocery stores are not walkable because of major street crossings.

Issues such as affordable housing can also be complicated, Razzaque said. New apartment buildings are desperately needed to create more affordability in a lot of neighborhoods, but adding density is also a big adjustment. It means more parking. It can also mean displacement of other residents.

“It’s easy to talk about the need for affordable housing, and to talk about wanting to keep the demographics similar and things like that,” she said. But action can be more difficult. “It’s complex and very nuanced.”

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