Greensboro firm works with cities, businesses to develop sense of community

In Black and White

GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Chelsea Dickey started Motley Local three years ago.

“We are a community development and place building firm,” she said. “So we work with towns, communities, businesses that are looking to create voice, create branding, and elevate local communities.”

She says right now is an exciting time because people are opening their eyes to how important this work is, especially in small towns. Last year, the Greensboro-based company launched a racial equity consulting program.

They work with cities, towns, and businesses on what they call a four-step deep dive.

“So this is their social media, their website, if people Google them what do they see?” Mtende Roll said. “Then we go through their handbook, their policies, their guidelines. Do they have the appropriate HR practices that make people safe to talk to them about micro-aggressions or any systemic racism that they experience?”

Roll said the first step is getting on the same page with terminology.

“I can ask 10 people how to define racism and you’re going to have 11 different answers of what they say. So we need to have a shared analysis of what do we mean by these terms as well as be intentional about diversity and equity,” she said.

“The small businesses that call are really concerned about taking care of their employees, their customers, and want to be a holistic business for their community for the good of their community,” Dickey said.

But there’s a flip side.

“I think sometimes people can call and have it fear-based, almost, from the other side to say we just don’t want to get in trouble this way so we need you to come in and be an outside voice,” she said.

These community builders say organizations have to do hard internal work before they can do the external work.

“What we find is that people end up being performative,” Roll said. “So what we’ve seen in the last year and a half is a lot of people have been diving straight into diversity equity and inclusion work or going straight into racial equity work but they don’t have an internal understanding of what that means so that’s very short-lived.”

“I think in order for racial equity work to last — racism is a part of our culture,” Gui Portel said. “It’s a part of our everyday. We are taught to be racist, to think that white culture is the norm, that it’s either the status quo or it’s what everyone should strive towards, or that it’s better than other cultures when we know that it’s not. And we should actually be celebrating all the colors and cultures and flavors that all our communities have.”

Portel said their goal is to help communities grow to a place where everyone is seen and heard.

“Being a community development agency, we have to keep in mind that everybody is learning and unlearning at the same time,” they said.

“We’re about community development, and you can’t do community development without this work,” Dickey said. “This is not about murals and it’s not about having tourism dollars. This is about making sure people feel safe and excited to be in a place and they feel valued. And it’s a quality of life thing.”

And that’s a big win for everyone.

Motley Local is working with the town of Haw River. This Saturday they’ll be painting the community logo on the side of the Haw River Historical Museum. The community is invited to come out and help paint from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

For more information, check out their website.

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