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Lessons From Three Racially Diverse Communities and How Municipal Executives Can Lead the Way

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Howard W. Brown, Jr.
September 29, 2023


As a former city manager, I had the privilege of serving in three distinct cities: Muskogee, Oklahoma; Bell, California; and Indiantown, Florida. Each city had a unique racial composition, presenting diverse challenges and opportunities. In this article, I want to share my experiences and insights, emphasizing the importance of effectively managing diversity in these racially different communities.

Embrace Inclusion as a Core Value

Managing diversity is more than just considering racial demographics. It requires embracing inclusion as a core value and recognizing and respecting the different backgrounds, cultures and perspectives of the residents we serve. Whether working in predominantly white, Latino or mixed-race communities, it’s imperative to ensure all voices are heard and represented in local decision-making, not just those who regularly attend council meetings.

Community Engagement

Engaging with diverse populations is crucial when managing cities with varying racial demographics. For instance, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, I learned the importance of connecting with the predominantly white community, which also happened to be Native American. Actively seeking their input and understanding their unique needs was key. In Bell, California, a predominantly Latino community, building trust and engaging with cultural organizations allowed me to better address their concerns. Similarly, in Indiantown, Florida, promoting community engagement helped bridge gaps and foster collaboration.

Develop Cultural Competence

In racially diverse cities, developing cultural competence is essential. This involves investing in programs that enhance understanding and respect for the customs, traditions and values of each community. In Indiantown, Florida, where the population is 63 percent Latino according to the 2020 U.S. Census, there are no programs targeting this large cross-section of the community. By equipping yourself and your staff with cultural competence, you can better navigate the complexities of managing diverse cities and ensure services and programs meet each community’s unique needs.

Ensure Equal Access

Regardless of racial demographics, ensuring equitable access to opportunities should be a priority. Municipal executives must continuously evaluate business practices to ensure no residents are left behind. By implementing targeted programs and initiatives that address disparities and promote equal opportunities, we can create a more inclusive and fair environment for all residents.

Encourage Collaboration and Partnerships

Collaboration and partnerships are instrumental in effectively managing racially diverse cities. Municipal executives and staff should seek partnerships with various community leaders and organizations not traditionally involved in local government decision-making. These partnerships can be invaluable and leveraged to address each community’s specific needs.

Celebrate Diversity

Finally, in racially diverse cities, it’s essential to celebrate the diversity that makes each community unique. Organize multicultural events, festivals and celebrations that highlight the richness of various cultures present. For example, one community I managed debated whether to replace Christopher Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. This debate highlighted the importance of celebrating diversity while also considering the community’s history and traditions.


Having served as a city manager in three racially diverse cities, I recognize the significance of embracing inclusion, promoting community engagement, developing cultural competence, ensuring equal access to opportunities, encouraging collaboration and celebrating diversity. By implementing these strategies, we can create inclusive and vibrant communities where all residents feel valued and empowered.

Author: Howard W. Brown, Jr., MPA, AICP, ICMA-CM works for the Local Government Consulting Group, LLC in West Palm Beach, Florida. Please visit Local Government Consulting Group for further information. Phone: 561-318-0046

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