A Green Bay People Supporting People leadership team meeting is held at the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. Community leaders say there is more that can be done specifically to welcome and retain minority professionals and their families. / Press-Gazette Media file photo
Celestine Jeffreys, diversity manager at the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, spearheads efforts to help minorities form ties to each other and to the community. / Press-Gazette Media file photo
More than a decade ago, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay hired my husband as an assistant professor. Our family chose Green Bay because it has qualities we sought. It’s family-friendly, has high-performing public schools, is close to Chicago (where we both attended college), and has a relatively low cost of living.
Our little family trekked across the country with twin toddlers, two cats and a lot of hope. We were a social tabula rasa, because we knew no one other than my husband’s colleagues.
Last February, community leaders gathered to envision a future for Brown County which, they hope, will ensure it remains an attractive place for families like mine. The conference report states we will be “a magnet for economic development, attracting young professionals, families, entrepreneurs, innovative corporate offices and investors who fuel growth and renewal of an evolving economy.”
When I consider the ramifications of this goal, the first question that comes to my mind is “do minority professionals have enough opportunities to form social networks?” Given the number of national corporations, regional hospitals and minority-owned businesses, I think our community can offer more to welcome and retain minority professionals and their families.
The answer informs some of the work I do as the diversity manager at the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce. I am involved with two efforts aimed at helping minorities form ties to each other and to the community.
First, I am the co-creator of the New North Regional Guide: Resources for Multicultural Residents. Second, I have recently begun hosting informal gatherings called “minority professional socials.”
The New North Regional Guide highlights businesses, programs, places and events in Green Bay, Appleton, Oshkosh and Fond du Lac that may interest those wishing to experience their own culture or other cultures. The guide responds to concerns of minority professionals who are both “from here” and new to the area, and who need to find relevant resources. It also responds to employers’ needs for a credible source of information for their employees. In the final analysis, the guide aims to help professionals feel at home, and to encapsulate the area’s plethora of multicultural offerings.
While I believe the guide will be useful, I also understand that relationships matter. When a person moves to a new area or lands a new job, her experiences will be shaped largely by the people with whom she forms relationships. In my 10-plus years in Green Bay, I’ve observed minority professionals come and go. Some left because of better opportunities, and some left because they lacked satisfying social connections. It was important to find out if my observations were unique, and so last June I conducted focus groups with minority professionals.
Many found their professions very satisfying and were happy with what the community generally had to offer. And yet something interesting happened after the focus group was over: Participants lingered, talking, laughing, and expressing the desire to “get together again.” They clearly desired camaraderie, and so we formed “minority professional socials.” We had our first outing in December, and hope to have many more.
As for my little family, we have found many wonderful friends here in Green Bay, and I feel we’ve benefited from the community, as well as contributed to it. In order to strengthen our area’s economy, we have to create substantive and satisfying opportunities for everyone to have fellowship, and form the ties that bind.
Celestine Jeffreys is the diversity manager at the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, serves on the Green Bay Area Public School Board, and served two terms on the Green Bay City Council.