County’s IDEA coalition aims for ‘impact’ | News, Sports, Jobs

IDEA Coalition Project Director Leecroft Clarke

Several organizations and businesses announced during this weekend’s June 19 celebrations the formation of the Chautauqua County IDEA Coalition to pursue inclusion, diversity, equity and accessibility strategies in the community.

The coalition’s goal is to make Chautauqua County a place where everyone belongs and has opportunities to prosper, especially those who have been historically marginalized. They are committed to addressing, prioritizing and giving voice to those directly affected by things such as racism and social injustice in the community.

“After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, we knew it was necessary to proactively address racism in our community,” said Amy Rohler, executive director of United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, which serves as the backbone of the IDEA Coalition.

Rohler added that the incident sparked several informal conversations with people from educational institutions, law enforcement, local businesses and nonprofit organizations across the county.

United Way of Southern Chautauqua County initially engaged Battle and Banner Consulting, a firm specializing in community initiatives and diversity, equity and inclusion training, to develop a strategic community change framework. The initial group, which included representatives from northern and southern counties in a number of different sectors, began meeting monthly in April 2021.

Amit Taneja, senior vice president and director of IDEA for the Chautauqua institution, is a member of the coalition’s steering committee. “The coalition is designed to serve as a bridge between those who have been impacted by racism and social injustice, prioritize their concerns, and then work collectively to create systemic and lasting change in our community,” he said.

Taneja added that coalition members want to better understand the needs of community members and incorporate those needs into their own strategic plans and goals.

“This coalition is necessary because we have a greater impact when we work together”, said Alize B. Scott, director of social justice and racial equity at YWCA Jamestown, also a member of the steering committee.

Steering committee members emphasized that while their initial efforts would begin by engaging African American/Black and Hispanic/Latino communities, they would expand efforts and conversations to other historically marginalized populations in the county.

In May 2022, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County hired Bishop Leecroft Clarke to be the IDEA Coalition Project Director. Originally from Jamaica, Clarke moved to Jamestown 22 years ago to work for SKF as a business development manager; he also worked for TitanX Engine Cooling for almost 10 years. Additionally, he held various engineering and project management positions for The Torrington Co. (located in Connecticut) for over 12 years. Clarke is currently the senior pastor of Healing Word Ministries Church of God. His extensive community service includes his roles as Chair of the Chautauqua County Addictions Department, Co-Chair of the Chautauqua County Racial Reconciliation Task Force, former Board Member of the HOPE Chautauqua Coalition and former member of the ESPRI working group.

“We are fortunate to have someone with Bishop Clarke’s diverse experience and skills in this important leadership position,” says Röhler.

Current coalition members include: the Chautauqua Center, Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua Opportunities Inc, Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, City of Dunkirk, City of Jamestown, Dunkirk Public Schools, Jamestown Community College, Jamestown Public Schools, Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation , Robert H Jackson Center, United Way of Northern Chautauqua, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, UPMC Chautauqua and YWCA Jamestown. Participants in the year-long planning process included people from law enforcement, businesses, banks, local organizations, municipal governments in Dunkirk and Jamestown, and health and social services departments and economic development in Chautauqua County. With the public launch of the IDEA Coalition, membership is open to any organization interested in supporting its initiatives and signing the membership agreement.

In addition to investment from the United Way of Southern Chautauqua County, the IDEA Coalition has received grants to fund its work through the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, and the Cummins Foundation.

“This Coalition is committed to both anti-racism work and broad social justice work,” Clarke said. At the two June 19 celebrations in Jamestown and Dunkirk, Clarke spoke at length about the work of the Coalition and its plans: “We plan to prioritize the concerns of historically marginalized communities in our county and create a collective, collaborative workspace that addresses those concerns.” Clarke added that this critical initiative would take time to implement, but everyone has a role to play in the strategy to make the county more inclusive, diverse, equitable and accessible.

For more information on the Coalition, visit Organizations and companies interested in becoming a member can contact Clarke at [email protected]

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