Peoria City Council member becomes county's first officer of diversity, equity and inclusion
Peoria City Council member Andre Allen is Peoria County's first chief officer of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Allen grew up in Peoria and has been involved in a wide range of area organizations, including the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce and the Peoria Public Schools Foundation.
“The position was posted back in the summer. I reviewed it and felt it was a great professional opportunity for me,” he said. “And then also it aligned with, just where my career is going. As far as civic engagement and public service.”
Allen said the position is like many that developed in the wake of the May 2020 murder of George Floyd and ensuing protests, as public and private organizations across the country had difficult conversations about race and diversity.
“Over the last several years, organizations have been on this journey and Peoria County decided that they wanted to have someone intentionally leading this effort,” he said. “Because the mantra is: if it's everyone's job, it's no one's job.”
Since officially starting on Oct. 10, Allen said he’s been reaching out and having conversations with county leaders.
“Getting an understanding of what they do within their respective spaces and places inside of the county,” he said. “And then how can we incorporate DEI in what we do naturally and organically and so, in order for that to be a smooth transition, I need to know what you're doing.”
As the first person to hold the title in Peoria County, Allen also faces the challenge of defining the role for the future.
“I look at it as an opportunity, you know, rarely can you go into a professional opportunity with a blank canvas,” he said. “And I can be my own Picasso, if you will, you know, being able to really get in there and lay the groundwork.”
Allen said he brings 10 years of higher education experience and past leadership roles on DEI initiatives to the position, also citing as an asset his previous involvement in a range of community organizations.
“The beauty of it is I have a pretty decent pulse. But I try not to make no assumptions,” he said. “So, that's why I'm following back up with organizations, but I have a pulse of what our citizens are wanting, what they define as their quality of life.”
For Allen, quality of life comes back to economics, saying a sense of belonging and safety is critical to a community. While these goals are broad and the programs to support them could take many forms, he said he’s working through the job description and expects to have a strategic plan within his first 90 days. This also includes an internal review of county employees to see if there are any issues that need to be addressed there.
“Just to see how they feel, you know,” he said. “Do they feel like they have a sense of belonging inside of the organization.”
Employment, he said, is a top priority in the broader community.
“When people are gainfully employed, when people are able to participate in the economy, you address a lot of the societal issues,” he said. “You address crime, you address violence, you know, when you are able to have, you know, people who are able to own homes. They have pride in their communities, their neighborhoods they are able to support.”
He said unemployment in Peoria, and Peoria County, is two to three times above the national average, which means there’s work to do. Part of his solution is helping to diversify the workforce — either by working internally or helping external organizations that want to diversify but are unsure how to go about it.
“That's the beauty of this position is being able to, because, again, people want to do things but maybe they don't know how,” said Allen. “So being able to leverage my expertise, and try to connect the dots for them.”
Holding official positions with both the city and the county does raise the question of a potential conflict of interest. Allen said he’s been working closely with attorneys since before applying to the position and will continue to consult them throughout his tenure.
“Because I'm not a legal professional,” said Allen. “The beauty of it, we've got great professionals on both ends with us in the city and the county, and they provide guidance. We want to make sure that everything is transparent.”
Whatever programs arise from the new position, Allen is excited to be doing important work in a place he loves.
“This is a great opportunity for myself and my family and I couldn't be more excited,” he said. “I'm just so blessed and so grateful for the hiring committee who believed in me.”