As we continue our work as an organization to preserve, restore, enhance, and share Oakland Cemetery, Historic Oakland Foundation (HOF) continues to elevate diversity, equity, inclusion, and access (DEIA) as central lenses through which we conduct our work. Part of the transparency that we strive for as an organization includes sharing periodic updates with you. Our DEIA work in 2023 focused on community and neighborhood outreach, staff DEIA development, and educational programs serving Title 1 students.
This year, HOF invited six nearby neighborhoods to open houses in the Oakland Bell Tower where we met our neighbors, demonstrated our work inside and outside the cemetery, and heard what kinds of programs and initiatives our neighbors want or need. Neighborhood open houses and meetings with community leaders will continue in 2024 as we prepare for the new initiatives and programs that the opening of our new Visitor Center in early 2025 will allow us to launch.
Diversity and equity continue to be central features of HOF’s program development. We are also working to expand partnerships with diverse organizations and host more free family programs. We hosted our second annual free Día de Muertos festival in partnership with the Consulate of Mexico and the Institute of Mexican Culture. This event brought people of diverse backgrounds together to celebrate Mexican culture while serving as an example of how HOF reaches new audiences and provides educational and community programming at Oakland Cemetery. In 2023 we also launched our first Juneteenth Family Festival, which grew out of a decade of free Juneteenth programming.
HOF’s community outreach efforts in 2023 also include a major expansion of outreach efforts to Title 1 public schools and to Atlanta Public School teachers and administrators so that we can better serve students in Title 1 schools around Oakland. In summer 2023, we launched a workforce development program aimed at providing employment and work skills training to Title 1 and underserved Atlanta area high school students. This program was developed in consultation with Trees Atlanta, Georgia Power, and two New York area cemeteries with similar programs: Green-Wood Cemetery and Woodlawn Cemetery. Launched with ten students, the cohort of program participants worked alongside our horticulture and preservation teams to learn landscape and masonry skills. The students learned financial literacy and other work/life skills and presented their work at an end-of-term celebration. This program also includes a leadership track for returning students with opportunities to mentor peers, gain new skills, and aim for certification. Partners and supporters include Bank of America, Truist Bank, Atlanta Botanical Garden, and Georgia Power. After the outstanding success of the first year, this program will expand to serve even more students in 2024.
So much of HOF’s organizational journey remains focused on our internal culture, processes, and people. This year, we developed and implemented a new DEIA statement in partnership with staff, board members, and DEIA consultant Dina Bailey. This is included in a new document of staff culture which lays out (1) HOF’s commitments to DEIA, (2) our new staff-developed core values (Excellence, Community, Sustainability, and Integrity), (3) our Land Acknowledgement, (4) workplace wellbeing best practices, and (5) guidelines for employee development. To benchmark and track this work, we launched quarterly staff “pulse” surveys that help us understand our efforts in creating a workplace culture of inclusion and emotional and intellectual safety.
We know that DEIA work is a journey, and we at HOF are looking forward to the new opportunities that 2024 will bring: expanded access to our workforce development program, new summer camps for area students, road repaving and accessibility improvements currently underway in partnership with the City of Atlanta, and the implementation of a new Strategic Plan which will further deepen our commitment to DEIA and our core values. We look forward to keeping you updated on our progress and welcome all feedback, thoughts, and ideas.
With continued best wishes from all of us at Historic Oakland Foundation,
Richard J. W. Harker
Executive Director, Historic Oakland Foundation