In the middle of the keynote address of Belmont’s Diversity Week Friday morning, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry promoted her latest initiative: paying summer internships for Nashville teenagers and young adults.
“So if you know anybody out there that might have a job or two this summer,” Barry said, shooting a glance to Belmont President Bob Fisher as the crowded room in the Baskin Law Center erupted in laughter.
Jokes aside, Barry’s address sounded a lot like what’s heard at many meetings or coffee shops conversation in Nashville as she pivoted from issues of poverty to housing to law enforcement to education, with concerns for intentional diversity tying the message together.
“When I think about diversity, it looks like two words: differences and value,” Barry said.
As Nashville’s first female mayor, Barry explained she felt a special responsibility and privilege to offer opportunities and usher in diversity.
And her staff reflects the diversity of the city it serves; 50 percent of her staff is female, 33 percent is African American and 8 percent is LGBT, Barry said.
But while she laid out these numbers, most of her address was focused on a different message of looking beyond the statistics and digging a little deeper.
“Sometimes, you don’t need another study. You have to be moved to action,” Barry said.
To Barry, this means not just celebrating that Nashville’s poverty rate went down by three percent last year, but asking why.
Barry laid out her approach to poverty simply, and said, to her, poverty can be reduced if people are able to graduate from high school, get their first job and do not have a child until they are financially stable.
This strategy of poverty reduction and family planning prompted a question from an audience member who asked if her approach would include changes to Nashville metropolitan sex education.
Barry complimented the question and said sex education was something she would like to see changed. Although Barry was specific about the problems the city faces in relation to diversity, she’s realistic on where that change really comes from.
“As a government, we don’t solve these problems. Our institutions solve these problems,” Barry said.
And individuals solve problems, as Barry indicated with one of her final anecdotes.
On a job site with construction workers, Barry noticed the orange sign that read “men working.” Troubled by the specific gender and worried women would see the sign and feel excluded from the line of work, Barry mentioned it to the workers.
Now, the signs read “workers present.”
Barry tied up her address by echoing the words of presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, emphasizing “words matter,” in diversity, in politics and in life.
This article was written by Jessica King. Photos by Hunter Morgan.