The Rockford Area Convention & Visitors Bureau is an organization that promotes the Rockford region and proudly works to welcome visitors to our community.

We believe diversity is one of this region’s greatest attributes.

Still, as an organization and as a community we have more work to do to fully embrace the celebration of diversity and efforts focused on equity and inclusion. While we cannot take ownership in the work of all organizations, we absolutely can and should do our part to help our region be welcoming to all.

Last summer, the RACVB made a public statement in support of our Black community. Nearly immediately we knew that was not enough. We knew then and affirm now that we must move from individual statements to commitments with actionable steps and accountability.

To move toward further action, RACVB’s board and staff, under the guidance of board members Jennifer Furst, Tiana McCall and John Penny and team members Martesha Brown and Austin Taylor, committed to listening.

Over the next few months, we gathered in person and virtually with individuals from our minority and LGBTQ communities asking for input and feedback on every area of our operation. The feedback group represented civic, business and nonprofit sectors with representation from public health, law, advocacy, marketing, hospitality, small business, our immigrant community and more.

What they shared was helpful, heart-felt and challenging. They helped me, a white male and the organization’s president/CEO, see where we are and are not living up to our higher ideals of being an organization that welcomes all.

Recognizing there is more we can do and based on their input, we developed nine commitment statements and our board unanimously adopted policy changes that collectively constitute RACVB’s “Commitments to our Diverse Community” in order to “Welcome Diversity.” As CEO, I will report to the board multiple times per year on how we are living up to these commitments. In order to live out our commitments, I want to share them with you.

We are committed to “increasing awareness of biases and becoming better allies through ongoing diversity and inclusion training.”

We are committed to “continuous engagement and relationship building with our diverse communities and residents.” We recognize engagement is not a one-time investment.

We heard clearly that representation matters and believe diversity will enrich our organization. We are committed to “ensuring our board, staff and volunteers are a reflection of our diverse community” and to “ensuring our marketing and advertising reflects the diversity of our community.”

We will “develop, support, promote and/or recruit events, tournaments and meetings that are created for and/or have a proven attendance of minority and/or LGBTQ attendees.” As we do that, we will “utilize marketing channels owned by and/or proven to be successful in reaching diverse audiences.”

Partnering with others, we will “lead efforts that foster a community where minority and LGBTQ visitors feel welcome” and will “celebrate the contributions and history of residents from our diverse community.”

Finally, we are committed to “utilizing minority owned businesses and providing opportunities for exposure to event planners and partners.”

Following the board’s approval, our staff worked together and developed specific actions and measurements to ensure we live up to our commitments. Working with our partners and through daily activities, our entire staff will work to fulfill our commitments.

In closing, I offer my sincere appreciation to the members of the Welcoming Diversity Feedback Group. Their willingness to share helped us understand more fully that in order for visitors to feel welcome, our residents must feel welcome. To achieve this, they are helping RACVB move from statement to action.

In the weeks and months to come, I invite you to join us in further embracing and celebrating new-found opportunities to “Welcome Diversity.”

RACVB staff members