Take 5 with Linda Thompson
New Hanover County hires its Chief Diversity and Equity Officer
Faith is a big part of LINDA THOMPSON’s life. She was born into a religious family and has valued growing up as the daughter of a bishop and missionary. Now, she is wife to a pastor and often works closely with the church’s ministry and other ministries in the surrounding area.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,” Thompson says of her favorite scripture, Philippians 4:13. “I have never known a time when I didn’t keep God in the forefront of my life’s journey. It is His guidance that keeps me rooted and grounded and able to serve our community.”
Thompson worked for the Wilmington Police Department in public relations for 25 years and received her bachelor’s in communications and broadcasting, plus a master’s in conflict, management, and resolution at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. She has witnessed firsthand numerous advances in social justice in our town since she moved here 37 years ago.
“I learned that listening and sensitivity are the most important skills,” Thompson says of her time at WPD.
As protests around Wilmington began to erupt in response to the George Floyd killing in May, New Hanover County Commissioners decided to launch a new department and role to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout the county. Thompson stepped up and was hired as chief officer of diversity and equity, just as her coworker, Donny Williams, was sworn in as the first African American police chief in Wilmington.
“This appointment was extremely special to me because I once supervised our new police chief when he was a D.A.R.E. and crime prevention officer,” Thompson says. “As I ended my time at WPD, he was supervising me. This appointment shows that advancement can happen, and dreams can come true. I’ve also seen more women move into leadership roles and watched as some of our workplaces began to recognize the needs of our LGBTQ persons.”
Thompson is facing a new challenging chapter in her career, as she helps shape Wilmington as an unbiased, nondiscriminatory place for all to live, work, and thrive. In fact, New Hanover County has laid out a comprehensive Diversity and Equity policy, which Thompson has begun implementing during her first month on the job. Currently, she is familiarizing herself with 30 department heads in the county, in order to help shape their workplaces.
“That will ensure we maintain a diverse and equitable work environment for all employees through training, pay, advancement, hiring, and all other services,” Thompson explains. “My office will also work to ensure services New Hanover County provides to its residents are diverse and equitable across the board, especially to those marginalized communities that are traditionally overlooked.”
Over the next few months, she will assess needs, strengths, and priorities overall, especially when it comes to services it provides and to whom. The information she gathers will help mold the department’s five-year strategic plan, which will be released in the spring of 2021.
Yet, Thompson already has put into action immediate community needs, including a COVID-19 testing initiative, which, with the help of African American and Latino ministries, is setting up testing sites in Wilmington. She also has planned a town hall called “Voices,” scheduled for Thursday, September 24, in collaboration with Wilmington’s regional office for the Division of Services for the Deaf and the Hard of Hearing. It will be presented on Zoom and streamed live on New Hanover County Government TV and on its Facebook.
“October is Global Diversity Awareness Month,” Thompson adds, “so, during that month, we will launch a series of Employee Diversity Dialogue Circles. Thirty volunteer employees will join a series of dialogue circles throughout the month of October to discuss biases in the workplace and beyond. We will also launch the screening of the film Rising and hold a panel discussion about the film.”
To advance with the changing tides of the community, the Diversity and Equity Office will grow, too. Thompson’s department already is hiring two new positions: an administrative specialist and a diversity specialist. “I hope to have them both on board by the end of October,” she says.
In the meantime, she remains focused on research and learning about efforts in other NC communities, like Charlotte and Asheville, for ways to ideate inclusivity and make for an all-embracing Wilmington.
Take 5 with Linda Thompson
What will be your early focus as Chief Diversity and Equity Officer for New Hanover County?
“One of my first tasks will be to become familiar with the vision of our county leaders in the area of diversity, inclusion, and equity. Once I have been briefed on that vision and have a clear understanding, I’ll get to work setting my work agenda and the department’s strategy for the remainder of the year.”
What do you think is the main challenge our county government faces in ensuring it serves its people of color and marginalized communities more equitably?
“Even in this season of high-tech communications, providing adequate communications within minority communities remains a challenge for all government agencies. Finding creative avenues to share vital information for equal distribution of services will be key in our efforts to serve all of our residents.”
How has your job in public affairs for the Wilmington Police Department, as well as any other outreach and completed studies you’ve done, prepared you for this role?
“I believe my twenty-five years of service in public affairs, police/community relations, and ministry alone have certainly given me the opportunity to meet many people with diverse experiences. Those experiences have allowed me to understand that my view or perception of a situation is not the only one that matters. We must see individuals in their circumstances as human beings and employ compassion and empathy. Only then can we understand the necessity for diversity, inclusion, and equity in our community.”
Faith is a big part of your makeup; how does it guide you through life, personally and professionally?
“Born the middle daughter of a bishop and missionary, I have never known a time when I didn’t keep God in the forefront of my life’s journey. It is His guidance that keeps me rooted and grounded and able to serve our community.”
What do you love most about living in Wilmington?
“Our landscape is certainly beautiful, but the people are what keeps me here.”
To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.
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