In Webster City, Storm Lake chief talks diversity

-Messenger photo by Adri Sietstra Storm Lake Police Chief and Public Safety Director Mark Prosser, left, and Webster City Community Vitality Director Lindsay Henderson, right, spoke during a community conversation about diversity at Fuller Hall on Friday afternoon in Webster City.

WEBSTER CITY — The community took part in an informal discussion Friday at Fuller Hall that centered on how to best serve the diverse community that is Webster City.

Storm Lake Police Chief and Public Safety Director Mark Prosser was the guest speaker.

Prosser is known for his work and commitment to helping others, embracing diversity and cultural awareness, and the promotion of racial equity for all citizens.

He is a 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Achievement Award honoree.

Prosser made note of Storm Lake’s large ethnic population and the diverse cultures that reside there.

“Storm Lake has been through a shift in demographics. Storm Lake continues to go through a shift in demographics,” said Prosser. “It’s a work in progress that will never end. It will really never end for any of our communities as our country is changing.”

According to Prosser, there are 35 languages spoken in Storm Lake and 19 languages spoken in the public school system.

The discussion was led by Webster City Community Vitality Director Lindsay Henderson and Kathy Getting, Coalition Coordinator for Power Up YOUth.

The idea for this community conversation stemmed from a Courageous Conversations workshop Getting observed and worked through earlier this year.

Getting talked about the need to understand and acknowledge individuals’ privilege and how it contributes to how they communicate on a day-to-day basis in the community.

Henderson explained her role in the community and why she was present at the meeting.

“I’m charged with helping to move other quality-of-life and community-engagement projects forward,” said Henderson. “That might be addressing issues like housing or, in this case, diversity.”

Students are the future, Prosser said, explaining that communities could look toward the school systems in their area to see how that would impact the future of the community.

“You can tell what kind of shift you are going to have in your community by what your classrooms look like,” he said. “That’s where your future is. That’s where the community growth is.”

According to him, dealing with a shift in demographics is never-ending.

“It’s perpetual service that we give to all our citizens,” said Prosser. “It doesn’t matter who they are.”

The fear of the unknown and change can often hold people and the communities they reside in back during great times of change.

The No. 1 challenge Storm Lake faced in the wake of the coming together of a multitude of cultures was the language barrier, he said.

“You conquer language you conquer everything,” Prosser said.

In order to work through language barriers, Prosser suggested a variety of resources that were helpful to the city of Storm Lake.

• Cultivating relationships with bilingual residents.

• Developing employment positions for reliable interpretors.

• Accessing apps that can be downloaded on Smart Phones.

In addition, Storm Lake created a taskforce to see what needs were unmet and had to be fulfilled in order to cross the cultural barriers. They looked at public safety, education, health and social services, Prosser said.

Law enforcement and other city employees also developed relationships with different cultures to establish trust and work towards better communication.

Prosser stressed that patience is a key factor in creating a positive, vibrant community.

He also explained the need to bring representation of all cultures to the table.