It was an unusually hot September day this past Saturday, but it did not stop thousands of people from coming out to celebrate our City’s ever-growing diversity. September 24th, marked the 27th Anniversary of Bowling Green’s International Festival, held at Circus Square Park.
As the City’s International Communities Liaison I have been actively involved in organizing this event for the past five years, serving as Secretary for the festival’s Board of Directors and hosting a Cultural display featuring information, arts, and crafts from my native Venezuela. In addition to the overwhelming support and assistance from Parks personnel and Neighborhood and Community Services staff, this year the Bowling Green Police and Fire Department played an active role in the success of the festival. BGFD Firefighters manned the First Aid booth provided to festival goers to deal with minor medical issues that might arise, it also provides an organic opportunity for Firefighters to interact directly with the International community.
Likewise, Officer Willis and Detective Franks of the Bowling Green Police Department manned the City’s booth and interacted with the public who came by to get more information about City Services and of course to learn about Venezuela. I was amazed at the positive reception that the Officers yielded, everyone wanted to take pictures with them, give them samples of their ethnic foods, show them their native country’s dance moves – everyone was eager to share!
While stopping to visit the cultural display for Burma, where the top five ethnic Burmese groups were represented (Burmese, Karen, Karenni, Zo, and Zomi), Officers interacted with members of the City’s International Communities Advisory Council. One young Karen girl readily approached the Officers and asked: “When can I join the Explorers post?” Officer Willis went on to explain that she had to be at least 14 years old to join, and when she was ready she could come by the Police Station and they would gladly walk her through the process. At that point I remembered this young girl was one of this year’s Jr. Police Academy Graduates! I could already tell the impact the program had on this young Karen girl, and how comfortable she felt approaching an Officer to share of her newfound desire.
We have a very proactive and intentional City Government, who wants its workforce to be representative of the Community’s make-up. The 2010 Census reported Bowling Green’s foreign-born population at 10.9%, and 2015 Census estimates has shown a steady growth to 12.7%. The growth is undeniable! As a result, City Government is continually looking for opportunities to capitalize in our community’s diversity by focusing on its assets. One of those efforts has been the formation of the City’s Workforce Recruitment and Outreach Committee, which was appointed by Mayor Wilkerson in September, 2015. Part of the committees’ effort is to look for avenues to recruit, retain, and diversify our City’s workforce. Events like Bowling Green’s International Festival provide a great platform to build relationships, and for Officer Willis and Detective Franks to share how great it is to be a Police Officer!