EVERETT — Kay Barnes, the city of Everett’s new equity manager, is used to standing up for herself and others.
She spent more than 20 years in the Navy, an institution that’s “dominated by men.”
“As a woman, you’ve got to stand up for what you believe in,” Barnes said. “Myself and a group of other women were trailblazers.”
This spring, Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin tapped Barnes to fill the new position, which aims to keep diversity at the forefront of the city’s hiring and recruitment policies.
Barnes has been with the city’s human resources department since 2006.
“Kay will work to ensure our staff reflect the diversity of our city, that the city is a safe place to work for our diverse staff, and that the city is well-connected to our Black, indigenous and people of color communities,” Franklin said. “While we’ve made progress on these goals, we still have much work to do.”
Barnes takes her new role personally.
“I was affected by what’s happening in the community,” Barnes said of the killing of George Floyd, the nationwide protests that followed, the demands for racial justice and the pandemic’s effects on marginalized communities and communities of color.
“This helps me heal, too. It gives me a chance to be a contributor. Get out in the community and help,” she said.
For Barnes, the task includes chipping away at the legacy of racism and uncovering its less obvious origins.
While some older city guidelines may appear to be relatively fair or neutral, many of those documents were written at a time in the city’s history when marginalized residents and communities of color were rarely, if ever, consulted, Barnes said.
Because many were excluded, the guidelines and rules may contain racist elements, Barnes said.
“You wonder how many communities of color and marginalized communities might have been involved in those decisions?” Barnes asked. “How did those policies come about ? Was there a community of color that went into creating a document?”
These are questions she’s ready to tackle, with a focus on creating a city staff that reflects Everett’s diverse communities.
That means improving the diversity of all departments, from police, fire and transit workers, she said, “to the folks who work at the library.”
The eventual goal, said Barnes, “is to create a new tool kit” that will strengthen the city’s hiring efforts and offer all of Everett’s residents a greater voice in decision-making.
“Don’t ask me what that might look like today!” she said, signaling that it’s still early in the process.
“It will take more than one person,” said Barnes. “It’s not going to be easy work. It will require us to use an equity lens on everything. This is what we want to do to move forward.”
Barnes is ready to roll up her sleeves. “I consider myself to be a servant. I give a lot and don’t have a problem doing it,” she said. “That’s who I am in a nutshell.”
She grew up in North Carolina.
Barnes is an admirer of Maya Angelou, the civil rights activist and author of “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings”; Mahatma Gandhi; and John Lewis, the civil rights leader and U.S. representative from Georgia who died last month.
“Growing up, I didn’t really know him,” Barnes said of Lewis. “But I knew of him and the contributions he made to civil rights. I am also very pleased with President Obama. I was so happy I got to see that — a Black man become president in my lifetime.”
Barnes enjoys all kinds of music, from blues to jazz to classical. Some of her favorites include The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross — “all the oldies. Oh, oh, that gives my age away.”
Off the clock, she serves on the board of Dawson Place Child Advocacy Center in Everett and attends local meetings of the Communities of Color Coalition.
She enjoys hiking. There’s also a mandolin in her living room that she is learning to play.
Said Mayor Franklin: “Until now, we haven’t had any staff dedicated toward leading this work, which has made it challenging to maintain momentum. That’s why I couldn’t be more thrilled to have Kay as the City’s first equity ,manager. I know she will be a great champion and leader of this work for us.”
Janice Podsada; email@example.com; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods