Get to Know Taj Suleyman, Springfield’s Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Taj Suleyman has recently taken on the new role of director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the City of Springfield. Study up, so you can connect at your next networking event.
By Jennifer Johnmeyer
“It’s easy to talk about yourself, but is it really easy to talk about yourself?”
Taj Suleyman posed the rhetorical question early and answered it often. In fact, Springfield, Missouri’s director of diversity, equity and inclusion speaks about his life so easily and casually and seems so genuinely interested in others that the conversational feeling is like playing catch-up with a longtime friend.
Suleyman started as director of equity and inclusion for the City of Springfield in May of this year, after relocating from Dubuque, Iowa, where he had most recently served as director of equity for the Dubuque Community District and the equity outreach coordinator for the City of Dubuque prior to that.
His life has been reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been
Everywhere.” The son of a Sudanese father and a Saudi Arabian mother,
Suleyman came to the United States 21 years ago as a refugee from
Lebanon. He has lived in both Utah and Oregon prior to his time in Iowa,
and his move to the Midwest was purposeful.
“There seemed to be such a strong sense of belonging in the Midwest, such an integrity and resilience,” Suleyman says. “I asked myself, what has been successful here? There’s innovation, a great economy. Everyone gets along. It’s already very easy to be a Springfieldian. I meet people here and they will almost immediately offer to loan me a kayak.”
He speaks thoughtfully about his professional history in helping find commonalities in different cultures, and he credits his experiences for shaping his understanding of issues faced by immigrants and other members of under-represented populations.
“As children, we’re curious, but then we’re taught not to be too curious,” he says. He points out that children are frequently told that it’s rude to ask questions, or to wonder aloud about differences. It leads to self-silencing as adults, and a level of suppression that is poor for both relationships and business, he adds.
Suleyman understands the fear of overcoming perceived differences, but he has found that commonalities are great ways to communicate in spite of those differences. He credits Springfield as being a welcoming community that offers the dual strengths of a small-town feel and a larger-city vibe.
Those accolades being said, though, Suleyman admits to judging a place by its coffee options and says he has been pleased to find that Springfield offers a wide variety of local brews. He’s always looking for more coffee recommendations, even if he has already found some early favorites. “I’m not much into lattes or cappuccinos,” he says. “I always order the house coffee. It’s like an early dating phase. ‘What’s your house coffee?’”
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