These are people pushing toward a better Wichita. You may know some, others you won't. But these are who you should be paying attention to.
These are the stories of those leading the push toward a better Wichita.
Some you will know, others you won't. Either way, these people deserve our attention.
Junetta Everett is used to firsts. She was the first African-American in Wichita State's dental hygiene program. She was also one of the first employees of Delta Dental, which now boasts over 100 employees. She was the first in her family to graduate college, as well, ending a cycle of poverty and replacing it with courage and tenacity.
Everett is also the first African-American to lead the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce. Despite often being "the only one in the room," Everett is reluctant to call herself a trailblazer.
"I guess I look at it from a different lens," she says. "I look at it as, 'Why am I the only one in the room? Why am I here?' If I benefit from being the only one in the room, that means that somebody else is going to get the chance to benefit from it as well."
Everett was raised in Wichita from grade school on, but was born in Texas about a week and a half after Rosa Parks performed her legendary act of civil disobedience. Everett still gives Parks a lot of credit for the courage she has had throughout her career."
"I think that took courage, and I think sometimes that's one of the things that we miss," Everett says. "I think people will tell you I am one of those courageous people. That it may not always go well, but you're going to never guess and wonder where I am because you're going to always know."
This courage led to a life in leadership, from starting the first black student union at her community college to leading Delta Dental as vice president of professional relations. She has also lended her perspective to boards and organizations including the Kansas Leadership Center, Oral Health Kansas Dental Champion, the Wichita State National Advisory Council, Kansas Health Foundation, Exploration Place, Wesley Medical Center and, finally, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"No matter whether it's the Chamber or anywhere else," Everett says, "if I'm in a role — if I'm in a position — my intent is to do the best that I can and to definitely be engaged and involved."
As the leader of the Chamber, Everett is in a unique position at the intersection of all of the challenges originally identified through the Wichita Community Foundation's Focus Forward Initiative.
One of her priorities is fostering more inclusion, which she's careful to distinguish from diversity, in Wichita.
"I think diversity is automatic — you can't help it," Everett says. "Every time you meet somebody, you're going to have all types of diversity between two people. ... It's just the respect of those differences that I want to make sure I am focused on. And then the inclusion of those." She says inclusion has to be intentional.
When it comes to Human Capital and Perception, Everett says it's important to avoid relying on the same old voices.
I think diversity is automatic — you can't help it. Every time you meet somebody, you're going to have all types of diversity between two people. ... It's just the respect of those differences that I want to make sure I am focused on. And then the inclusion of those.
"You've got to diversify the voices," she says. "Everybody says [Wichita is] a great place to raise children. What if I don't want to have children? ... So what we have to do and had to do was start listening to different generations — listening to the different voices. I always think if you listened to the same people all the time, that's what you're going to keep doing."
Through W, formerly the Young Professionals of Wichita, Everett says she's hoping to engage a different set of demographics. She's also wanting to bring more entrepreneurship into the fold.
"Eighty percent of our members are small business," she says. "Particularly looking at minority businesses, we've just recently realized that we have over 130 minority- and women-owned businesses right here [at the Chamber]. A lot of them are entrepreneurs, so we have to put our support behind them because they are the Chamber."
Everett says Wichita will forever be home because of the relationships she has garnered and the family she has raised here. All but one of her children now live far outside of Wichita — in Dallas, Austin and New York City.
"They say Wichita just doesn't have the activity," Everett says. "I think if Wichita is bold enough to take that step and level up, I think we'll start to see more people coming back or staying."