Promoting a Diverse Appleton

by Tim Froberg

“Diversity is such a broad term. A lot of people talk about it, but to me, it’s creating an environment of belonging, no matter who you are.”

Timber Smith

Timber Smith is a people person.

Communicating, connecting, and collaborating with others is what the Milwaukee native is all about. Those skills should serve him well as the City of Appleton’s new Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Coordinator.

Smith, 47, succeeds Karen Nelson, who resigned in January to accept a similar position at Rogers Behavioral Health in Oconomowoc.

A University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and a master’s in educational leadership and policy, Smith worked the past 10 years at UWO, including the last four as coordinator of the Veterans Resource Center. He began developing his strong communication skills early in his career when he worked as a branch manager at a Kinko’s and as an insurance agent for six years.

“When you work in retail or sales, you deal with a large swath of all sorts of people,” Smith said. “People from different socioeconomic backgrounds and all sorts of cultures. What those jobs did was give me the opportunity to be able to relate to people easily. 

“I’m always learning. I don’t know it all. But providing you are willing to work, I can work with you. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Smith knows the Fox Cities well, having lived in the area since 1992. He and his wife, Theresa, have a daughter, Madison, who is also a UWO graduate.

“I really like the pace of life here, the quality of life, and what you can get for the cost of living,” Smith said. “It’s so affordable, and I love what the area brings professionally. And there are good, solid people here. If this position would have been in another city, I probably wouldn’t have taken it. I was very happy at UWO. But I’m not done growing. This provided an opportunity where I could bring some energy and some experience and maybe even a different way of doing this type of work.”

Smith will work closely with his city team and community members to promote a more diverse, inclusive environment in the Appleton area. He describes his city team members as “fantastic” and emphasizes that he will not be working alone to foster positive change in the area. But he is already impressed with what Appleton brings to the table.

“Appleton is kind of a unique scenario, because it’s been doing this type of work for 25, 30 years,” Smith said. “Other municipalities haven’t or are just getting started putting together their Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committees. We’re not in a bad space by any means. I think the people that work for the city of Appleton and the residents can pat themselves on the back and say, ‘We’ve done good work and we’ve done it ahead of the game. We did it by being proactive versus reactive.’ That’s huge.”

Smith emphasizes that diversity and inclusion are ongoing practices that require maintenance.

“DEI work is neither a sprint nor a marathon,” Smith said. “It’s a workout regimen. It’s like going to the Y. You have to continue to do it. If you get to the point where you stop putting energy into it, that’s when your city or society can be unhealthy. Just like when you stop working out and put on a few pounds, that blood pressure goes up. 

“DEI work never ends. There’s always going to be the space for more diversity.”

Smith began his job in June and plans to do plenty of listening before embarking on action.

“Diversity is such a broad term,” he said. “A lot of people talk about it, but to me, it’s creating an environment of belonging, no matter who you are. It’s creating this social environment where you just feel like you belong and can be the best you can be, and people support that. 

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t want to feel like they belong. It’s a general overall human nature want. The community where you feel like you belong is a community where you can grow in, thrive in, and invest in. Isn’t that what you want for your residents?”