Community Connectors: Kip Holley

Photo of Kip Holley

Community Connectors: Kip Holley

March 2022

Community Connectors is a monthly series highlighting Ohio State staff members who have shown leadership in partnering with our communities to make an impact.

Kip Holley
Social Researcher-Community Engagement & Racial Equity
The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity

In my role at Kirwan, I study the process of community engagement through the lens of structural racism. Generally, I do this work through academic research and writing in a more traditional manner. However, in keeping with Kirwan's mission as an applied research institute, I also work with an array of community partners to combine lessons learned from both research and practice to understand and remove barriers to meaningful participation for people of color. This applied work ranges from presentations and workshops to long-term partnerships with a range of community partners. Over my 11 years at Kirwan, I have worked with public, private, and non-profit entities to develop more equitable and inclusive community engagement structures that both recognize current and historical inequities, and also help to provide those who are often left out of public decision-making a meaningful "seat at the table."

Why is engaging the community important to you and your work?

I am passionate about the power of community to address social inequities. The racial justice movements that I grew up admiring were all based within community connections or found their power through making connections among people who would otherwise not meet. As a child, I witnessed firsthand how the challenges faced by individual families or people were best solved when neighbors got together and came up with something new.

What lessons have you learned from the community that have helped you as a university staff member?

Humility. When Im working with community members who are dedicated to making positive change in their communities, I rarely hear anyone talking about titles, or repeating their biographies, or restating their credentials. In the best of circumstances, we're just a bunch of folks who have come together to combine the skills we have to help make a community more fully represent those who share it. I've also learned how to learn, how to deal with being wrong (plenty of practice!), but how to become self-reflexive, listen fully, and learn from a wide variety of people. Finally, I've learned just how many different types of skills and abilities people have that often go overlooked because of who they are and where they're from. I've never met anyone who doesn't have something important to share with their community.

What has been your favorite moment from your community-engagement work?

There are so many! The moments that come to mind as I write this are those times that I've gotten to play a part in the Neighborhood Leadership Academy here in Columbus. This is a program that identifies previously unengaged community leaders who often go overlooked in more traditional programs and support them in growing as community leaders. What I love about it is that we start with the strengths and gifts that they already possess and we challenge ourselves to recognize a more diverse set of leadership styles as facilitators. I also like that we try to bend ourselves to make it work for those in the program. Our students have always been passionate, but they're also busy as well and so we want to make sure that this academy adds to their life, and does not subtract from it.

What advice do you have for other staff members who are interested in getting involved in community engagement?

Engage with it as a learning experience. Stay present, be okay making mistakes, and self-reflect on those experiences. We all have our official reasons for interacting with community members, but I always have the secret reason of wanting to know people and share gifts and experiences with one another. Finally, take care of yourself emotionally and physically and always work toward supporting the inherent humanity in the people that you're working in concert with in community spaces.