An Onslow County advisory group has been meeting for the past eight months with a goal of building diversity and inclusion within the county’s workforce.

It isn’t a process the members expect to see happen quickly, but they are committed to reaching that goal and there has been some early success.

"We’re taking steps in the right direction," said Rev. Dr. Amy Ciceron, pastor for St. Julia AME Zion Church in Jacksonville. "When you broaden the playing field, you begin to see the reflection in county government is what you see in the community."

Ciceron is one of the members of recently formed Community Advisory Council.

The advisory group evolved from a conversation that began when Ciceron, Rev. Joel Churchwell from Sandy Run Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Vernon Zinnerman met in November 2019 with County Manager Sharon Russell, Board of Commissioner Chairman Jack Bright and Commissioner William Shanahan to discuss the county’s practices for promoting racial equality.

Russell is the first female manager for the county and Onslow County government includes a number of female department heads but that initial discussion revealed a need to improve the racial diversity in county government.

Since beginning, the advisory council has worked on ways the county can expand how it markets open positions to bring in a more diverse field of applicants. The county has also reviewed processes to be sure there are no unintentional biases against or preference for any race, gender, disability or ethnic background.

"We seek to evaluate applicants based upon their talent, education and experience," Russell said. "We want to hire the very best candidate every time, regardless of the person’s race, gender, ethnicity or disability. Building a strong, inclusive workforce is the right thing to do, and it is also the most effective business model for ensuring good decision making and excellent customer service for everyone in our community."

Churchwell said, for instance, information shared within the churches or community groups can help reach individuals who may not see jobs posted online or in more traditional ways. Or maybe they never thought about the possibility of applying.

Churchwell said the faith community can be a "conduit" in efforts to be more inclusive.

"As a local pastor, I have a responsibility to recognize potential and encourage people to be a part of the community process. Sometimes people just don’t know," Churchwell said. "I think all of us need someone to recognize our potential."

Since the group began meeting, there have been signs of success.

When looking at the percent of the county government’s workforce by race, there have been slight increases among minority groups over the past 8 months.

Caucasian remains the highest at 75% as of July 2020, down from 77% in November 2019.

Among African Americans, the percentage has gone up from 15 % to 16.19% during the same time period; Hispanic up from 5.4% to 6.19% and American Indian, 0.5% to 0.48%. The change among other races was 0.2% to 0.48%.

Bright, who is also a member of the advisory council, said they are not only looking at hiring practices.

He said they want be sure the build diversity within all ranks of county government, including leadership and department head positions.

Bright said it includes all area of government such as Board of Commissioner appointments to various community boards and citizen advisory groups.

Bright said the creation of the council has generated a number of ideas and been a positive step toward greater diversity within county government.

"Since the committee was formed so many good ideas have come up. Sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees until you get to the point that you sit down and talk about it," Bright said.

Members of the council also include: Janelle Golloway, Christina Fernandez, Glenn Hargett, Alexis Lopez, Crystal White and Deunta Williams.

Reporter Jannette Pippin can be reached at 910-382-2557 or