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Washtenaw United: Destination Ann Arbor highlights local DEI efforts

Amy Karbo
Destination Ann Arbor
Amy Karbo


A marketing, community engagement, and events professional with over 20 years of experience. Believes that every idea has merit and embraces the challenge of introducing a fresh perspective to every project. Strives for flawless execution and never forgets that the details are what really matter. Excels at building relationships at the grassroots level and works tirelessly to propose data-supported solutions that foster growth.

Started working at Destination Ann Arbor in 2018 as Director of Community & Business Engagement, then took on the position as Director of Communications and Community Engagement in 2021.


David Fair: Efforts continue in a variety of ways throughout Washtenaw County to create greater diversity, equity, and inclusion. Now, a lot of work has been done, is being done, and there's got a lot of work yet to do. I'm David Fair, and welcome to Washtenaw United. This is our weekly exploration of equity and opportunity in our community. Destination Ann Arbor continues to actively engage the hospitality industry in Washtenaw County and creating awareness and addressing ongoing issues regarding DEI. One of the ways it does that is through its Walking the Walk series. And here to discuss that program and more today is Amy Karbo. Amy is director of communications and community engagement for Destination Ann Arbor. And thank you for making time today. Amy.

Amy Karbo: You're very welcome. Thanks for having me. My pleasure.

David Fair: At what point did Destination Ann Arbor determine it needed to be more proactive about promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts?

Amy Karbo: You know, that's a very good question, and I think it has definitely been a journey, one that we started several years ago. But I would say within the last year and a half, we've really made it more of a key initiative of our organization, both internally as an organization, but also what we can do to help promote those companies and organizations in the hospitality industry and the travel industry that are doing great things themselves.

David Fair: So, on the Destination Ann Arbor website, you have what's called a DEI promise. What exactly is that promise?

Amy Karbo: Our mission is to promote all of Washtenaw County as a place for leisure and business travel. And so, you know, recognizing and celebrating what's great about our community is something that we do already every single day. And what we realized in the last couple of years is that we really need to continue to do that, of course, but to ensure that we're doing it with more intention and through a wider and more inclusive lens of diversity. You know, as I mentioned a moment ago, that we really feel like this is a journey. You know, I think we're just taking baby steps right now, and we have a lot more that we can do in this space. And we're really looking forward to growing our efforts here in the next couple of years.

David Fair: So, are the internal explorations manifesting in the way Destination Ann Arbor interacts, engages, and approaches the community it serves?

Amy Karbo: Yes, it certainly does. You know, our leadership team is committed and accountable to setting goals for the diversity in our own staffing and board and our committee recruitment as an organization. Then, that kind of trickles down to our own strategic goals that we have: setting operational, sales, marketing, that set are goals for our organization, for our branding, and educational opportunities for our staff. Mentoring opportunities is important to us. And then, you know, how we engage with our community, whether that be through philanthropy or through diverse owned businesses, etc.. And when we're taking a look at this, I can talk about a little bit from a marketing perspective. And we are doing things such as highlighting more diverse businesses and diverse people. We are promoting making more conscientious effort to promote BIPOC businesses or those that are doing some great things the DEI spaces as it applies to inclusivity. For instance, you know, embracing the LGBTQ community here in Ann Arbor. And one of the things we've learned over the years too, based on the research that we get regularly throughout the hospitality industry, is that people who travel to Ann Arbor are, you know, DEI is of great, great interest to them. And they want to travel to communities that also are like-minded and share those same beliefs. I think that our businesses and just the nature of our community really embraces that reflects that.

David Fair: We are talking diversity, equity, and inclusion with Amy Karbo on WEMU's Washtenaw United. Amy is director of communications and community engagement for Destination Ann Arbor. And one of the ways you've chosen to highlight the impacts of DEI is a relatively new program called Walking the Walk. Now, may I assume it is so titled because it began by talking the talk and this is now part of the evolution?

Amy Karbo: Absolutely. That's exactly it. And, you know, you take a step even back a little bit further. The Walking the Walk series came about through a relationship that we have with the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti Chamber. They had, in the fourth quarter of 2022, a DEI educational series. Destination Ann Arbor was a proud sponsor and supporter of that, as well as the United Way of Washtenaw County. And, as part of that sponsorship of the DEI educational series, our part of that sponsorship was a follow-up to each of their series with a Walking the Walk, so they would talk about in the series a particular topic within DEI, and then we would follow up that particular series with a highlight on a local hospitality industry business that is doing great things in the DEI space as it pertains to the topic of the DEI series. That's how this all started. It has been wildly successful for us. We've gotten wonderful feedback from the people in the community about our Walking the Walk series, so we've decided to continue it, even with the DEI educational series concluding.

David Fair: So far, you featured five area businesses in Washtenaw County in the Walking the Walk series, the latest in Ypsilanti favorite: Puffer Reds. When looking at how Puffer Reds promotes and advances diversity, equity, and inclusion within its walls and through the community, what do you find? What should we learn from that?

Amy Karbo: What interests us about Puffer Reds was, I mean, one, of course, they're a BIPOC business. But, two, more than that, is what they do and how steadfastly dedicated they are to supporting the Ypsilanti community. It's such an amazing business that has spanned over four decades Puffer Reds has. And they're continuing to evolve to remain relevant. And, you know, to quote Eric Williams, the owner of Puffer Reds, she said to us recently that community, love, and support are the laces that tie Puffer Reds together and doing what's right keeps us moving forward. I just loved that.

David Fair: Poetic for a sneaker shop, right?

Amy Karbo: Yeah, absolutely. You know, they do some things like...recent examples of what they're doing in the community is the back to school bash, which teams up with Ypsilanti Community Schools for a back to school event, which features like a backpack giveaway and other fun activities. They've also done a Black Music Month scholarship working with Puffer Reds, Adidas, and Ypsilanti Community Schools to kind of join forces to host an art contest for high school students. And then, they're really involved in the annual Juneteenth Festival in Ypsilanti as well.

David Fair: You are listening to Washtenaw United on WEMU, and we're talking with Destination Ann Arbor's Amy Karbo. The other four businesses to be featured thus far in the Walking the Walk program are the Lunchroom and Bitty and Beau's in Ann Arbor, the 109 cultural exchange in Saline, and the first ever to be featured in the series, The Bridge Café in Ypsilanti. While each is different with their own distinct sense of service and purpose, what are the common threads that tie them together in this DEI journey?

Amy Karbo: Well, I think what's interesting about the ones that we've selected is that DEI is so much more than race, but so much more than sexual orientation. So, when we were thinking of DEI through a wide lens, we were thinking of businesses that do some great things, but it might not resonate with people directly as a DEI effort. You know, the Lunchroom, for example. So, the Lunchroom LLC is a company that owns the Detroit Street filling station, the Lunchroom Bakery and Café, and the new North Star Lounge in Ann Arbor. And what's so great about this business--or these these three businesses--is that they are founded on social justice principles, where they foster environments where human dignity is embraced and individuality is celebrated. It's an LGBTQ-owned business, and it's actually part of a network called Recovery is Good Business. And since 2014, the Lunchroom LLC has hired hundreds of individuals in recovery from substance abuse disorders. And so, what they do is they provide a safe and supportive workplace where individuals in recovery can grow and to flourish. And, in fact, to date right now, 36% of their staff are individuals in recovery, and four of them are serving as managers for Lunchroom LLC businesses. So, again, an example of inclusivity and welcoming and kind of giving people a second chance and embracing all walks of life. That's what intrigued us the most about the Lunchroom.

David Fair: In a very real way, that's about a path forward. So, you mentioned, at the outset, that, so far, the DEI journey has been taking baby steps. What are the next steps for Destination Ann Arbor?

Amy Karbo: It's a very good question. They say that's still very much a development. I do want to continue the Walking the Walk series. We would like to continue partnering with the A2Y Chamber and the United Way of Washtenaw County, as much as that we can to amplify each of our individual efforts in DEI and see what we can do together. I believe the Chamber is bringing back their DEI educational series in 2023, and we are really excited to be a sponsor and supporter of that once again. And we'll see where that takes us in terms of some new initiatives. As an organization, we are always keeping an eye on trends across the hospitality industry in terms of what our visitors are looking for and how best to support them in terms of their needs when they're here in town. And we're going to be committed to continuing to do that. And I think just doing our job. You know, our job at Destination Ann Arbor is to promote the area for residents and visitors alike. And we're going to continue to do that and amplify the voices of those organizations that are communities that are really doing exceptional work in the DEI space.

David Fair: Well, thank you for sharing the time and the information today. I greatly appreciate it.

Amy Karbo: Well, thanks for having me. And I'm honored that you wanted to talk to us and learn about what we're doing.

David Fair: That was Amy Karbo. She is director of communications and community engagement for Destination Ann Arbor, filling us in on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion and the Walking the Walk series. You can find out more about all of it, including direct links, by visiting our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89 one WEMU FM, Ypsilanti.


Destination Ann Arbor


United Way of Washtenaw County (UWWC) recognizes that the strength and vitality of an entire community is tied to just and equitable access to resources and opportunities.

Recognizing and addressing the need of DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) in local institutions plays a huge part in that.

Most recently, Destination Ann Arbor has sponsored UWWC’s 21-Day Equity Challenge: 2023 Edition, in January 2023.

The Equity Challenge is a commitment to learning the different ways that bias, prejudice, privilege, and oppression show up in our everyday lives through a series of emails.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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