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If a coach tells you that you need to work harder and get better, you can curse that coach and demand that he or she be fired.

Or you can focus on the message, and ask yourself: How do I get better?

Toby Teeter, president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, has been on the recruiting trail since he took over the post nearly two years ago. He’s been talking to some blue chippers — companies or institutions that would create jobs and economic growth if they landed in Joplin. There have been some hits and some misses, but through it all, he’s gaining further insights on what is needed to compete at the highest levels. Teeter has put a focus on quality of life issues — parks, trails, arts and other amenities. He’s also talked about better racial inclusiveness and diversity.

Many people see that vision too, but some haven’t liked what they have heard. They have cursed him and want him fired.

Meanwhile his message is lost in the dust.

We encourage everyone to step back and consider the bones of what he is saying: For Joplin to thrive economically, we must be an open, inclusive, diverse community. Forget who said it. Forget how it was said. Focus instead on what is being said and ask: Are we that community?

The answer depends on who you ask. Many believe we are, and certainly there's no doubt we’re much more so than 100, 50 or even just 20 years ago. Should we strive to keep getting better?

In the history of the chamber, no Black person has ever been named citizen of the year in Joplin. It was not until 2016 that the first Black person — Carlos Haley — was appointed to the Missouri Southern State University Board of Governors. In 150 years there have been only four Black Joplin residents ever elected to the City Council — two of those only relatively recently — and only one Black mayor, Melodee Colbert-Kean.

Can we get better? Sure we can.

Teeter’s Chamber has tried to take a lead in that effort and adopted the slogan “You Belong in Joplin” to attract new talent and industry, but it is also a message to ourselves. It’s a commendable message and effort.

Now, there was some pushback last week as the council took up its contract with the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce for economic development. Some people showed up Monday who were angry with an open letter that Teeter wrote to the community this summer, acknowledging systemic racism and its lingering legacy. He challenged himself to do better and, by being public about it, challenged the community to hold him accountable. He then issued the same challenge to us.

Some of what Teeter said is no doubt uncomfortable, but let's stop focusing on the discomfort and focus instead on the message: What is this community doing to build and welcome that diversity today?

To the extent that we do not ask these questions, we stagnate.

To the extent that we ask these questions, we become a stronger, more vibrant community better positioned to recruit talent and jobs.

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