Local activist Linda Bessin has initiated a mission to promote an appreciation of cultural diversity in the City of Burbank through her nonprofit organization, Elevate Burbank.
Bessin decided to begin this endeavor while she ran for a spot on the Burbank City Council in 2020. After researching Burbank with a voter demographic analysis, Bessin found that there was a cultural variance in the city that has not yet been explored to its full capacity.
“I realized that there are a lot of different cultural communities in our city that are way below the radar,” Bessin said of her Burbank demographic research. “[They] are here and we don’t see them, we don’t hear from them. They kind of keep to themselves…But it really is a problem because we have this wonderfully culturally diverse city, and most of us who live here would never know that.”
To shed light on these cultures, Bessin created Elevate Burbank. Together with a team of seven multicultural, multiracial and multigenerational activists who are local to the city, she has formed a progressive group that is devoted to advocating for diversity awareness through events, engagement and partnerships.
Entrepreneur, designer, mother, and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion activist Carmenita Helligar serves as a member of the organization’s board. She says she was inspired to get involved with Elevate Burbank due to Bessin’s philanthropic vision of how members could together bring a higher level of unity to the city.
“When Linda came up with this, it just was really a breath of fresh air,” Helligar said. “Everything else I think in this country is very much so capitalistic, but to think of elevating Burbank by bringing communities together to learn about different communities, to learn about their recipes [and] how they connect with families, it really meant a lot to me.”
Another factor that impressed Helligar is how Bessin made sure to include not only a wide range of ethnicities in their activities, but also a variety of ages, as parents, family members, and children are all welcome to take part in the organization. Moreover, Bessin hopes that student participation may provide a potential opportunity for Burbank Unified School District children to gain service hours as they give back to their community.
“I have teenagers and I have adult children, so [it allows] for them to have a place and a mission,” Helligar said. “A lot of times people don’t consider diversity in age as well, so that was momentous.”
Elevate Burbank Treasurer Yvonne Green is a CPA, mother, and Burbank community supporter. The passion and skills of all team members drew Green to lend her abilities to the project from the beginning of its development.
“Linda has formed a diverse board of high-energy, talented individuals who are dedicated to the community,” Green said. “I was thrilled to join the board and have the unique opportunity to be a part of something special from the very start.”
Thus far, the group has attended a few local events, such as Magnolia Park Night Out, which recently returned following a 16-month pause due to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Here, Elevate Burbank members have been able to speak with event attendees and raise awareness on the importance of experiencing and celebrating all cultures of the community.
In addition, the Elevate Burbank mascots, two goats named Benji and Buttons, provide an opportunity for Burbank residents to have fun interactions with unique animals. The two appear at the organization’s event setups, and visitors have shown a strong interest in learning about these rare pets, whose owner is board member Robyn Hawkes.
“[People] love those goats. It’s so adorable,” Bessin said. “All ages, all races, all genders, they all love the goats.”
While in the past, United States municipalities have been described as melting pots in which all cultures mix together and eventually lose their distinction, Elevate Burbank sends the message that the city can operate as a whole society while retaining and recognizing individual cultures.
“Now we’re being taught and we’re teaching our children that we’re more like a salad. We’re still in one bowl, but this person is a crouton, this culture’s a tomato, and this one is a cucumber,” Helligar said. “We can honor each culture, be different, but still be Burbankians.”
In this analogy, Bessin says the organization is the vital component that forges connections between various ethnicities and produces a harmonious outcome for all.
“Elevate Burbank is the salad dressing,” Bessin said. “We cover everybody, we bring it all together, we make it into the complete dish.”
The Elevate Burbank team plans to hold a food festival for their first official event, which they hope to conduct by the spring of 2022. For the gathering, they will collaborate with vendors, restaurant owners and caterers who produce cuisines from various regions and can bring their foods for visitors to sample. Not only will this initiate conversations about cultural customs and meals, but it will allow businesses to thrive as they inform locals of their delicious and diverse menus. Furthermore, Bessin is committed to making events free for guests so that all can be welcome to join in on the festivities.
“We won’t be collecting any money,” Bessin said. “It will just be a relationship between the attendees and that vendor, and that’s what we want. It’s [about] creating relationships that are beneficial going both ways [and] creating a sense of community, so people are really excited about that.”
Following their successful appearances at Magnolia Park Night Out, Elevate Burbank participants plan to continue attending this monthly event in 2022, where they will be set up in the Bank of America parking lot. In the future, they will also host independent events such as poetry readings, dance recitals, concerts and more.
The work of Elevate Burbank members is a groundbreaking step towards building equity amongst all races, ethnicities, ages and genders of Burbank residents. Local outreach will be the next step for the team, as they want to create meaningful experiences with as many different cultures in Burbank as they can.
“There are all these little niches that exist, and it’s really going to be our responsibility to seek them out, bring them into the fold and invite them to celebrate their culture for the whole community,” Bessin said.
To learn more about Elevate Burbank and how to contribute to their work, visit their site here.
Follow Elevate Burbank on Instagram: @elevateburbank, Facebook: @ElevateBurbank, and Twitter: @elevateburbank