All InclusiveFeb 01, 2023 ● By Lisa Sciortino
by Lisa Sciortino
Frisco is undeniably a melting pot of cultures.
According to demographic data available on the City of Frisco’s website (friscotexas.gov), Frisco’s population in 2022 was estimated to be just shy of 224,000 people.
Of those, nearly 50 percent of residents are white, 8 percent are black, .3 percent are American Indian, nearly 26 percent are Asian, and 13.5 percent are Hispanic. (The remaining 16.5 percent of our city’s population is designated as “other” or a combination of two or more races or ethnicities.)
As our city continues to grow, so does the need to build bonds, communication and understanding among its diverse cultures. Members of the Frisco Inclusion Committee are working to create “those opportunities for people to connect,” according to Saba Ilyas, who serves as the committee’s chair.
A nonpolitical, mayoral ad-hoc committee, Frisco Inclusion Committee (facebook.com/OneFriscoTx) was formally established in 2019 to “advocate for the communities, to educate on the various communities that we have, to allow celebrations that feature these communities and educate the rest of our communities on what inclusion is through various collaborations with these amazing pockets of ethnicities and cultures and religions and abilities that exist within Frisco,” according to Ilyas.
The committee also includes Vice Chair Sunitha Cheruvu; Board Member Sadaf Haq; and Board Secretary Renee Sample. Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney, City Council Members Bill Woodard, Angelia Pelham and Tammy Meinershagen and Peter Burns (who has served on numerous city boards) are advisors for the committee while Frisco Chief Innovation Office Jason Cooley is its liaison with the city.
Being Seen and HeardThe need for such a committee in Frisco was recognized years ago, when Maher Maso was the city’s mayor, Ilyas says. “The Frisco of 2006, 2007, 2008 was very different than the Frisco of today.” It was “this beautiful city that was just starting to progress.”
Ilyas’ family was among the founding families of the Islamic Center of Frisco, while Cheruvu’s family was among the five founding families of the Hindu Karya Siddhi Hanuman Temple.
“We were all trying to do different things to be more a part of the city as our communities grew in Frisco,” Ilyas recalls.
Maso and then-Mayor Pro Tem Cheney, Ilyas says, understood the “need for a committee that allows people to be seen and heard and really feel like Frisco is also their city.
“The change that happened (here) from a diversity standpoint was a lot in the beginning for the city. It really shook up the locals in a good way and a bad way. It’s a little daunting to see your city having a lot more people than you’re used to and from different ethnicities and backgrounds. So just having those conversations of, `How do we bring everyone together and move them together to the future?’ allowed us to have continued conversations.”
Ilyas says there were also “several other community leaders who were doing things on their own” at the time to help the city become more inclusive. “At some point, we ended up crossing paths and having bigger conversations about how we do this together.” Some of those discussions included Maso and Cheney as well as the Frisco police and fire departments, among others.
Once Cheney moved four years ago to establish the Frisco Inclusion Committee, Ilyas says, “We were given the charge to make sure the people in our communities feel seen and heard and felt like they belong.”
In the years since, the committee has partnered with or otherwise had a role in several large community cultural festivals including the recent Lunar New Year Celebration that was held in Frisco in January. (The first such celebration occurred in 2021 at Simpson Plaza.)
“The amount of people that came out to celebrate that, it was monumental,” Ilyas recalls, adding that Frisco Inclusion Committee Co-Chair Cheruvu was “very monumental” in making that inaugural event happen. “So many people walked away (calling it) Chinese New Year, and we were like, `No, it’s celebrated by so many countries that make up that region. It’s an Asian Lunar New Year,’ and we’ve been able to continue that, to help that community become stronger as a unit.”
Making People Feel Welcome
Adds Cheruvu: “There’s lots of times where you have neighbors of a different background or your kids go to school with kids from different backgrounds, but you don’t necessarily have the connection to be able to reach out and understand them better or even just have a conversation. So, in many ways, Frisco Inclusion (Committee) is about making people feel welcome, (to) help understand each other better.”
The committee has also previously been involved with the Diwali lamp lighting and celebration that took place at the Hyatt Regency, and the Kwanzaa lighting and African celebration that was held at Verona Villa as well as the Hispanic Heritage Festival that took place at Preston Trail Community Church.
“We’ve learned as we’ve engaged with the community … and as you learn, you get to do better,” Cheruvu says.
With the Hispanic Heritage Festival, “We learned how there are so many countries that are part of what people might consider Hispanic or Latin, but each country has so much pride and its own special flavor or culture and food and attire and dance and music,” she says.
“There is a lot to continue to learn and celebrate in coming years. … We don’t all need to be PhDs in these various cultures, but we can certainly admire and understand the diversity and depths of the cultures that call Frisco home.”
Late last year, the Frisco Inclusion Committee held its first Dining with Diversity community engagement event at Bigdish, a restaurant at the Shops at Stonebriar that specializes in Middle Eastern desserts.
“Food is such a welcoming thing that brings people together,” Ilyas says, “so we figured with all of these (ethnic) restaurants that are popping up in Frisco … let’s meet at a restaurant, let’s help a small business owner, let’s talk about their ethnic food, what that means to them, the cultural nuances and educational aspects that we can take away from that (and) at the same time having dialogue over food of different people sitting at a table getting to know each other in a safe space where they are at ease to ask some … questions without the fear of being disrespectful or hurting someone’s feelings.
“I think a lot of what (the committee does) is trying to make those environments where people can ask some questions that they really want answers for, but they don’t want to seem disrespectful. They’re curious (and) want the right answers. Not everything that they hear about from others or Google is accurate, so they just want to hear it from someone and maybe understand.”
Beyond focusing solely on race and culture, the committee also plans to work with Frisco’s veteran and disabled populations. “We are all community members,” Cheruvu reminds.
Ilyas is excited about future projects and events in which the Frisco Inclusion Committee plans to be involved.
In Frisco, “We have a potful of servant leaders … (who) either lived here or have moved here and are wanting to make this a better place not only for themselves but for their neighbors and their families,” she says. “There is a lot of growth and a lot of education that still needs to happen, but we’re moving in the right direction and we’re hoping to continue the work that we’re doing with the support of the city behind us.”
“We can all learn from each other,” Cheruvu adds, “and I think that helps us to better understand each other and celebrate the commonalities we share as fellow Frisconians.”
Lisa Sciortino is managing editor of Frisco STYLE Magazine.