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Advisory Council Finds Roles for City Officials in `Undoing Racism'.

"Racism is a problem in this country and city and town officials have roles to play in solving that problem." With the 1999 Futures Report, "we are going to touch the third rail of the American political system and come up with some aspect of solutions that will be meaningful and proper."

NLC Advisory Council Chair Charles Lyons, selectman from Arlington, Mass., made this opening statement as he led the Advisory Council members through two and one-half days of interactive discussions on racism when they met in San Francisco, July 15-17, 1999.

With the assistance of Vice Chairs Carol Clark, a council member from East Orange, N.J., Thomas Morales, the mayor of Avondale, Ariz., and Robert Jefferson, a council member from Lexington-Fayette, Ky., the group developed the focus, issues, themes and messages for the 1999 NLC Futures Report.

Building upon their discussions during the March Congressional City Conference, Advisory Council members worked through an agenda designed to stimulate the group's conversations and help them identify suggested roles for local elected officials to help strengthen our nation's communities by "undoing racism."

NLC First Vice President Bob Knight, who selected this topic last year, thanked the group for taking up the challenges raised by the issues of racism and race relations in America. "In thinking about this subject at length for years," he said, "it strikes me that if we are truly committed to working through this topic, our organization can look back in five to 15 years to this meeting and say that our participation here helped change America in a very positive way."

Using group discussions and small group sessions, Advisory Council members identified the following eight themes around which the 1999 Futures Report will be developed:

* Isolation

* Leadership

* Definitional issues

* Institutional/systemic (forms of racism)

* Segregation/disparities

* Awareness

* Diverse solutions

* Education

Panel Presentations

The meeting agenda included two panel discussions during which panel participants shared their experiences and provided information about programs aimed at reducing racism. Yvette Martinez, project manager for the Television Race Initiative of San Francisco, Calif., provided the group with background information about that project's efforts as part of the panel entitled, Reducing Racism: Programs That Work and Why. Martinez said television is often blamed as part of the "racism/race relations" problem, but that media can, in fact, be part of the solution through positive programming -- programs that reflect diversity, through the use of programming that spark dialogue and encourage conversations, and by acting as a catalyst for bringing grassroots organizations together to use tools in their problem-solving efforts.

Kwame Cooper provided information about the Los Angeles' efforts to establish equity and diversity in the hiring and promotion practices of the city's fire department. Cooper, a captain in the Los Angeles Fire Department, shared his leadership experiences in the design of several community-based fire protection programs.

Shirley Strong, executive director of Project Change, headquartered in San Francisco, presented information about that organization's goals of addressing institutional racism and hate crimes and overt racism, reducing tension, and increasing diversity on community boards. Project Change operates in four cities -- Albuquerque, N.M., El Paso, Tex., Knoxville, Tenn., and Valdosta, Ga.

Damon Jackson, representing the People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, explained that the organization operates on the premise that racism is consciously manufactured and can be undone. He indicated that there is a need to develop power and leadership among community members who are most affected.

He said, "individuals need to unlearn racism and undo it in the institutions where they work." This organization offers workshops and leadership training to help address the issue of racism within communities.

The panel entitled, Youth Perspectives on Racism consisted of five youth from the Bay Area, all of whom gave brief descriptions of their experiences with racism and offered some suggestions to the meeting participants on how to bring about better understanding between groups.

The panel participants, all of whom are from California communities, were: Azure'D Nunley from Richmond, Adriana Palacios from San Pablo, Jessica Montano and Theresa Machado both from Turlock, and Nikki Vo from Oakland.

During her remarks Montano pointed out that, "a lot of students are degraded by their background or skin color; it has a lot to do with their self-image." Vo said, "Racial discrimination is internalized; people set different standards for themselves. She further stated, "if you create opportunities for people to get to know one another, that will break down barriers."

Nunley suggested that one solution to the problem might be to "get a group of people together to do community service ... people from all races to work together for a common goal."

Roles for City Officials

Small group discussions resulted in the identification and development of things local elected officials can do within their communities to address the racism issue. Some topic mentioned included:

* set the tone, condemn acts of racism,

* encourage affordable housing in suburban communities,

* review zoning requirements,

* show diversity in appointments,

* establish partnerships to reduce racism and promote understanding,

* establish strategies for diversity and sharing of power,

* establish strategies to eliminate disparities based on race,

* develop a stronger awareness among police of cultural differences,

* form coalitions that are inclusive,

* develop strategies to remove isolation/separation,

* supply tools to educate all within the community to establish cohesiveness, and

* dissolve stereotypes.

The 1999 Futures Report on racism will be published and made available during the 1999 Congress of Cities in Los Angeles. At that time, the report will be presented to the NLC Board of Directors and to the conference participants
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Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Cheek, Dorothy; Barnes, William
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Aug 2, 1999
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