S.E. Williams | Contributor
When the City of Redlands declared, “Racism a Public Health Crisis,” it created a living document with transparency, milestones, and measures for success as a beginning to a more equitable tomorrow.
Mayor Pro Tem Denise Davis and fellow councilmember Eddie Tejeda, after realizing they were each working on separate initiatives to address this concern, joined forces, combined their work into a single instrument and with input and support of many in the community, carried it across the finish line.
“We started shortly after George Floyd was murdered,” Davis began. “The murder of George Floyd was completely shocking and devastating for much of America who have watched the video or who had heard of the video. And that, coupled with the work the Black Lives Matter movement has been doing for years, I think this was really a critical point where people across the country said we’ve had enough, this has got to stop. This has gone on too long. These injustices are beyond comprehension and we need to move towards a solution now.”
Davis described how she believes the pandemic has helped elevate this issue in interesting ways.
“A lot of us are confined to our homes and I think it has given us an opportunity to really not look away from what’s happening and what really matters out there. I’m glad more people seem to have the time and energy to be engaged in what’s happening and paying attention in ways that we have not seen before in recent times.”
When the Resolution was approved by the city council on July 21, 2020 it represented an historic milestone for the city.
“To my knowledge there’s never been a resolution specifically about racism with explicit terms like this one,” explained Davis addressing the depth and length of the document. As is often experienced with cultural shifts, Davis and Tejeda did encounter a little pushback from some of their colleagues, but in the end (although one council member was in absentia) the declaration received unanimous approval from the council members in attendance.
Although some council members were concerned the declaration was too long, Davis and Tejeda pushed back and emphasized the resolution not only took weeks to prepare, it involved input from several key stakeholders including community groups and individuals.
Acknowledging those who partnered in the effort Davis shared, “Eddie had worked with a group called the Common Vision Coalition and they also connected us to Bishop Jackie Greene who provided feedback. I worked with individual community members. Kristin Washington and Karen Brandon were among those who gave me the most feedback.”
The team also worked with Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (COPE) including Rev. Sam Casey and others. “In the early stages of the document (they) suggested some of the initial language and were very helpful in the processing of the document as we moved along,” said Davis.
NexGen United is another group not only supportive of the declaration, Davis explained, but was instrumental in helping to rally public comments regarding the declaration.
There were 62 comments entered into the public record during the meeting on July 21; only two of them did not support adoption of the resolution. One was from an individual who argued systemic racism cannot be fixed, so why try; and another who argued unless it included defunding the police, the city was not doing enough. However, most comments according to Davis, “[W]ere beautiful, powerful, brave, and vulnerable people telling their experiences of racism in Redlands and giving specific, painful examples. It was hard to listen to for an hour.”
“Yet, it was a powerful statement from our community saying, yes, [racism] does exist, and I loved that it happened organically,” Davis expounded. “We asked for public comments and people gave us their honest and powerful stories and a lot of White folks wrote in saying how important this was to support.”
One member of the public seemed to capture the essence of this when he shared a story evidencing the kind of racism that often simmers just below the surface in communities across the country.
Daniel Goldman wrote, “I wanted to voice my support for . . . the resolution to affirm that racism is a public health crisis. I am the project director and founder of the nonprofit group called the Heartlands. We run a small gallery right across from City Hall on Vine Street. Some of the artists in our gallery have created posters and merchandise in support of Black Lives Matter which we have displayed in our window as a sign of solidarity. Since doing this, we have heard numerous racist comments from passersby.”
Goldman continued, “Additionally, we created a list of Black-owned businesses that can be supported in our Inland Empire communities. One of the messages our businesses received through the form on our website is as follows, ‘It has come to my attention about the blackout day on July 7, 2020 (this is the day people were encouraged to buy only from Black-owned businesses). I appreciate the list of Black-owned businesses you have listed. It lets me know where to never shop. I’m going to make sure that none of my money ever goes to Black businesses all this rioting, looting, and destruction has ruined it for me.’”
After quoting the message he received, Goldman continued, “I moved to the city in 1998 as a high school student and have been in the area ever since. I was aware that racism was prevalent in this community but the fact that these attitudes still exist in 2020; it is in fact a public health crisis and should be affirmed as such.”
Even with such compelling testimony, Davis anticipated some council members might want to make changes to declaration.
Tying the value of community voices to the integrity and scope of the document Davis asserted, “We were really intentional about the language,” stressing they revised the document many times. She and Tejeda pushed back against those who thought the declaration might be more powerful if it were more concise. Davis insisted during the meeting however, any recommendations to change the document be added to it rather than taken away from it.
Davis and Tejeda stood firm. “We spent a considerable amount of time on the action items. Not only did we declare racism as a public health crisis, we acknowledge that evidence of such has happened directly throughout the history of the development of Redlands. Racism isn’t just something that happened throughout the country, it actually happens in our city as well and it is important to name it. We also named in the document, the lives and experiences of Black people matter; and furthermore, the lives and experiences of people of color living in Redlands matters.”
These were the first few declarations contained in the document. It goes on to declare the city needs to continue implementation of policies and practices for employee conduct, for the equitable treatment of all people, that recognizes the common humanity of all people regardless of race and ethnicity, and there is a section committed to actively participate in the dismantling of racism by implementing annual training.
“This came up as a bone of contention,” Davis explained, when the mayor asked her and Tejeda how they planned to pay for it.
City Councilmember Eddie Tejeda
Like most cities, Redlands is currently in a difficult budget situation with the impact of COVID-19. Davis also learned recently there is online training available and the city has sent information about this training to elected officials and city staff members who in theory, are supposed to complete it.
“I didn’t even know about it until [last week] so that tells you something. But, I made the recommendation in the City Council meeting that we do more intentional, implicit bias training and that it not be just online modules, that we actually hire trainers.” Davis has committed to find funding to make it happen. “I’m going to need the city manager and the finance director to really comb through the budget.” She hopes there will be opportunities to reallocate some dollars but if not, “As a last resort, I certainly will pursue grant funding.”
She affirmed her belief that it is not only important to receive additional, in-person training but that it is personalized to this moment that we are living in.
Beyond training, other concrete steps outlined in the declaration include: assessing and revising city department policies, procedures and ordinances to ensure transparency on racial equity are core elements to ensuring that hiring practices provide greater opportunities for people of color to be employed; to further diversify the city’s workforce by ensuring diversity of race, age and gender within the city commissions; creating a system of reporting to measure progress toward achieving the goals outlined in the resolution and communicating that to the greater community; supporting community efforts to amplify issues of racism; engaging actively and authentically with communities of color where they live; and, adding health equity and justice to the objective and purview of the appropriate city commission to address ways to improve the public health and welfare of all the residents through an equitable lense as prescribed in the city’s health resolution and to identify specific activities to further advance diversity.
It is believed Tejeda added the last point because he wanted to see the city’s Human Relations Commission take on more of an approach to thinking about health and racism as a public health crisis. Beyond that, the city will continue its work with and support of Unity in Community, a group that is part of the city’s Common Vision Coalition.
“Finally,” Davis concluded, “Our last bullet is building and strengthening alliances with other organizations that are confronting racism and encouraging other agencies to recognize racism as a crisis.”
To this end, the city is considering membership in the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network of local government agencies looking to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all. This is something modeled and approved by the County of San Bernardino and included in its declaration of Racism as a Public Health Crisis.
“I recognize our [declaration] was more detailed, but I think we should be proud of the fact that ours was more detailed.” In the end, fellow councilmembers agreed with Davis and Tejeda, voting in favor of the resolution.
“I wish this document could eradicate racism; yet, we know that it won’t,” Davis acknowledged and continued. “However, it is an important step in the process and I really am grateful we were able to pass this resolution in the city of Redlands. I think it means a lot to the community here and honestly, I’ve already received a lot of great, positive feedback.”
“I look forward to more ideas, suggestions, and input from the community; and having this be something that moves us forward together and more towards an anti-racist, more inclusive Redlands for everyone,” she concluded.
S.E. Williams is Executive Editor for the IE Voice and Black Voice News.
Header Photo: Counter protesters showing support for the Redlands Police Department in opposition to the Peoples March to End Stop and Frisk protesters on Tuesday, July 28.