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Gainesville’s Racial Equity Proposal Moves Forward

BY JENNIFER CABRERA / MAY 21, 2019

In a Gainesville City Commission meeting on May 16, 2019, City Commissioner Gail Johnson gave a presentation on the city’s partnership with the Government Alliance on Race and Equity. Johnson recently attended GARE’s annual conference in Albuquerque with two city employees.

According to its website, GARE is “a national network of government working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.” It is a joint project of the Haas Institute for a Fair  & Inclusive Society and the new Race Forward, which was created when The Center for Racial Justice Innovation united with the Center for Social Inclusion in 2017. GARE’s website says it is composed of 80 jurisdictions; Johnson said there are 150 members.

After introducing GARE, Johnson said that when they talk about racial prejudice, they are not talking about individual prejudice; they are talking about structural inequities – systems that don’t allow people to thrive. She said the goal is to create conditions by which all people can thrive. 

Johnson said we must shift from “good faith efforts” (making excuses that not enough minorities applied for a position, etc.) to “accountable, measurable, and positive outcomes.”

In listing the things that Gainesville is doing well, Johnson mentioned the new single Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) district that collects taxes from 3 former CRA districts and has the power to move money from any of the former CRA districts to any of the others (“more equitably distribute the resources, right? So essentially from the west side to the east side of Gainesville”); new GPD initiatives for juvenile diversion; renters’ rights; and youth/community centers.

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In listing the things that Gainesville is not doing well, Johnson said that overall city procurement last year (not including Wild Spaces and Public Places and the CRA) was $91 million, but only $130,000 of that went to minority-owned businesses, and only $3 million went to women-owned businesses. She summarized by saying that 3-4% of the city’s procurement dollars went to women, minorities, and veterans, and blacks alone make up about 22% of Gainesville’s population. Johnson said that out of 24 department heads at the city, only 2 are people of color. Out of GRU jobs that make over $90k/year, 80% are held by white men. 90% of firefighters are men.

She then recommended that the city “expect, of our vendors and partners, equity plans” and said the city should have a “sense of urgency. It’s gonna require resources.” She said that Gainesville is about 10 years behind more progressive cities, but that’s not an entirely bad thing because “we can see what other cities have done well, and we can learn from it.” 

Teneeshia Marshall, the Equal Opportunity Director for the City of Gainesville, followed with her presentation on the GARE Racial Equity Tool. She said the definition of inequity is “when race can consistently be used as a predictor for negative life outcomes” and that “racial inequities are a moral imperative, but they are an economic imperative as well.” She showed a few slides that highlighted statistics from the Racial Inequity Report, many of which are already outdated (we will have an article up on this soon).

Marshall then listed several “impacts of racism” (see our analysis article for comments): 

  • If the City of Seattle reduces their African American unemployment rate to that of their Caucasian counterparts, it would generate an additional $25 million in tax revenue. 
  • By 2040, the Twin Cities will have a 30 percent skill gap if they do not eliminate their racial inequities. 
  • If contracting were proportional to racial breakdowns in New York City, enterprises lead[sic] by people of color would procure an additional $8 billion annually.

She listed the 6 steps of the Racial Equity Tool:

  1. What is your proposal and desired results and outcomes?
  2. What does the data tell us?
  3. Have communities been engaged? Are there opportunities to expand engagement?
  4. Who benefits from or will be burdened by your proposal? What are your strategies for advancing racial equity or mitigating unintended consequences?
  5. What is your plan for implementation?
  6. How will you ensure accountability, communicate and evaluate results?

As she was discussing Step 4, unintended consequences, Marshall talked about how TSA body scanners have a tendency to flag women with hairstyles that are more common in the African-American community: thick or curly hair, especially if it is styled on top of the head in a bun or in braids. It turns out that this is because the scanner can’t distinguish between thick hair and suspicious items, so the scanner flags the person for a manual inspection. This also happens to white people with thick or curly hair, but Marshall implied that the scanners are somehow designed to flag black women: “If they’d had adequate representation at the table [when implementing the body scanners], then maybe African-American women wouldn’t be subjected to as many searches as they have been.”

Gail Johnson came back to the podium and recommended some next steps:

  • Create a resolution that says we are 100% committed to advancing racial equity in our community. Make it part of the city’s strategic framework.
  • Reorganize the Equal Opportunity office and make everything flow through the EO office. This includes Equal Opportunity staff and training in every department of the city.
  • The renters’ subcommittee is sunsetting. We need a racial and gender equity subcommittee that would look at all the policies in the city and recommend a new policy to the city commission at every commission meeting.
  • The Friendship 7 commissioned a “blue ribbon” report on the question, “How can Gainesville become more competitive?” She said we need a new question: How can Gainesville become more equitable? “Call it the brown ribbon report. The pink ribbon report.”
  • Equity needs to be an integral part of the update to the comprehensive plan – “every piece of it”

Johnson continued, “These are the biggies. Are y’all ready? So we’re doing this work. It’s a really, really big lift. It’s a heavy lift. It’s 150 years of systems that we’re undoing. It’s not gonna come cheap… everyone knows that we’re in a budget shortfall. But what I’m asking of my community and my colleagues is that we make this a priority… I believe that we need 2 FTEs to support this work, going forward. I believe that in ’20 and ’21, we’re going to need $300k for ’20 and $300k for ’21… We’re going to need consultants with expertise… We’re going to need studies. We’re going to need money to do this work… Are we ready to prioritize bending the arc towards justice?”

There were a number of citizen comments, most of which were congratulatory and described Johnson as “brave”. Two or three citizens spoke against the motion, the details of which had not yet been put up on the screen.

As the meeting moved to a period of commissioner comment, Commissioner Helen Warren began by saying that Johnson’s presentation was “inspirational… This will probably go down as one of the best junkets that any city commission has taken.”

Commissioner Gigi Simmons added, “That was phenomenal… Your approach is dead-on.”

Commissioner David Arreola suggested that they add a mayor’s letter to the motion, inviting the Friendship 7 to look within their own organizations to take similar steps. “Every major institution, every major business needs to internalize these processes.”

Simmons said, “We can’t fail.” She said the city should proceed even without the partnership of the other organizations because the city by itself can increase purchasing from minorities. 

Mayor Lauren Poe then addressed the audience in the chamber: “I want to finish by talking to people who look like me because privilege is a toxic toxic and deceitful part of who we are as a society. For one thing, most people of privilege don’t recognize that they have it at all, and those that do usually come about it later in life… At my core, I know that I would be better off, my daughters would be better off, if I lived in a mixed-race neighborhood, a mixed-income neighborhood, they they went to a diverse school, that the food they ate represented cultures from around the world, the music they listened to, yet the 150 years or the 400 years or however far you want to go back has been a continuous process of segregation and walling ourselves off from everyone who isn’t like us. And ultimately, it’s not the responsibility of the black person to end racism. [Looking at the audience] You’re not the racist. It’s people who look like me who are the racists…”

The motion was then put up for a vote:

1.   Resolution – comprised of racial equity vision and mission statement for work we will embark upon

a. Include this as part of the Strategic Framework to be adopted with the overarching City’s strategic plan in July

2.   Realignment/reorganization of the Office of Equal Opportunity with a focus on compliance, diversity, inclusion and equity.

3. Create a racial equity subcommittee to focus on policies for 6 months to be comprised of community members focused on:

a. How we can become more equitable

b. To create a guiding document

c. Incorporate partners and build upon the work of Gainesville for All

4. $300,000 set aside for FY20 and $300,000 set aside for FY21 to support the work

5. Authorize 2 Full Time Employees to support this work

6. Include a mayor’s letter to the Friendship 7 informing them of the motion we pass today and invite them to take a closer look at equity and take action.

The motion was passed unanimously with no discussion, other than the comments above, which were made before the resolution was put up on the screen.

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