In the meeting rooms of City Hall and Winchester Hall, in the conference rooms of the school system’s headquarters on South East Street, the winds of change are blowing, and they are carrying a favorable breeze.
Our Frederick County community is starting to come to grips with the problem which has plagued our nation for hundreds of years, the systemic racism that followed the original sin of slavery.
The city’s Board of Aldermen has already declared racism is a public health crisis, and now Alderwoman Kelly Russell is proposing a resolution to recognize equity as a fundamental value for the city.
Russell’s resolution builds on the ideas presented in Alderman Derek Shackelford’s resolution declaring the public health crisis.
Equity doesn’t mean that everyone gets the same outcome, Russell said, but everyone gets the same opportunity. Equity should be “the foundation upon which we make the commitment to act to promote justice and fairness in the creation and implementation of priorities, policies, programs, and legislation,” she said.
With the resolution, the city would begin a review of documents to account for equity impacts and fix any deficiencies; be more inclusive in public outreach of the various language and communication needs; and consider equity as the lens through which all future policies, practices, actions, and decisions are viewed.
These are the kinds of tangible changes that make real the promises made in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
At the county government level, tangible change is also coming quickly. Councilman Kai Hagen has released a draft of a bill aiming to address racial equity and social justice issues, and County Executive Jan Gardner has already embraced one of the bill’s goals.
Gardner has created a new position to assist her and other officials in ensuring racial equity and social justice countywide. The new job is titled the Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer, and Gardner hopes to fill the job in the next few months.
“It’s very clear that we need a person to lead this effort, and to really help deliver this,” Gardner said. “To do any kind of work, you need to have somebody do it, and so I think we have a number of key areas [to work on].”
Racial equity and implicit bias training, internal policy, legislation drafting, supporting minority businesses and other issues will fall under this person’s responsibilities.
The county executive did not issue a blanket endorsement of Hagen’s proposed bill, which is modeled on a recently adopted law in Montgomery County. She said she specifically disagreed with some provisions that she called too “prescriptive.”
We are confident the executive and council can come to some compromises as they work out this complex issue of addressing racial inequity.
The discussions within the school system are happening at a lower level, for now, but the fact that they have begun is reason for optimism. Organizers of the community protest group End Racism FCPS were invited to speak to the school system’s Racial Equity Committee recently.
Connor Laughland, a member of End Racism FCPS, told committee members that the group is working to address equality and diversity issues in the school system. He said current and former students felt there was a lack of channels through which they could share difficult experiences.
So far, the discussion is in the talking and listening stage, but that is a good place to be. No one resolution, no one county official, no one school committee is going to be able to solve the problem of systemic racism, even the problem in their own organization.
This is the beginning of a long, sometimes painful conversation. But it is one our community and our nation must begin, and we must see through to meaningful conclusion.