Albany’s Racial Inclusivity & Social Equity Commission Reviews Plans to Address Racism

The Albany Racial Inclusivity and Social Equity Commission met on November 7th to discuss many topics such as updates to their work plan, subcommittees, possible presentations, and future agenda topics. There was also a special presentation from Hip Hop For The People.

With Commissioners Elizabeth Rios and Akinyi Ajwang’ absent, the meeting commenced with the Commission passing the October 3rd minutes followed by public comment. A local resident suggested that the Commission consider actively demonstrating what they pledge in the land acknowledgment, and increase their connection with the natural world and the Ohlone people, as an attempt to renew their connection to the ancestral land they walk on.

Members then moved on to introduce a presentation from Khafre Jay, the founder of Hip Hop For The People. During his presentation he explained what Hip Hop For The People is and what they do, and continued with a discussion about the underlying racism in Albany. Jay said that Albany needs to do a better job of creating change, considering how many people are scared to live or be in Albany. A big idea that Jay brought up was how this change can not be Albany’s to do alone. In order for Albany and other cities in the Bay Area to become more inclusive, they need to work together, and Albany needs to call out these cities and consider what they can do to make some radical change with their power. After the presentation, Commissioner Jim Lindsay asked about the possibility of Hip Hop For The People doing an event in Albany. Jay said it would be a good idea and create a lot of impact, but ultimately it would need to be done in a way that feels safe for black people in order for it to work.

Members moved on to discuss updates on the work plan in regards to their subcommittees. The only updates were on the city wide racial equity survey and the read along program.

Lindsay and Commissioner Charlotte Trenkel, who are on the Racial Equity Survey Subcommittee, had met with city staff earlier this month to finalize the contract with The Justice Collective, and the contract had been approved on November 7th. Lindsay reestablished the purpose of the survey, saying the goal is to collect data from different ethnic groups in Albany and ask them about their experiences living in Albany. Once the data is collected, it will be analyzed so that people living in Albany can see how other ethnic groups in Albany have experienced living in the city. He said he hopes that it will be a wake up call for some white folks, considering that too many people are in denial about what is going on in Albany. Once this is understood, the city’s goal is to become more racially inclusive, he said. The city will release the survey every 2-3 years so that Albany can hold itself accountable and see if what they are doing to become inclusive is working.

Commissioner Jynette OJi chimed in and questioned the impact and goal of this survey and asked what the purpose is, and how they are actually going to get people to fill it out seeing as how there is not a direct benefit for them. Following Oji, Jay added how he doesn’t see this survey as being effective at all considering that they would be wasting tax dollars on asking white people about the experiences they have had in Albany. He suggested that instead, they survey black people living in Albany and pay them to do it with the money they would have spent on surveying white residents. He thinks that his way would be a more cost effective and impactful way of conducting this survey.

The Commission then discussed the read along program;  Commissioners Oji and Ife Fane are on the subcommittee for it. They said that they met with Albany Reads this month and the two programs (Albany Reads and the Read-Along program) have officially decided to join forces. They also mentioned that they are considering giving books away for free so that people can join regardless of whether or not they can afford the books being discussed. Fane also mentioned how Albany Reads sent them a list of themes they intend to discuss including: harm, trauma, impacts of social media, hate speech, dark humor, anti-black racism, gender norms and other topics.

Following updates on the work plan items, the Commission moved on to discuss the possibility of hiring  a racial equity officer. Lindsay restated the officer’s purpose, that it would be a professional person embedded within the city – possibly reporting to the city manager, and that the officer would be focused on making sure that the racial equity impact plan would be implemented. Members Oji, Fane, Trenkel, and Erin Cho then debated with Lindsay about whether or not the equity officer position seemed reasonable to them, because they all, besides Lindsay, felt that the money would be better spent on events like Hip Hop For The People.  Some thought hosting their events would have a bigger impact. Lindsay said that since four out of five members think there should be no equity officer position, it’s definitely something to consider removing, but since two members were absent, they should wait to discuss this item at a future time.

The meeting moved forward with the discussion of the housing element. Lindsay restated the goal of the element, “The goal of the element is to provide recommendations and coordination with other advisory bodies for the implementation of the city’s housing element – with a particular focus on programs to help facilitate increased housing availability for all members of the community – and to work with the City Community Development Department on Housing Equity issues.”  The Commission decided to consider continuing this discussion at a future meeting since it was not set on the agenda, while also noting that the plan for the element is to work on it in the future.

The Commission then discussed future agenda items. They decided that for the next agendas, either the racial equity officer or the housing element would be discussed. Noting that there is a confirmed presentation in regards to the housing element that is upcoming, Lindsay added that there is also a possible Albany Reads presentation that might happen. Lindsay then suggested possible speakers to have at a future meeting such as; the Lisjan Tribe, Black Parents Engagement Group, Familia unas de Albany, Project Care and Project Hope, (city projects) the Art commissions Racial Equity Project, the library’s Racial Equity Project, Black Student Union, Latino Student Union, or other Albany High School clubs, Alameda County NAACP, Oakland Rising, and Nicole Anderson. The goal of having  these speakers would be so that the Commission could hear from more people, especially young people, about what they are trying to do in the schools and the community to create a more inclusive environment.

The Next meeting is December 5th.

–Melia Smith


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