I spent yesterday morning on the 16th floor of the U.S. Bank Building in downtown Saint Paul among a crowd of mostly government planners like myself. We were all there with the hopes to discover the secret to how we can better integrate equity into our comprehensive plans. While hopeful it would be handed to us in the four hour session, we all knew this was just the beginning and that it would take time and hard work to get it right.
The speakers were Gordon Goodwin and Julie Nelson from the Government Alliance on Race Equality (GARE) and the Center for Social Inclusion (CSI). They used a series of small group discussions and large group activities to engage us and get the conversation started about what is lacking in our communities. During an activity called Laying it on the Line, we all lined up at the front of the room and shifted our position based on our response to the questions. Left was strongly disagree, right was strongly agree. The question that sparked the most debate was "I believe we can end racial inequity."
Your first response might be that everyone should have been on the right side of the room, but we had a divided group, spread all along the spectrum. I stayed in the middle to right section because I believe we can end racial inequity, but I think it will take a lot longer than it should and was not as optimistic as those on the right wall that I will see it in my lifetime.
You may wonder why anyone would be on the left, but they had valid points. They were the planners with little hope left, who have seen all that has gone on and the entrenched implicit and explicit prejudice and do not see a complete end to racial inequity. We live in a world of hope vs. reality. As a planner, despite how hard it is some days, I try to be more positive and hopeful otherwise nothing will every be achieved.
GARE created six strategies to create racial equality which begins by identifying desire results. We then need to analyze data, engage the community, develop strategies, an implementation plan, and finally communicate and be accountable. The presenters emphasized this is not one process to be checked off in order to create equity in our cities, but a loop that needs to be constantly revisited.
One big takeaway from the seminar was to lead with equity. If we start our strategies and our engagement plans by hoping to create change in the equity balance we are more likely to find results. Without realizing it, our current policies, practices, and procedures create inequality. If we looked at all our government processes with this new approach we could clean up a lot of implicit discrimination. Not everyone can attend a night meeting at 7 pm on a Tuesday, but that does not mean they care less than the person without small children who could easily attend.
We should revisit the Gettysburg Address and create a government that is truly "of the people, for the people, and by the people" and when we say people, mean all people, not just the ones that have time to go to a public meeting on Tuesday night at 7 pm. The desire to change is there, will planners be the ones to lead?