In 2020 we saw—and many of us participated in—peaceful protests across the country demanding that our nation face its pervasive bigotry and root it out of our institutions, our economy, and our culture. The murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor drove thousands of protesters in cities across the country to say: “ENOUGH.”
But this story does not begin with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. And it extends far beyond them. The story of racism in America spans more than four hundred years, and it is filled with brutality, murder, rape, dehumanization, marginalization, segregation, and economic and housing discrimination. This moral stain on our country is allowed to continue through widespread indifference and willful blindness.
The first step forward must begin with acknowledging how we got here.
Cleveland Heights is a diverse community, and it became that way thanks to deliberate efforts by community leaders to integrate—and at a time when most white communities in America were fiercely defending continued segregation. (Check out Susan Kaeser’s book Resisting Segregation.)
But over time, these efforts at integration quietly deteriorated. Without vigilant and never-ending attention to rooting out racism and bias, we have seen that our citywide demographic diversity is largely segregated into different parts of the city. And we see it in our schools too: While our city is 50% people of color, our public schools are 83% people of color.
Racism and white supremacy adapts and perseveres.
And this is the story of racism and the fight for racial justice in our country: Progress comes in spurts, then people believe the problem is “fixed” and turn their attention elsewhere. But racism is a cancer. If we are not vigilant in always rooting it out, in understanding how it adapts and migrates, it will continue to strengthen and spread, many times in new and more resilient ways.
One of the ways we’re fighting racism here in Cleveland Heights.
With this in mind, I am happy that the Cleveland Heights City Council passed the resolution declaring racism a public health crisis and established the Racial Justice Task Force, which will:
analyze racial justice and equity within the City of Cleveland Heights as a community and as a municipal organization, and to recommend processes, policies and action steps to create an inclusive community where the likelihood of success is not based on race or ethnicity, where law enforcement and the justice system operate free from bias, and where diversity is recognized as a hallmark of a strong, resourceful and resilient community.
And while the Task Force will also advise “whether the City should establish a Commission or Commissions to serve purposes similar to the Task Force’s purposes on an ongoing basis,” the resolution’s very design of the Task Force stated that it “shall adjourn and complete its work not later than nine months after its first meeting, unless this period is extended by Council.”
I applaud that our City Council took immediate action to address the calls for racial justice that rose up in 2020. Even as vulnerable communities have been calling out for justice for centuries and a response from all levels of government and industry are long overdue, the need to act on racism is urgent.
Our work to fight racism must never adjourn.
But the need to act on racism is also never ending. It is our job to listen to the Task Force’s findings and recommendations, but we must also establish a permanent commission that will continually work to root out racism in our institutions and our culture. As a council member, I will advocate to make the task force a permanent committee to work toward dismantling racism in all of its varied forms, and I will work closely with that committee to make sure their work is respected, heard, and acted upon.