Durham’s city council voted Monday night to establish a Racial Equity Task Force aimed at understanding and undoing institutional racism.
Mayor Steve Schewel first announced the formation of the task force during his February State of the City Address. Council members green-lighted it unanimously on Monday with little discussion, the details having been worked out at a previous work session.
One person spoke during a public comment session on the task force, urging the council to consider appointing at least one young black man to the task force and for the task force to listen to neighborhoods within Durham that have been targeted by police profiling.
According to the Racial Equity Task Force’s by laws, the mission is to ensure that no one is left behind as Durham communities grow. The task force will examine Durham’s history of institutional and structural racism, and “learn to see the ways in which racism has shaped our institutions and begin to undo and repair these lasting impacts.”
A 2015 report from Triangle J Council of Governments and Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments found that “across a host of indicators including employment, wages, poverty, working poor rates, and access to “high-opportunity” occupations, people of color fare worse in the Research Triangle labor market than their white counterparts.”
It found that one in three Latinos and one in five African Americans now live in poverty compared to one in ten whites. Latinos are more than six times as likely to be working poor as whites, and both black and Latino residents earn lower wages than whites at every education level.
The first goal of the task force is to ensure that the public is made aware of these disparities.
The task force will also work to identify best practices for policy changes and social interventions addressing racial inequality. Members will research initiatives that had success in other cities, and look for ways those changes could be implemented in Durham. Finally, the task force will make funding and policy recommendations to government, businesses, and the community at-large.
The bulk of the council’s discussion about the task force happened at its June 7 work session, when members clarified three logistical aspects of the plan: racial equity training for members, chairing the committee and membership qualifications.
The council decided that members of the task force will be required to have obtained racial equity training in the past five years, or to get it within two months of appointment. If necessary, scholarships would be made available from the city to pay for the training.
The council decided that people seeking to join the task force can apply either to be a member or for the chair position. Those who chose to apply for the chair position will also be considered for membership if they are not selected as chair. There will be twelve members appointed to the task force, overseen by the chairperson.
Originally the mayor pro tem, Jillian Johnson, was designated to chair the task force, but the council decided that the effort to counteract institutional racism should be community-led, not institution-led. She’ll serve as a liaison instead.
Council member Mark Anthony Middleton said that “the very presence of one of us in the room, one of us elected, changes the nature of the conversation.”
Council member DeDreana Freeman went on to say, “It’s not just the matter of being elected. It’s also being institutional and being institution-led as opposed to being community-led. Which is a part of what race equity talks about.”
Finally, the council discussed the possibility of adding specific requirements for the racial makeup of the task force. They decided specific definitions would be restrictive, and decided to keep the language as is, saying that the council would appoint “a majority of people of color,” to the task force.
The task force will meet once a month. All meetings will be open to the public. The application period for the Racial Equity Task Force has not been announced.