In its fourth meeting since being established, the city of Auburn's Diversity and Inclusion Task Force took a step forward when it revealed its mission statement last week.
"We really had a good, rich conversation about this," said Mayor Ron Anders."From where I sit what’s most encouraging to me about this is affirming the richness of our differences."
The task force mission statement reads: "The City of Auburn Diversity Task Force will foster inclusion and affirm the richness of our differences in the community by actively encouraging participation and cultivating a climate of shared respect."
"I feel good about what we’ve come up with — the idea that this is an effort to put forward what is it we’re hoping to get out of this task force, what is it we’re hoping to put forth in motion, hopefully, so that if we do look back on this and say, ‘This is when that effort started. What were we able to accomplish?’ " said task force member Asim Ali.
Other task force members in attendance, including Brittany Branyon and Chad Peacock, voiced their approval of the statement, but noted the need for action to accompany it.
Anders reached out to those in the crowd for their opinion on the statement, including Auburn University professor John Carvalho.
"I'm just here to encourage you all to foster inclusion by recognizing the rights of our gay citizens in Auburn knowing that this could be a good place to address what's lacking," said Carvalho, who later added that he would like to see protection under the law as part of the actions arising from the task force. "Fostering inclusion and affirming the richness by guaranteeing that the gay residents of Auburn have the same rights under employment and under housing that everyone does, and I think this can be a great funnel to that."
Another resident in attendance also pointed out the need for action.
"Mission statements are all well and good, but they don't mean anything unless they're backed by actions, so what is being planned to actually make the words a reality?" she said.
Anders acknowledged that what she said was right, but said "that's not going to happen overnight."
"My desire would be that it's well-thought-out, it's sustainable; it's not rash and rushed and that we're thoughtful in our plans," he said. "That's the challenge we have from here. We've got a couple things that we're going to talk about tonight that are symbolic and meaningful, but they're just a start."
The task force is planning a field trip to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery before the end of July as well as a free event celebrating diversity tentatively set for Oct. 26 at Felton Little Park that will include food and music.
"It's important to remember that this is a kickoff and a celebration," said Branyon. "This task is working so hard to get deeper. But this is the first thing we're trying to do to come together as a community and see each other and celebrate together."
Branyon added that food trucks and space for organizations will likely be a part of the event, while Anders said it would be a three-hour event based around music and food.
"It just seems to me that food and fellowship is a great way to tear down walls," said Anders.
Peacock also noted the importance of reaching out to different organizations to encourage them to get involved with the event.
"I want to reiterate that this is a start, and that we definitively want to get deeper and more meaningful in terms of some kind of lasting change," said Ali.