The Auburn Diversity Task Force held its second meeting last week, with members tossing around ideas for actions the city could take as well as stressing the need to start the drafting process for a mission statement.
"She said the main thing that any task force should have is a mission statement," said Ward 1 Councilwoman Connie Fitch Taylor of a keynote presentation given by Nzinga Shaw, senior vice president, community and chief diversity and inclusion officer for the Atlanta Hawks, at a recent diversity and inclusion conference held in Auburn that she and Ward 5 Councilman Steven Dixon attended. "One thing she also said is that every diverse community is … demanding a seat at the table.
"Every diverse group has a freedom of speech, so we want everybody to be able to speak out, say what’s on your mind."
In addition to Taylor and Dixon, the task force includes Christine Bradshaw, former City Councilman Clemon Byrd, Anthony Brock, Pride on the Plains president Chad Peacock, Asim Ali of the Auburn Islamic Center, Samantha Bradshaw of the Exceptional Foundation of East Alabama, Mike Halperin, Brittany Branyon, and former mayoral candidate Brittany Cannon Dement, who is credited with raising the need to address diversity in the community during her campaign.
Task force members offered a number of options the city could pursue to address diversity and inclusion in the Auburn community, including holding diversity or international food festivals, hosting a conference, creating a youth diversity committee, providing free meeting space for diversity groups, and sending out a survey about diversity to residents in Auburn.
"I think that would be a good thing to help us really figure out where the city really is, what the residents really think about diversity and inclusion in our community," said Dixon of a survey he described as a "climate study" of the community.
Dixon added that he had spoken of the survey idea with Taffye Benson Clayton, vice president and associate provost for inclusion and diversity at Auburn University, who suggested that such an effort might run in the $25,000 to $30,000 range to complete.
Taylor also indicated that she's finalizing plans to bring Clayton to speak at an upcoming Diversity Task Force meeting, possibly as soon as April 3.
Bradshaw brought up actions the city could take to help children with special needs in the Auburn community. She got feedback from some of her friends with special needs children about what could make Auburn a better place for them.
"The number one answer I got was we need classes, we need to be included in the summertime programs because as of right now in the city of Auburn if you're ages 5 through 15 there's not one thing offered from the city during the summer, and the special ed children are not getting invited over to a friend's house and playing, they're not going to spend the night out with friends.
"I am going to challenge the city to think outside of the box," she added to applause from other members. "Until we prioritize everybody the same, it's not going to get any better. That's really the bottom line."
She also mentioned how much special needs parents could use fences around city playgrounds "so we can just sit down a minute and not worry about losing a child."
"Until we see everybody as equals, we're really not going to be any more diverse than we are now," said Bradshaw, who added the need to create a buddy system program in the city.
"For what it's worth, I think that what you have brought up is the most significant short-range thing that this mayor should talk to his council and to the superintendent and the school board about and do something this summer. That to me is the most significant thing that must be handled immediately," added Halperin.