Auburn's Diversity Task Force, established by Mayor Ron Anders last fall, met for a work session this week to discuss goals and what the lasting impact of the group should be.

Several members voiced their desire to see the task force begin to take action on items they have been discussing and begin the work of effecting change in the city in a permanent way.

"When we talk about diversity and inclusion, it's easy to think about the emotional aspect of it," said task force member Asim Ali. "I want to take those into account, but my suggestion would be to almost take a little more of a businesslike approach to what we're trying to accomplish."

Halperin, another member, agreed and said he is ready to see less talk and more action.

"I think it's time to move," he said. "For me, it's time to move and to stop talking and start ... more of a businesslike activity."

The task force discussed several goals, but at the top was that the outcome of the group's efforts be the creation of a permanent diversity and inclusion committee.

The committee could then spearhead initiatives that promote inclusion, like the coordination of an annual festival that celebrates different cultures; advocacy efforts for minority groups; the planning of educational events that feature keynote speakers and recognize residents who have made significant impacts in regards to inclusion within the city; and the effort of ensuring Auburn's boards and commissions are representative of all residents.

Anders said that if a permanent committee were to be set up, the task force would be responsible for making a proposal that includes the fine details of how the committee would operate as well as its member count, term limits, budget for events and application process, among other details. A proposal would have to be considered by the City Council.

"My sense was ... this is the natural road we would take at some point in time," Anders said about establishing a permanent committee. "But I want to be cautious as far as making sure that we do it the right way and that it will sustain itself and that it won't be a fly-by-night decision; it won't be emotional. It'll be well-thought-out, well-planned, well-organized, so when it gets started it has a great chance to be successful."

The need for educating the public on just how diverse Auburn is was also discussed. Clarity on Auburn's population makeup can provide insight into which minority groups the committee could help advocate for.

"This task force, for example, should be able to access and publish data of any kind that's available, that the city knows about or that it can collect, so that we can shine a light on what it is that tells the story of diversity and inclusion in Auburn," Ali said, adding that when he recently attended a business community event, he was one of three non-white people in a room of 200 business owners. "To me, that's not representative of Auburn, but also, I don't know if it is or not because there's no data that tells me."

Task force members also expressed the need for a permanent committee to play a role in advocating for those with mental health, special needs and low socioeconomic statuses.

 

Annual festival

 

One item that the task force has been in the early stages of planning is a diversity and inclusion festival. It was initially planned to take place on Oct. 26 in Felton Little Park, but will be delayed a year.

Anders and event coordinator Brittany Branyon said the festival is being delayed to give the task force more time to get it right.

"We just don't feel it will do it justice to rush," Branyon said. "We want to do this right; we want to be very intentional and to rush it in October just isn't the right thing to do to make it what it should be."

The event would be pushed to next fall since Felton Little Park is typically booked solid in the spring for softball and baseball, Anders said.

The task force will meet again in a couple weeks to continue its work. Among some things it has done so far, the task force has crafted a mission statement and taken a field trip to Montgomery to tour The Legacy Museum — a museum that opened last April and tells the story of the enslavement and lynching of African Americans and racial segregation.

"That was not a history I was taught in any classroom," said Ali, who moved to Alabama in the fourth grade.

Anders said the museum also had an impact on him.

"For me, as a comfortable Caucasian guy who's grown up in the South, it was important for me to reflect on the real history of the place I come from," he said. "Personally, introspectively, it was a big day for me."

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