Friday, September 18, 2020

Crested Butte committee on racism issue making quick progress

Six subcommittees meeting in earnest

By Mark Reaman

The committee formed to look at racism issues in Crested Butte had its first meeting on August 27 and for a government committee seems to be moving pretty fast. The group of about 35 participants agreed to form six subcommittees focused on different issues, to meet within the week. They will gather again as the broad coalition on Thursday, September 3 to decide what to approach the Town Council members with at the council’s September 8 meeting.

Headed up by council members Will Dujardin and Mallika Magner and moderated by town planner Mel Yemma, the first meeting lasted more than two hours and touched on a number of topics including what to call the primary committee and how it should continue to evolve. After much discussion the group decided to stick with the Crested Butte Black Lives Matter Committee as the name of the effort. Whether it continues as a town government-run group or evolves into a citizens committee that partners with or recommends action to the town has not yet been decided.

“Overall, I was very happy with the initial meeting,” said Dujardin. “There were some slight disagreements that came up but they were respectfully handled. I’m confident in the group moving forward.”

“It may seem that it is moving fast but we want to see action,” said Magner. “We have such thoughtful, intelligent, educated, insightful people in our community with different perspectives and life experiences that want to be involved. This is a wonderful opportunity.”

Yemma said she too felt good about the August 27 Zoom meeting. “There were lots of interested people from the community who want to be part of this,” she said. “People spoke from their hearts. Zoom presents certain challenges with that many people but for an initial meeting it was great, especially given the loose plan we started with.”

Yemma said the topic is one that is complex but the group basically agreed that racism exists in Crested Butte and that the goal of the committee is to build community-wide collaboration and facilitate education and communication to implement tangible anti-racist actions, policies and practices that identify and address systemic racial inequality in our community.

“There is a need to hear from our community members of color about their experiences here,” Yemma said. “This can be a sensitive and complex topic and that is one good reason to perhaps bring in a professional facilitator who specializes in diversity, equity and inclusion.”

Yemma said the town has been approached by a Mt. Crested Butte professional who deals with such topics—one element to be explored as the group discussion moves forward.

Citizens Chloe Bowman and Karen Hoskin, who have emerged as leaders of the local movement, said having the discussion is important but not without challenges. “Chloe and I are working really hard to draw more BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] toward the processes happening in Crested Butte,” Hoskin explained. “Governmental committees have not been inclusive of or felt safe for BIPOC historically in the U.S. so to barrel forward with so few voices represented is problematic for sure. It is likely some of the subcommittees that were formed won’t have the benefit of any BIPOC voices at all. We still have a lot of work to do.”

Dujardin agreed and said some of the concern voiced was that the message will get watered down. He noted that some of the same concerns led to the group continuing to use the Black Lives Matter name. “People of color are not used to participating in this type of venue so there is an automatic distrust of the process,” he said. “There has been distrust of government action before as it has never done enough and the government at multiple levels is part of systemic racism, or we wouldn’t be here,” he continued. “But there is also the constant and historical tone policing when white people try to take action for the black community and it mostly ends as a whole lot of nothing, notwithstanding slow progress made over time. That seemed to be acknowledged by the group, hence the decision to stay with the name as it is now for the purpose of this committee at this point.”

Yemma admitted that for a government process, the discussion was happening pretty fast. “This all came together quickly and we are in the very early stages,” she said. “We are still trying to figure out the best structure. Is it a council committee? Is it a community coalition? The different subcommittees will gather and come up with three to five tangible actions they think the community can take in that particular sector. What comes from those subcommittees should help focus the overall direction. They will meet this week and we are all reconvening September 3. We want to lay the foundation and build consensus on our goals before jumping into action. The subcommittee reports will be very telling. From there we can consider using a facilitator and start thinking about the best way to move forward.”

“Right now I see the town as a government entity being the convener for people to come together,” said Magner. “What I am hoping for is to widen the conversation to people who haven’t necessarily thought about the issue in the community that much. I don’t want to just preach to the choir. I am super excited about it all. In the midst of this national conversation it is important for our town to be part of it.”

Dujardin said he understood that achieving major actionable results could take time and a conclusion is not likely to be reached at the September 8 council meeting. “There may be some action items to discuss at the next council meeting and there will certainly be more work to do to accomplish lasting change. But right now there is momentum to explore and deal with the issues,” he concluded.

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