On January 4, the Kalamazoo City Commission approved a contract with the Michigan Public Health Institute to complete an organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment for the City of Kalamazoo in 2021. The results of the assessment will provide the foundation for the City’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Plan, and provide direction as the City works toward becoming an anti-racist organization.
“To achieve our goals in diversity, equity, inclusion we first have to understand where we are,” explained Dorla Bonner, Diversity Equity, and Inclusion Director for the City of Kalamazoo. “We want our work to be focused and transformational, and we want equity to become ingrained into the culture of our organization so that our internal and community facing work and relationships will reflect that culture.”
As part of the assessment, the Michigan Public Health Institute will review the City’s equal employment opportunity records and other personnel decisions like hiring, promotions, and separations from an equity perspective. The assessment will also include an organizational and cultural survey to understand employee attitudes, conditions, and experiences, and more.
“As we begin our journey toward becoming an anti-racist organization, we must first acknowledge the role the City of Kalamazoo has played in systemic racism,” said City Manager Jim Ritsema. “This acknowledgement, coupled with the assessment and other developments in our Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion show that we are taking actionable steps on this journey.”
The approval of this contract followed a statement from Ritsema acknowledging the City’s historical role in sustaining systemic racism and reaffirming the City’s commitment to intentionally governing to create equitable outcomes. His complete statement can be found below:
“Racism is a painful part of American history. Systemic racism, unfortunately, is deeply rooted not only within our country, but within our cities and all our present-day local government institutions, including the City of Kalamazoo. Despite legislation meant to correct racial inequities, challenges remain, and the trauma, and intersected, toxic impacts caused by systemic racism are endured daily by people of color in our community.
The City of Kalamazoo is committed to governing intentionally to create equitable and inclusive outcomes for everyone in Kalamazoo. This commitment begins with understanding and acknowledging the truth of our past, and the role the City of Kalamazoo has historically played in creating and sustaining systemic racism.
At the City of Kalamazoo, we are committed to this anti-racism journey which will require courageous and continuous leadership and must be informed by the trauma caused by systemic racism, past and present. We hope to work collaboratively with our community and community organizations focused on realizing transformational change for racial equity.
We understand that words are not enough, and we must demonstrate our commitment to transformational change with credible action to change policies, promote community healing and increase trust, and ensure community members are treated fairly and are truly valued.
So later in this meeting, the City Commission will be asked to approve a contract to hire a consultant to perform the City’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion assessment. The assessment results will be used to inform our first DEI plan which will help us continue in areas where we are strong and strengthen areas where we are weak. Also, as part of this plan we will develop an antiracist task force to work alongside our Director of DEI to make sure all areas of the organization are on this journey.”
In October, the City of Kalamazoo and Kalamazoo Public Safety pledged to work with ISAAC’s Anti-Racism Task Force to build a culture of trust and legitimacy between our community and law enforcement. This included a commitment to share what is already being done in these areas, collective visioning sessions with residents and community groups, and acknowledging harm to facilitate healing and trust, among other items.
The DEI assessment will take place alongside continued training for City staff. In 2019, staff from the City Manager’s Office, department directors and deputy directors completed ERACCE’s Introduction to Systemic Racism Training. By the end of 2020, 98 City of Kalamazoo staff members had completed the training, and it will continue to be offered to all city employees in 2021 and beyond.
Additional training opportunities will be developed based on the results of the DEI Assessment this year, including the development of new training and enhancing existing training for all City staff, including public safety officers.
In the fall of 2020, KDPS Chief Vernon Coakley transitioned the Department of Professional Standards (Internal Affairs) into the Division of Community Affairs and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, under the leadership of newly appointed Assistant Chief Victor Green.
“Our goal is for KDPS to be a national leader in diversity, equity and inclusion for all law enforcement agencies, that is why we are committed to continually improving how we train, recruit and hire our public safety officers,” said Green. “I will be working closely with Director Bonner to ensure Public Safety’s full cooperation in the upcoming assessment.”
Find a recording of the city commission meeting here.