Courtesy city of Evanston
Deputy City Manager Kimberly Richardson presented Evanston City Council with a racial equity update Monday. The update, which the council unanimously voted to accept and place on file, was based on the idea that the current political climate can be used as an opportunity to reframe the city’s goals.
In June 2019, the council unanimously voted to adopt a resolution committed to ending structural racism and achieving racial equity. The resolution, authored by Ald. Cicely Fleming (9th), states that for Evanston to fully embrace change, its history of racial discrimination and injustice must be acknowledged. It also recognizes a history of policies and governmental actions that contributed to discrimination, such as zoning laws that supported redlining and disinvestment in the black community.
Richardson acknowledged that while the city has taken some steps towards the goal of equity, it still has a long way to go.
“Work done with good intentions does not produce racial equity. We need to focus on systematic impact,” she said. “One thing that I’ve seen repeatedly asked…is to look at things with a racial equity lens, to try and respond with a racial equity process…and we really haven’t done much in that regard.”
Richardson said although some change is inevitable with the hiring of new, younger staff with diversity in both ethnicity and experience, the biased culture that is embedded in many of the city’s practices must be recognized.
“We need to be mindful that certain policies and certain actions that we have to take as a city (are) going to require us to make some systemic changes to how we even operate on a day-to-day basis,” Richardson said. “Equity means that our policymaking, service delivery and distribution of resources account for the different histories, challenges and needs of the people we serve.”
According to Richardson, the road to racial equity begins with city staff normalizing conversations about systemic racism and also encouraging dialogue with employees of color. To achieve this goal, staff will be required to attend city-wide programming and an equity committee comprising staff at all levels will be created. Along with learning alongside the rest of the city staff at mandatory programming, members of this committee will focus on how this work can translate into policy.
Evanston’s Equity and Empowerment Commission has committed to holding staff accountable by creating community indicators that will help develop their goals and ensure that they are met. Richardson also said staff should not look at the city’s budget as a line item budget, but rather as an outcome-based budget so that proper funds are allocated towards equity efforts. She emphasized that several departments need to be reviewed with a focus on equity, including the Health and Human Services Department and the Evanston Police Department.
Fleming expressed concern about Richardson taking on these responsibilities along with her other commitments.
“I’m concerned that without that person who is our guiding light through the organization and all the different processes that we continue to get further down the road without much tangible action,” Fleming said.
Fleming also said although she recognizes that city staff have a significant responsibility in changing the culture surrounding equity, she wants Evanston residents to know that council has not neglected its commitment.
As a member of the Equity and Empowerment Commission, Ald. Melissa Wynne (3rd) expressed optimism about the community’s recognition of city staff’s efforts.
“What the commission has been looking at…is to have the community understand better the point of equity and how to educate the community on these issues,” she said. “But I support what Kimberly is talking about because we have to live this…It has to be our city culture.”
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— City council refocuses on racial equity in training, new proposals