SALEM — A task force to investigate and improve race equity in the city has formed five subcommittees to deepen its work and ultimate impact.
Members of Salem's Race Equity Task Force held an hourlong public forum Monday night to update the community on its efforts and to field questions. The group has been working for the past eight months to review race equity in Salem and propose changes supporting and celebrating the city's diverse culture.
The task force formed alongside national unrest over police brutality against people of color, particularly Black Americans, and after Mayor Kim Driscoll accepted a challenge on social media to review policies regarding police use of force. That review has since been underway.
"The goal of our work is to really develop a community mission around race equity, knowing that, frankly, we're just at the beginning," Driscoll said. "This isn't just one person's work. It isn't just one city's work. It's going to take engagement from a number of community partners."
With that, the task force presented five subcommittees to tackle separate issues:
Healthcare: Focusing on issues uniting health and housing, as well as mental health issues and other health disparities.
Public Safety: Capturing the realities of marginalized groups, requiring public safety (i.e. police and fire) to "utilize best practices in recruiting, hiring, training and sustaining personnel," and launching more culturally diverse training.
Community Culture: Focusing on celebrations of culture, recognizing "Living Legends" in the city and launching a "Summer Culture Fest," and supporting monthly social justice and anti-racist events.
Education: Reviewing and improving diversity among school faculty and staff, expanding culture and diversity in curriculum and improving student and family engagement.
Economics: Establishing relationships with minority-owned businesses, developing resources to empower businesses and closing the racial wealth equity gap.
"It's important for us to lay the foundation for what we anticipate will be a long road ahead," said Shawn Newton, the task force's chairperson. "We're talking about race equity. We're not talking about the weather."
Built into the presentations were proposals celebrating Salem's diverse culture through the Community Culture committee.
"For short-term goals, we'd like to honor living legends," said Terrell Greene, a New Liberty Innovation School staff member and march organizer this past summer. "These are locals who contribute to the rich cultural landscape in Salem, something that isn't done nearly enough."
On the longer-range spectrum, "we'd really like to see what we're calling the 'Summer Culture Fest,'" Greene said. "This event will be a safe space to experience and learn that incorporates food, music, performance and class workshops, informational tables, resources at the federal, state, local levels."
The event closed outlining next steps, including another call to take the city's race equity survey (available at bit.ly/SalemRETFSurvey). The survey, originally due to end in January, has been extended to get more responses from the community.
"We're looking forward to this work," Driscoll said. "We're at the beginning, but we're eager."
Visit bit.ly/3pJe80x to read live coverage of this meeting.
JZ: We want to work with our constituents in other cities across the state. We're also looking to work with different social justice groups. ... We want to make sure that steel sharpens steel.