While many cities and towns are individually addressing racial equity and inclusion, Georgia cities are taking a collective approach. The Georgia Municipal Association has created an Equity and Inclusion Commission to aid local efforts statewide.
The GMA effort began last summer when the association's leaders issued statements about the importance of racial equity. “We have a generational opportunity to move in a new direction that reflects our humanity and our need for one another,” wrote Union City Mayor Vince Williams, GMA President.
Soon after, in July 2020, GMA surveyed its 500 communities to hear the views of local officials concerning racial equity. Survey results listed economic opportunity, education and housing as the top three areas in which attention to racial equity is needed.
At the same time, GMA created the 26-member Equity and Inclusion Commission, which is composed of elected and appointed officials throughout the state. The goal of the commission is “to recommend actions that bear witness to the principles of justice, equality and fairness, develop a long-term plan of action to address institutional and systemic racism, and equip city leaders to listen thoughtfully and dialogue constructively with the residents they serve.”
The commission has held monthly meetings since last August and is planning to wrap up its work later this year. The group established eight work programs with subcommittees on each, covering topics like criminal justice reform, inclusive leadership, housing and workforce development. Recommendations to date include asking GMA staff to develop a “playbook” for community discussions on removing public monuments and an equity and inclusion certification program for cities.
The concept for a certification program entails a range of factors that would be weighed for each community, including activities like community conversations on race. Cities and towns would then be certified using criteria that is flexible to fit different types of communities, according to Decatur, GA, Mayor Patti Garrett, a member of the commission and Board Chair for the National Civic League.
In creating the Equity and Inclusion Commission, GMA “recognized that local officials are in the best position to address racial equity,” said Mayor Garrett. “Last summer ripped the Band-Aid off and showed us that we can’t keep doing work that’s not impactful. It’s really a bold initiative for GMA to take.”
In addition to commission meetings and staff work, GMA is also hosting weekly online conversations for members with guest speakers, offering training on equity and inclusion to city officials and conducting internal discussions and training for staff. Much of the organization’s work is informed by the National League of Cities’ REAL program, which has provided speakers, training and other resources.