Concerned about housing prices, gentrification and reports of police profiling of African-Americans, Decatur, Georgia, convened a community-wide conversation on race relations and related issues called “Better Together.”
Decatur’s Better Together Initiative was a year-long, community-wide visioning process designed “to cultivate a more just, welcoming, inclusive, equitable and compassionate experience for all who live, visit or work here.”
The effort started by asking several big questions: What is government’s role in creating a space for community dialogue across differences? How do we bring everyone to the table, especially those who do not feel welcome or included?
The process resulted in Better Together Initiative, a year-long, community-wide visioning process designed to cultivate a more just, welcoming, inclusive, equitable, and compassionate experience for all who live, visit, or work here. It also resulted in the Better Together Community Action Plan for Inclusion, Equity and Engagement that outlines 60 action items for individuals, organizations, and local government to undertake. Through the initiative, approximately 800 residents invested more than 1,300 hours under the guidance of a Leadership Circle to put together the Community Action Plan.
The Leadership Circle brought together faith–based organizations, different sexual orientations, the school system, city staff, millennials, GenXers, baby boomers, business owners, students, educational institutions, non–profit leaders, consultants, ministers and more. The Circle, made up of 19 individuals from diverse backgrounds, included the Police Chief and one of the community members who had accused the police of racial profiling. Other perspectives included a middle school guidance counselor who is also Jewish; a Black, Muslim mother of teenagers who is a program director for a leadership program for teens; a Caucasian city staff member who is a native of Decatur and was at Decatur High during integration; a communications and marketing director married to a Latino immigrant; an African American male who is also a paraplegic; and more.
Throughout the process, extra efforts were made to engage immigrants, young people, seniors, lower-income residents, people of color and others who are often underrepresented.
Decatur used its established successful communications outlets for engaging community members, and the Circle reviewed the current practices with an eye toward equity. They intentionally designed additional communication strategies that targeted different audiences, and outreach focused on how to strategically recruit different community members and involve them in the process. For example, Circle members leveraged their connections in the community to ensure that often under-represented groups such as Housing Authority residents, the Somali community, teenagers, and seniors were specifically invited and knew their participation was welcome. Outreach activities focused on face-to-face connections with youth, seniors, lower-income residents, and people of color. Ultimately, the demographics of the overall participants mirrored the current demographics of the city, including teens, seniors, Somalis, and a significant number of people who lived there for five years or less.
The committee set three goals for the Better Together Initiative:
In terms of community engagement, the process met or exceeded targeted numbers. The target number for the community survey was 500 people, and 724 participated. The target number for an all-day Working Across Differences Training session, offered free for volunteers interested in supporting the process as facilitators, was 50; 70 participated and 55 of them used their skills at Better Together events. The target number for the Community Conversation Across Differences was 200 people; 250 attended (a 5-hour meeting on a Saturday in August!)
The city’s resource list, known as an asset map, was updated to reflect all of the neighborhood groups, faith-based organizations, nonprofits, civic groups, and educational institutions in the city. Circle members made presentations at meetings, engaged people at community events, used Census and other data to generate a demographic profile of the community, and tracked demographic participation data. The success of the community engagement process in bringing those not typically at the table resulted in a plan that reflected a diversity of perspectives and opinions. One Leadership Circle member said, “In order to increase civic engagement, cities need to make the effort to seek out diverse voices in spaces they don’t traditionally look, not only for community initiatives but also for training, hiring and contract work.” As a result, Decatur institutionalized the practices used in the Better Together process and will continue to use them with all civic engagement initiatives going forward.
Once the action plan was completed, a diverse 15-member advisory committee was appointed to oversee implementation. Activities to date include creation of a community asset map, a Welcoming America interactive reception for immigrants, a community conversation called “Who Is Decatur,” and discussions on how to improve policing, community development, and other functions in ways that respect differences and create equitable outcomes.
Initiator: City of Decatur
Number of people or interests who implemented the project: 800
Number of People Served: 22,813
Better Together Community Action Plan
Decatur, GA– 2018 AAC Winner: Presentation
Better Together Advisory Board