City leaders expected to attend final community discussion on race

photo by: Chris Conde

Lawrence City Hall, 2018.

Community members are asking what the most pressing racial issues are in Lawrence and what should be done about them.

The discussion will take place as part of the fourth and final installment of the Community Conversation on Race on Jan. 26. The facilitated discussion is open to the public and some local elected leaders say they plan to attend.

Kansas Appleseed Communications Director Christina Ostmeyer said that in the three discussions leading up to the final event, racial disparities in economic outcomes, neighborhoods, incarceration rates, hunger rates and school discipline outcomes have been key issues.

“You can see it across so many planes,” Ostmeyer said. “So this session will really be dedicated to giving a space for community members to decide what are we going to organize around right now? What issue are we going to take on and try to make change in our community?”

Kansas Appleseed is one of several organizations co-sponsoring the series. The other organizations involved include Communities Creating Opportunity, University of Kansas Office of Diversity and Equity, United Way of Douglas County, NAACP-Lawrence Chapter and the Lawrence Public Library. Ostmeyer said that Communities Creating Opportunity Executive Director Seft Hunter has been leading the conversations.

Vice Mayor Jennifer Ananda is one of three Lawrence city commissioners who recently said they are planning to attend the final event. Ananda, who said she attended one of the previous discussions as well, said that she feels like the city has a responsibility to listen to the community’s ideas and do what it can to ensure equity in the community and work against macro-level inequities.

“We can hope, but we’re not going to be able to change the fundamental paradigms right now,” Ananda said. “But we can make changes on a local level and on a county level and on a state level that will eventually lead to that broader paradigm shifting that needs to happen.”

Commissioner Stuart Boley and Mayor Lisa Larsen also said during the commission’s meeting Monday that they planned to attend the event.

For her, Ananda said that, as a city commissioner, she thinks it’s important to acknowledge that race, gender and equity issues are not separate but, instead, part of all decisions made by city leaders.

“(Those issues) are actually a template that we should be using when we make any decision as commissioners,” Ananda said. “And understanding the impact that our decisions have on communities that are disproportionately impacted, positively or negatively.”

Ostmeyer said she was very excited to hear that city leaders would be attending the event. She said for those community members not able to attend, feedback can be submitted through the discussion’s Facebook event. She said that once the most pressing racial issues facing Lawrence are determined, the next step will be discussing a plan to address the issue, or creating an action plan for social justice.

“This whole session is really going to be a conversation, a brainstorming session, where we come together and hopefully vote on some issues that we’ll then have follow-up meetings around, have follow-up actions around,” Ostmeyer said.

The final installment of the Community Conversation on Race will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 26 at the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St.


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