Frisco Town Council begins social equity training with lesson on historical policies and practices driving racial divides in America
Frisco Town Council held the first of two social equity training sessions last week, a move meant to help normalize difficult discussions about race within the council and to contextualize how historic policies and values in the United States continue to have lasting impacts on minority communities.
It has been nearly a year since protesters last marched down Frisco Main Street, calling for justice after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, urging lawmakers to push forward with new legislation to improve police accountability and asking local officials to look inward to improve inclusivity in Summit County.
In response, Frisco officials voiced that it was their responsibility to keep equity issues at the forefront of their decisions, and they began to make good on that promise during the council meeting Tuesday, May 11. At the meeting, council started working with the National League of Cities’ Race, Equity and Leadership training program.
“We need to do better,” Mayor Hunter Mortensen said. “We need to focus on what we don’t know and look out for each other and be comfortable saying things when we don’t know what the right thing to do is. … As a council, I’m really looking forward to this … to really help us have a backstop for when we make policy decisions and enact future goals that we have a better lens and different lens to look at those through.”
During the work session, representatives with the National League of Cities said the objective of the first session was to home in on a shared understanding of historical events as they relate to systematic and institutional racism in America, with the end goal of helping the council build skills and knowledge to heal racial disparities locally.
The group asked the council to consider famous phrases from the country’s past — such as “all men are created equal” from the Declaration of Independence — and whether the values they represent match up with the realities of modern day America. In this example, council members engaged in a conversation about whether the phrase was truly inclusive of all people or if its intent when written was directed primarily toward wealthy, white men.
“At least in my own life, I’ve taken these phrases for granted,” council member Melissa Sherburne said. “I think just in the last couple years … I think we’re all starting to realize exactly what you’re talking about and how you’re introducing this: That this was not necessarily written for all people.”
The group then led the council through some bits of “sticky history,” including everything from how the Homestead Act of 1862 impacted Native American populations to more recent family separation policies enacted in 2018 to deter illegal immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border.
The presenters finally facilitated a conversation around a documentary called “The House We Live In,” which dove into how “whiteness” has historically been defined in America, banking and real estate practices that supported segregation along racial lines and how familial wealth gaps have contributed to a lack of opportunities for people of color.
“It leaves me frustrated and angry,” Mortensen said. “I appreciate that background and history that I haven’t had.”
With new insights into some of the country’s less-than-proud past, the National League of Cities said they’d turn their attention to the current day during the next session Tuesday, May 25, and begin discussions about how officials believe equity could be improved in Frisco.
“We want to leave you really thinking about policy,” said Seantae Byers, senior executive director with the organization. “Think about the town of Frisco. Think about some of your residents and the things you’ve heard and who you guys want to continue to work to be.”
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