First State of the Black Arlington Community focuses on how to make 'voting like tying your shoes'
Speakers at the inaugural State of the Black Arlington Community forum had a dire message for attendees: get involved, and get others involved.
The three-hour series of panels and workshops centered on equity issues in housing, policing, business, education, health and mental health in the city.
"We need to think about this as a collective community because as the community of Black Arlington advances, so goes the collective community of Arlington," said Troy Williams, the city's chief equity officer.
The Arlington Black Advisory Council is one of several groups that Mayor Jim Ross formed to advise him on issues surrounding groups including the Black, Latino, Muslim, Asian and LGBTQ communities. The groups recently hosted a panel on Arlington race relations and an LGBTQ town hall.
Broderick Green directs Arlington's taxpayer-funded Economic Development Corporation. He said during the panel that the EDC is building programs and procedures, and he's trying to find ways to build an equitable entity.
"What does that look like? How do we make sure that those efforts are not happening in one place? How do we make sure that entrepreneurs and business owners of color have opportunities to engage and get involved? I think that's one of those things that if you're not intentional about it, it can be overlooked," Green said.
Panelists said the community has to partner with municipalities and organizations to build trust within the community of institutions including health care. Systemic racism and bias have affected Black patients for decades, from treatment to access.
Teneisha Kennard, executive director of behavioral health for JPS Health Network, said that mistrust has led the community to seek help from elders and faith-based groups. That's why it's important to work with institutions to build trust, create better protocols and do a better job reaching the community.
"Part of the reason that a lot of the treatment protocols and the things that you see in clinics may not be tailored specifically to Black people or African Americans is we're not always accessible to participate in research studies or different things like that is because the history tells us that that's dangerous," Kennard said.
The evening also focused on a common thread among issues: low civic engagement and voter turnout among communities of color in local issues and elections.
Denita Jones, executive director of Black Voters Matter, implored people to register to vote and talk to others about doing the same.
"There's a way that we can continue to educate and engage our communities and each other and make voting like tying your shoes: when it's time, you just do it out of habit," Jones said.
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