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Posted on: March 29, 2021

City Shares Key Takeaways from Last Month’s Black History Month Panel

Local communities across the United States have begun renewed conversations on race and equity in light of a wave of tragic events that have received national attention over the last year. For this reason, the City sought to create an engagement opportunity that could help bring to light the lived experiences of African Americans in Union City during Black History Month. Featured guests included Amirh Johnson, Mani Allen, Derrick Richardson, Daryle Johnson, and Reverend Jerome Brown, all of whom brought a unique perspective and background to the table.

From start to finish, the panelists delivered insights that were thought-provoking, powerful, and inspiring. The resounding echo among panelists to take the conversation past Black History Month left many in attendance thinking and saying “what’s next”?

As a starting point, we worked with the panelists to put together our top takeaways from the discussion, along with some thoughts about what the future could hold.   

  1. Black history is not an integral part of American history in large part due to an intentional and systemic deprogramming of the Black identity. School curriculums tend to go from slavery to Martin Luther King, Jr – with nothing before, in between, or after. This has led many non-black students to create their own assumptions about Black people that span well into adulthood, and has led to feelings of shame and embarrassment among Black students.
  2. The renaissance of non-Black people who want to help make change is positive to the movement; however, the panel suggested the community consider being a co-conspirator, rather than an ally. A co-conspirator puts their privilege on the line by taking specific actions to support the Black community, while an ally simply voices support.
  3. More economic opportunities for African Americans are needed, both in attracting and retaining Black-owned businesses and in providing more employment opportunities for Black residents. 
  4. Developing opportunities to provide mentoring and guidance for Black youth, as well as creating a common space where the Black community can meet and see representations of their history and culture. 
  5. A citywide approach on race and equity is needed in order to making lasting, systemic change, including broader representation needed in civic and administrative leadership positions and consideration of how to transform how the Human Relations Commission could become more effective at taking on this work. 

When we asked each panelist what their one wish would be, if any, for Union City, they responded inspirationally with:

  1. That anti-Blackness didn’t exist, so our conversations could be more deep and less fearful.
  2. That we drop our defenses, so that progress could be made. 
  3. That there is more trust and accountability between the Black community and City government.
  4. That a community hub or common gathering place be established where the Black community can see evidence of their rich history and meet with the purpose of mentoring youth and unifying under a common set of goals. 
  5. That we all acknowledge the City has a problem with racism and that we commit to making change, which includes greater responsibility on the City and the Human Relations Commission to tackle the issue.  

We encourage residents, businesses and community partners to watch the full video on the City of Union City YouTube channel.

Mayor Carol Dutra-Vernaci also expressed the City’s commitment to engaging with the community more on the topic of race and equity and moving these conversations into action. Community outreach planning is already underway to determine how to improve community relations and build trust among our diverse population. The City acknowledges that while our diversity may be our most prized gift; racism and inequities still exist, and that the City must remain proactive in its effort to preserve diversity, prevent racism and create more opportunities for equity and inclusion. 

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