Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones/file
Mokah Jasmine Johnson at an MLK Day march.
We still live in a nation where people are not only judged by the color of their skin, but also by their economic status and appearance, as opposed to the content of their character. Since Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” there have been many setbacks, confirming race relations is still an issue and that the fight for civil rights must continue.
In December 2016, the Athens Anti-Discrimination Movement (AADM) established an in-house civil rights council to provide guidance and resources to local citizens who may have experienced discrimination in downtown Athens. After spending several months collecting community input and reviewing issues regarding discrimination claims and issues in Athens-Clarke County, AADM believes that the Mayor and Commission should consider creating an independent citizens’ committee—one that would work together with the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government with the purpose of building dialogue, reducing the discriminatory behavior and creating a more diverse and inclusive community in downtown Athens.
The ACC Manager and Attorney’s office has submitted a framework for a possible citizens’ civil rights committee calling for further study by a task force, but I believe for this structure to truly be effective, the Mayor and Commission must be held accountable and be willing to listen to the non-privileged. We must work together!
In theory, this citizens’ committee would act as separate but related arm joined with Athens-Clarke County Government. It would require a member of Athens-Clarke County Commission and staff to act as a liaison. The goal of this new public/private structure would be to help make Athens-Clarke County a better place for all people to live, work and do business.
Discrimination has been a debilitating problem for many people for many years in this community. In order to adequately address this issue in our community and ultimately eliminate systemic racism, our local government must lead the way to establish real communication and equitable opportunity for minorities.
What to Expect
This citizens’ committee would review community input, recommend action and implement community activities and educational programs aimed to improve human relations and civil rights.
Turning a blind eye or deaf ear to discriminatory behavior based on an individual’s race, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, citizenship, age, disability or pregnancy does not and should not reflect the values of Athens-Clarke County.
The Committee’s Purpose
1. To make recommendations and serve as a liaison between the county and other local diversity and minority organizations.
2. Implement activities and programs that can establish economic equity within downtown Athens.
3. To report to the Mayor and Commission on the extent of discriminatory behavior within Athens-Clarke County, the activities of the citizens’ committee and the overall health of human relations in the county.
4. Organize community activities and educational programs geared toward stimulating a more inclusive and welcoming environment in Athens.
5. Work towards creating and maintaining a healthy, equitable and diverse community, consistent with Section B of the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government Charter.
Section B of Athens-Clarke County’s charter under Article 1: “The unified government shall encourage the meaningful involvement in its operations of all citizens of Athens-Clarke County, particularly those who are members of minority or other traditionally disadvantaged groups, as appointees, employees and independent contractors. No individual shall be denied any opportunity on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, handicap or national origin.”
The Committee should be made up of 11 members, including both an ACC commissioner and the director of Housing and Community Development. The inclusion of an ACC staff member is pertinent for this partnership to be truly effective; the local government must take accountability and be open to recommendations.
The committee members should be appointed by the people of Athens based on an online voting process or by submitting recommendations to the Mayor and Commission or appointed by a chairperson.
Local organizations that currently fight for the voiceless and those most likely to be discriminated against should be allowed to recommend a representative to have a seat on the citizens’ committee.
Committee members should be individuals who are committed to creating a more diverse and equitable community and affiliated with organizations aligned with these goals.
An ACC commissioner should serve as liaison to the citizens’ committee and the manager’s office. Liaisons may also be requested from the ACC Police Department, CCSD School Board, Athens Downtown Development Authority and both the administration and student body of the University of Georgia.
Operational requirements include meeting space, support services and operational and program funding.
When our local government and various people say they want to see a more diverse and welcoming downtown, it will take more than an anti-discrimination ordinance, marches and festivals to combat the current issues of discrimination in downtown Athens.
Local citizens and organizations can show their support by posting comments on this article online. I also encourage local citizens to write or email their local commissioner, the county attorney and manager’s office. Visit athensclarkecounty.com/168/Commission-Information-Biographies for Athens-Clarke County Unified Government contact information. For more information, you may contact Mokah Jasmine Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.