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National network reviews Richmond’s racial equity plan

on November 1, 2019

The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE) a national network of agencies that raise awareness around equality, gathered in Richmond Tuesday night to review a Racial Equity Plan that will inform future city-wide planning and decisions.

The plan was discussed on October 29 and addressed four key goals: health outcomes of people of color, training city employees in racial-bias, responding to citizen feedback to create a more inclusive community, and steps that assist Richmond employers in being racially conscious and supportive. 

The four corners of the Richmond Recreation Complex were separated into sections, each covered in large post-its and posters displaying the goals and actions the alliance wanted to focus on. On black tablecloths around the white room, a hot buffet of meat and mashed potatoes were spread out to sustain the participants through their night of dialogue on race, equality and equity in the city. 

A corner of the room that dives into one of the goals of the plan

To set priorities, conferees placed colored dots ranking action items under different goals that were most important to them, such as nutritional education, equitable housing opportunities, inclusive outreach and public engagement training, to name a few. Attendees marked their main concerns, and broke into smaller groups, responding with empathy and raising concerns important to their community. 

 “I, as a resident (of Richmond), have been impacted directly by the racial inequalities that exist in my community and the lack of resources: the food deserts that have impacted the wellbeing of anybody that’s in the city,” said Marífer Bernal, a research assistant at San Jose State University. Bernal spoke about environmental discrimination affecting low-income minorities. Richmond ranks as having the highest rates of asthma in the East Bay, a condition that affects people with whom Bernal grew up, she said. Richmond is also a food desert, contributing to high rates of obesity, she added.

Richmond’s history as a site of heavy industry has placed the city in a cross-fire of air pollution, a dearth of healthy fresh foods and a constant struggle to overcome systemic and institutional racism. Studies have documented the detrimental relationship between “pollution, poverty and people of color,” according to a 2012 article in the Scientific American

According to a 2007 report on the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) website, 56% of the nine million Americans living in neighborhoods with commercial hazardous waste facilities are minorities. The  number shoots up to 81% in California, with poverty being 1.5 times higher in these areas as compared to other places. Threats from other major sources of pollution, including chemical plants, ports, refineries and freeways add to the health and poverty risks faced by people of color. 

The Richmond Health Equity report of 2016 echoes adverse health effects that disproportionately affect minority communities in the area. African Americans are more likely to suffer from asthma-related issues. African Americans have the highest mortality rate in both the younger and older populations. Low income, Hispanic/Latino and African American adults experience a greater risk of psychological distress.

Locals write down what health equity means to them.

The alliance aims to help mitigate some of the negative impacts of institutional racism in the area through very specific measures. Narrowing in on hyperlocal issues, different branches of the alliance adopt a set of loose guidelines governing respective cities. “The goals are a general template,” said Trina Jackson, liaison to the City Council. Cities personalize the general template to their specific needs. Jackson said teams of experts carefully curate what action items can best facilitate goals for their city. 

The alliance gave unanimous support for its initiative, resolution 93-18, stating that the City Council fully endorsed a systematic and deliberate use of a racial equity lens when making decisions. The resolution adopted on December 4, 2018 was symbolically significant, Jackson said. “It did let the council know and staff and the community know that this is important and the council is in support of utilizing a racial equity lens when making decisions.”

Tuesday’s meeting was an initial step towards having a final Racial Equity Plan, with leaders asking the community to engage with and comment on the goals they have so far.

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