In December 2016, Fort Worth gained national attention. Not for our world-class museums, historic stockyards or unprecedented economic growth, but because of a video involving a resident, her daughters and a Fort Worth police officer. In the days and months that followed, there were public outcries and calls for change. After the officer’s punishment was decided, the voices for equity and justice became louder.
The Fort Worth City Council heard the many voices in our community, and in August 2017 it appointed a Task Force on Race and Culture. Four co-chairs were selected by the City Council. These chairs chose 19 other residents to join the task force. We looked for diversity and a passion to be involved. We selected some people who have served on other task forces and committees and some individuals who were new to city government. We brought together diverse representation based on race, age, gender and background.
The task force adopted its mission statement at the inaugural meeting.
The mission is to listen, learn, build and bridge to create an inclusive Fort Worth for all residents.
Over the past few months, the task force has focused on listening and learning from our residents. In October, we held a citywide town hall meeting, where nearly 200 people came to speak and be heard. The meeting was also broadcast live, and residents were encouraged to submit comments online.
The next opportunity to listen came through Community Conversations. Each conversation was hosted by one of 17 community organizations and consisted of multiple sessions tackling some important questions:
▪ What is the City of Fort Worth doing that helps or strengthens race relations, cultural awareness or racial equity?
▪ Is racism a serious problem in Fort Worth?
▪ What are you willing to do to improve racial equity, race/ethnic relations and/or cultural awareness in Fort Worth?
We heard from about 600 people and learned there are strong feelings surrounding this issue and residents want the opportunity to not only tell their stories but to find ways to improve the cultural climate in Fort Worth.
We heard that people want more opportunities to talk about race and culture. In answer to these requests, we scheduled 14 community meetings around the city. These will allow even more people to add their voices, and the task force to continue to listen and learn.
During its monthly meetings, the task force has received briefings on many topics, including poverty, city workforce diversity, diversity of city boards and commissions, minority contracting, police relations, redistricting and fair housing. To be transparent, we have recorded these meetings and made these recordings and handouts available at onefortworth.org.
Based on the comments from our public meetings and conversations, we have formed six committees to begin an in-depth look at the areas of the most concern to residents: criminal justice, transportation, housing, education, economic development and health. Each committee will bring back recommendations to the task force for inclusion in a final plan.
The City Council asked the task force to develop a plan with recommendations to improve race relations and racial equity in our community. We recognize that this is a huge task, and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Yet we hope to deliver our findings to the council by August.
As we come to the end of our first six months as a task force, we will continue to listen and learn from our residents. At the same time, we will start to bring together these voices so that we can develop a plan that will build upon our unique and common experiences to bridge the gaps of differences that sometimes divide us.
Lillie Biggins, Rabbi Andrew Bloom, Rosa Navejar and Bob Ray Sanders are members of the Task Force on Race and Culture.