In January 2017, a small group of Santa Ynez Valley residents convened to discuss what many had been reading about: an increase in hate crimes, racial slurs and discrimination of various kinds across the country.
Now, after a year of research and discussion, the group called the Coalition to Promote Inclusion and Equality is inviting others to get involved with its efforts to build “a safe, inclusive, respectful and equitable community” in the Santa Ynez Valley.
After discussing the issues with staff at agencies that serve diverse populations, the group learned that the issues are not new to the valley and that in fact they have worsened.
Whether it is in the school, the work place, the supermarket or the street, local people are subject to bullying, bigotry and racial epithets every day, with young people being particularly vulnerable, according to the group.
Group members decided that the first step was to expand the conversation to include community leaders from diverse backgrounds with the idea that together they could define the issues around discrimination and bullying and develop locally appropriate solutions.
Invitations to an initial gathering in April were sent to a wide range of people under the title “Conversation on Inclusion and Equality” to establish whether there was some common ground upon which to proceed.
At this first meeting, numerous personal stories were shared of both directed and overheard hate speech, racial epithets, bigoted and anti-Semitic comments, as well as bullying. Those attending held two more meetings in May with participants then attending ant-bias training in June and July.
At its meetings, the “Conversation” group decided to address two priority areas: community and schools. The overarching goal for change would be “to build a safe, welcoming, respectful, equitable and inclusive community.”
Specific Issues include:
- Institutional Policies that Discourage Equity
- Reduction in Bullying
- Pre-School through Grade12 Education to Promote Equity and Diversity
- Raising Awareness of the Issues and Potential Solutions
- How to Speak to or Challenge Instances of Bias and Bigotry
- Equity in the Use of Local Resources
- Developing an Organization of Community Members to Pursue Solutions
Besides confronting discrimination, the task force’s mission includes developing “strategies including advocacy, leverage, and training to address lack of diversity on boards/governing bodies, civic organization and religious membership; failure of local businesses and other community groups to address issues of bias; discrimination in employment and housing; and to increase community-wide awareness of the issues.”
According to Dean Palius, one of the group’s five conveners, the members have now moved from “conversation” to “action,” with a number of initiatives in the planning process for the upcoming year.
“In the schools, the objectives are to develop a comprehensive approach to bias prevention through adoption of curriculum and anti-bullying procedures,” Palius said. “In the community, the objectives are to address lack of diversity on governing bodies and civic organizations, to work with local business to address issues of bias in service, and to increase community-wide awareness of the issues of inclusion and equality.”
Anyone interested in getting involved is invited to email firstname.lastname@example.org