Speaking Out: Finding a Better Way Forward

Jennifer Robinson, NCLM President

Over the last several months, the NCLM Board of Directors and its leadership have been grappling with questions of how our organization can best address calls for social justice and racial equity.

As I noted in my previous column, these are not easy questions and there are no easy answers.

To begin to address systemic racism and how it affects individual rights and societal cohesion, it will require people from all walks of life, from all across our state, to undertake a variety of efforts. There is value in approaching the issue from different directions and different perspectives.

For this organization, I believe it is crucial that we focus on those things that are within our power, as municipalities, and what we can do collectively and individually to ensure that all of our citizens are treated fairly and with respect.

By now, you may already know the board has created a 14-member task force to begin that examination.

This 14-member task force will be composed of eight members of the NCLM Board of Directors and six municipal officials who are not board members. My fellow board member and Fuquay-Varina Town Commissioner Bill Harris and I will lead the group. Both Bill and I are committed to ensuring that what we do here is not some perfunctory review, but produces tangible results that can help you and the towns and cities that you represent create lasting change for a more equitable society.

As a part of this effort, I hope we can look beyond policing to also examine historical practices that affect how and where people live and work together, how they communicate with one another, and how they build and maintain wealth that is so crucial for a healthy quality of life.

To accomplish this larger purpose, communities need proven tools that can help them tackle the challenges before us.

We have reached out to the National League of Cities and its staff members who have overseen NLC’s Race, Equity, and Leadership (REAL) initiative to help guide our effort. With NLC’s help, our task force will be meeting at least through March.

Beyond the help from NLC, we are fortunate to have a League staff and you—the members of our League—who have expertise that will be incredibly beneficial, as a number of you have already undertaken similar efforts individually.

As we start this process, I know that a lot of other organizations and groups are also examining racial equity and social justice in North Carolina, whether it is the state’s police chiefs, state legislators, a task force led by Gov. Roy Cooper, or other policy organizations that want to play a meaningful role in these conversations. I welcome the opportunity to learn from others studying equity and believe that the diversity of perspectives shared will move us closer to our goal.

Thank you to everyone who has volunteered their time and thoughts to this matter. We are fortunate to have a municipal family that is looking both inward and outward to see how we can help our state and our nation form a more perfect union. After all, it is municipal government that has an immediate, day-to-day connection with its residents in so many ways that affect their lives. I look forward to a day in which we live in a country that treats all of its citizens with respect and honors their individual rights.

Our goal may be lofty, but we can never stop striving to live up to our ideals.