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Nearly 60 city and community leaders and interested citizens gathered Wednesday to discuss if and how a coalition can be formed that will address race relations and tolerance to all citizens regardless of race, sex, religion, creed, nationality or economic status.
Those in attendance agreed on the need for a coalition, but opinions varied on its scope.
Mayor Sherman Saunders, who led the discussion that took place at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, acknowledged reaching a consensus might take time.
“This will not be as easy task, but it can be done,” Saunders said. “We will take the time needed – three months, four months, five months – to develop a plan, and we will stay focused on that task.”
Saunders continued, saying, “When you talk about race relations, it can be a very emotional discussion. That is OK as long as it is done respectfully. Again, today is the beginning of formulating our work. There will be a series of meetings after today to develop and implement a plan of operation.”
Saunders and Vice Mayor Dr. Gary Miller presented 10 concepts to guide the initial discussion of forming a coalition:• Danville should proudly celebrate its diversity.• The City Council should create a “Coalition Celebrating Danville’s Diversity.”• Its purpose should be to engage those interested in working together to make Danville a tolerant and welcoming community to all regardless of race, sex, religion, creed, nationality or economic status.• The coalition should have no regulatory authority, and it should not receive or investigate complaints.• Members of the coalition should be open to all – from organizations to individuals.• The coalition should encourage member organizations to independently and collectively undertake activities and programs.• The city should provide staff support for the coalition.• For the first six months, the mayor should serve as chairman and the vice mayor as vice chairman. Ultimately, the coalition will choose a chairman and vice chairman from within the membership.• The coalition should implement appropriate best practices established in other communities.• The coalition should meet monthly initially and then on a schedule of meetings and events as determined by the membership.
Disagreement developed over whether the coalition should have regulatory authority. Saunders said federal and state agencies are in place to receive and investigate complaints; however, the Rev. Ron Johnson pointed to a number of cities that have permanent commissions with regulatory powers.
Differences of opinion also were expressed over the membership size of the coalition. Several felt that limiting the number involved would be more manageable.
Another issue raised was the meeting times and locations. Wednesday’s meeting was held in the afternoon, which raised concerns about citizens being unable to attend due to daytime work responsibilities, caregiver responsibilities and transportation barriers.
Among those in attendance was Bishop Lawrence Campbell, a local minister who asked City Council on June 18 to establish a race relations coalition.
“The overall approach is for the races to come together and not only celebrate diversity, but be cosmopolitan in all activities,” Campbell said. “We need to be proactive rather than reactive.”
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