CG4TX September 2017 meeting on the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities

On September 9, 2017 Common Ground for Texans hosted a panel discussion, moderated by Mike Ignatowski, on the Mayor’s Task Force on Institutional Racism and Systemic Inequities.  In recognition of our two-hour time limit, we focused on the first two of five chapters: Chapter 1, Education and Chapter 2, Real Estate and Housing. The Austin American Statesman published a History of Austin’s Racial Divide that provides background and context for the Task Force Report.

Our panelists:

  • Paul Cruz, PhD, Austin Independent School District (AISD) Superintendent and co-chair of the Task Force
  • Alba Sereno, Project Manager for the Task Force
  • Kazique Prince, Project Manager for the Task Force

Common Ground for Texans has finally moved into the 21st century!  For the first time, but not the last time, we videotaped the program and made it available above.  If you don’t have time to listen to the entire 90 minute program, here are a few highlights from each speaker’s introductory remarks.

Paul Cruz, PhD, AISD Superintendent and co-chair of the Task Force

AISD’s mission is to educate all students; making sure all kids have an equal life.  Although many metrics can be used to determine whether this goal is achieved, Dr. Cruz’s main metrics are (1) whether our kids are ready for college career and/or life career and (2) whether they are graduating on time.  Although AISD’s on-time graduation rate has risen from 70% in 2000 to 90% in 2016, the Task Force Report spotlighted implicit bias in the area of socialization.  For example, students suspended for similar offenses received different penalties, and the suspension rate for students of color was significantly higher. Subsequent discussions amongst educators, teachers, and principals on how to deescalate rather than exacerbate bad behavior resulted in a substantial decrease in suspension rates.  AISD also began to look at equity issues such as how comparatively few students of color are enrolled in Advanced Placement courses or in magnet schools, etc. These inequities are now being addressed.

Kazique Prince, Project Manager for the Task Force

The Mayor’s Task Force conversation began by exploring criminal and civil justice biases and inequities in our community, but soon expanded into issues of housing, education and ultimately grew into the five-chapter Task Force Report. 

Chapter 1: Education
Chapter 2: Real Estate and Housing
Chapter 3: Health
Chapter 4: Finance, Banking, & Industry
Chapter 5: Civil & Criminal Justice

In 1928 Austin established a ‘Negro District’, and in 1957 Austin’s City Planning Commission zoned all property in East Austin “industrial,” making it difficult for homeowners to secure bank loans for home mortgages and repairs. What are we going to do as a community not merely to reverse the effects of these events but to make real differences in people’s lives?  As we talk about our next steps (the Report contains over 200 recommendations), we want to make sure as an implementation team and as a community that we are on the same page, we have a common language, we have a common lens to look at the challenges we are facing.  How do we bring people together from all different backgrounds?   How do I bring my talents and skills to the table and see them as valued?

Alba Sereno, Project Manager for the Task Force

Ms. Sereno shared a personal story from her first days as a kindergarten pupil in the Rio Grande Valley. As she walked from a general classroom to an ESL classroom, other students passing by yelled things like “wetback” and other “interesting” terms.  Her small border town was split by a railroad track. Even as a child she was aware of the stark differences between neighborhoods on the track’s opposite sides. Fast forward to when she came to UT to get her Master’s in Social Work.  She really wanted to dig into those childhood questions about these differences in this particular community. 

Her studies led her to the conclusion that racism in this country is our groundwater truth.  The groundwater seeps into everything– all of our systems.  Institutional racism refers to the persistence of legal, social, and economic structures that treat people of different ethnic groups differently. When Ms. Sereno accepted the invitation to join the Task Force, its goal was an official document that says we admit that structural racism and systemic inequities exist in our history, that they still persist, and that we as a community must undertake to eliminate them.

Opening remarks were followed by an hour of Q&A. 

We encourage you to listen to the entire program.

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