Sandy Springs begins talks on inclusion, belonging to address ‘21st Century racism’
By David Pendered
Sandy Springs has started a series of virtual conversations on the topics of inclusion and belonging. The Sandy Springs City Council is to review the findings this autumn with the goal of establishing policies to create an environment where more individuals feel welcome and respected.
The program is titled, Civic Dinners on Inclusion and Belonging. Participants in each session will discuss the same three questions. The moderator will work to ensure each participant has equal time to speak.
The first session convened July 10. A program on Tuesday was full, and five of the 19 remaining sessions are full, according to the booking website operated by the program provider, Civic Dinners. More sessions are to be added as needed.
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul advocated for the program as a way for city officials to respond to the city’s increasing diversity and density – meaning more residents are likely to be in close proximity to residents with a different cultural heritage. The city’s population grew by almost 17 percent from 2010 to 2019, according to Census estimates – to the current estimated population of 109,452.
Key indicators of the city’s diversity of residents include:
- Foreign born: 20.7 percent;
- White alone, not Hispanic or Latino: 57.5 percent;
- Black or African American alone: 19.3 percent;
- Hispanic or Latino: 13.8 percent;
- Asian alone: 7.3 percent.
- American Indian, Alaska native alone: 1.5 percent.
Sessions are available in either English or Spanish, to ensure language is not a barrier for the majority of participants.
Paul, in remarks on the program’s website, observed:
- “Jim Crow may be long gone, but effective, more subtle forms of racism still exist. To eliminate it, we need a dialogue that creates understanding and understanding that leads to personal, institutional, cultural and societal changes that bridge the misperceptions that perpetuate 21st Century racism. The first step is to engage neighbors whom we may rarely encounter and listen carefully to their perceptions of our community and how we treat each other.”
Each session is limited to a maximum of eight participants. The host, a volunteer, may invite a friend or two to join, but the notion of diversity means that most participants won’t be acquainted and will choose a session that fits their schedule.
Notes of the conversation will be taken and will not include any identifying information, city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun said Tuesday. Each participant will be represented by a number, not by name, in the report that is assembled and presented to the council.
The three questions were designed for the Sandy Springs community. Each talking point has a preamble, followed by a question:
- “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said, “I am convinced that men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other, and they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other…”
- “Share a moment when you have gone out of your comfort zone to get to know someone of a different background, ethnicity, or race. What did you learn? What surprised you?”
- “Combining socioeconomic, cultural, household and religious diversity considerations, Sandy Springs is one of the most diverse cities in the country. However, there is a difference between being diverse and being inclusive.
- “What does inclusion mean to you? And based on what you’ve seen or experienced in your community, do you believe Sandy Springs is inclusive? Why or why not?”
- “Through conversation and sharing stories, we become aware of the pain, misunderstandings, and hardships others have faced. Acknowledging this pain allows us to begin the hard work of healing, and understanding the actions needed to come together and bring forward positive change.
- “What’s one action you can personally commit to taking to foster a stronger sense of belonging and inclusion in your community, neighborhood, school or workplace? And what’s one action you’d like to see city leaders take to create a more inclusive Sandy Springs?”