Introductions, thoughtful discussion, and public comments mark promising start
by Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill (December 20, 2018) – Lansing’s Human Relations Commission met at the Lansing Public Library for the first time Thursday night, where they will be meeting every third Thursday of each month. Commissioner introductions, practical discussions, an Open Meetings Act presentation, and public comments were the highlights of the meeting and indicated optimism about Lansing’s future.
The Commission first met on November 27 to receive training from an Illinois Department of Human Rights representative at the Lansing Police station, but Thursday night’s meeting was the first where the Commission had the chance to talk at length about its own business.
Open Meetings Act
After Chairman Leo Valencia called the meeting to order at 6:30pm, attorney Erin Blake acquainted the Commissioners with details and applications of the Open Meetings Act. Given that the Commission is a public body, it is bound by certain laws that govern the way its members can interact with each other. In the case of the Human Relations Commission, no more than two members may discuss business related to the Commission outside of a public meeting. Various hypotheticals and examples were provided to illustrate exactly how the Open Meetings Act should be applied to the Human Relations Commission.
Following Blake’s presentation, Chairman Valencia invited the Commissioners to introduce themselves to each other and to the public.
An excerpt from each commissioner’s introduction is below. Commissioners Micaela Smith and Rich Schaeffer were absent from Thursday’s meeting.
Dr. Bobb Wright:
This was really a great thing to find out that the Village of Lansing was doing something in terms of Human Relations, not that I felt that it needed it, but certainly in every circumstance it definitely helps. I was selected and here I am—and hopefully I can bring something good to the table in collaboration with everyone else and their skills, knowledge, gifts and abilities.
[My family’s] history here is pretty long. We love Lansing. The reason and desire I had to be a part of this commission–and I was an advocate for this commission–was not only because of personal experience, but because in the Good Neighbor Parade and the great things that Lansing had, I didn’t see the diversity. And I wanted to bridge–or be a part of bridging–the gaps.
I’m interested in, at a public level, how can we effect change so that everyone has access to our village, but really, I’m excited to see a lot of change in the discourse and in the conversations we can have. …This is something near and dear to my heart. I’m anxious to make some change, have hard conversations, have those courageous conversations about race as well as gender, ethnicity, and everything in between. I’m anxious to dive in and see what we can do.
There is a need for an HRC here, and I don’t have the answers. …I don’t know if we all went to [Lansing’s] Autumnfest, but it wasn’t well represented [racially]. Why? I don’t know, but I’m hoping that those are some of the things that this group can help us with–and how do we change that? How do we make that better? There are many areas like that we’ll probably dive into and have those hard conversations and hopefully figure out what can we do.
I was actually on the train that hit the two Chicago police officers [on December 17]…and to know why the officers were on the tracks that night, and to experience the strength and the heroism that we felt on the train of the police and fire department helping us make our way to a safer spot…. It changed me. And it helped me to understand that while we know there are bad cops, there are also good cops. And I see that even in our community. So while we had that one bad incident, that does not “make Lansing.” And that’s something we all need to understand…. I want to be the change that I want to see.
When this committee came about, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I’m not afraid to have the difficult conversations. I know people are going to have some questions for me from the law enforcement side*. And I agree, there are some bad apples, and we need to get rid of those people, but there are also great people that put their lives on the line and help people they don’t even know every day. …I can’t tell you how excited I am to participate on this board and do what we can to make this such an inclusive neighborhood.
*Iwaszko serves as the Assistant Chief of Police in Calumet City
[The Human Relations Commission] is about understanding people. It’s about getting to know everyone’s different ethnic backgrounds, finding out that not every black person eats fried chicken and not every white person eats linguine and shrimp. …[Understanding people] puts it into the realm of “you’re only afraid of what you don’t understand.” …I’m always here to support any and every entity that makes up our community, no matter what the race, color, creed, or religious background. I’m always here for Lansing.
Old and New Business
Chairman Valencia and Dr. Wright then gave a brief summary of a book that the Commissioners are intending to read, Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. Written by Mahzarin Banaji and Anthony Greenwald, the book’s aim is to make readers aware of their biases, both conscious and unconscious, in order to promote interpersonal fairness.
A number of Commissioners offered comments regarding materials, ideas, and plans that might be implemented by the Commission moving forward. One notable offering was from Michael Bolz, who handed out an informal proposal structuring how each goal of the Commission, as set forth in their founding ordinance, might be acted upon through public forums, book discussions, grant opportunities, and other opportunities that “bring together entities of community.”
Next, the commission voted unanimously to hold their meetings every third Thursday of each month.
The final topic of discussion for the Commission before public comment was its participation in Martin Luther King Day on January 21 and Black History Month in February. The Commission voted in favor of “partnering with the library, date to be announced, for involvement in Martin Luther King Day and Black History month in February.”
As a public body, the Human Relations Commission is required by the Open Meetings Act to allow for a public comment portion of its meetings. Multiple individuals rose to speak in front of the Commission on Thursday.
Mozella Brown, a teacher at TF South, informed Commissioners of Thornton Township’s MLK Day observances at South Suburban College involving high school students. Brown claimed, “there is no representation from Lansing.”
Susan Reed, Outreach Coordinator of South Suburban Housing Center, offered herself as a “resource” to Commissioners. The South Suburban Housing Center specializes in Fair Housing matters.
Village Communications Director Ken Reynolds, Lansing Library Director Debbie Albrecht, and Lansing residents Bob Malkas and Darlene Kadar also offered comments.
Before adjourning the meeting, Chairman Valencia concluded, “We really want to grow this. We’re not a Commission that wants to be private; we want everybody involved because we can’t figure this out ourselves—we need everybody. So thank you very much, and remember: be the change you want to see.”
The Human Relations Commission will meet every third Thursday of the month in the lower level of the Lansing Public Library, 2750 Indiana Avenue. The next meeting will be on January 17 at 6:30pm.