Signal Hill’s new Diversity Coalition Committee (DCC) conducted its inaugural meeting virtually on Dec. 9 to review its goals and methods– and have all 21 volunteer members meet each other for the first time.
The Signal Hill City Council had agreed to form the committee this past summer in the wake of national race-discrimination protests to help “eliminate and prevent discrimination, hate or bias” in the city and its government through three areas: education, facilitation and continuous improvement, according to its resolution.
Fred Abdelnour, a consultant the City hired to facilitate committee meetings, explained what each of those areas includes and that members could choose which of the three to work on in subcommittees.
The three subcommittees are to meet in-between DCC’s regular monthly meetings– currently scheduled through June 2021– and share their findings and suggestions for the entire committee to discuss, he said.
Per the council’s July 28 resolution forming the committee, the DCC is expected over time to become an information, education and communication resource to help understand and bridge differences among Signal Hill residents.
The committee is also charged with gathering community feedback and recommending to the City Council how to address diversity issues and promote inclusive programs and events.
The DCC’s creation is rooted in another resolution the City passed on July 14 standing up for equality and condemning systemic racism. The resolution cites the killing of Minneapolis resident George Floyd by that city’s police officers on May 25 as a catalyst for a national movement against racism and Signal Hill’s response.
“Signal Hill cannot effectively service its community without addressing, acknowledging and confronting its own and the nation’s history of systemic racism of people of color, particularly Black Americans,” the resolution states. “Diversity is a significant strength which the City desires and fosters.”
The City received 22 applicants of which 21 currently serve on the committee.
Mayor Edward Wilson made an appearance at the beginning of the meeting to reinforce to the committee its agency as an official City organization.
“I am excited about our journey that we’re going to be taking,” he said. “It may take some time. When we formed this, I did not anticipate this being a quick fix.”
Echoing some of the statements he made during city-council meetings this summer, Wilson talked about the insidiousness of systemic racism, noting he was the first person of color elected in the city 26 years ago when he first joined the council.
“Everything you have been in contact with is because of some decisions made in the past,” Wilson told the committee. “A number of the decisions that run through our government and our business community were based on bias. That’s a reality we all face. Some of us know it, other’s don’t. Some are just coming into acknowledgment. And that’s okay because you know what you know, and you don’t know what you don’t know.”
Though the council’s resolution had called for the DCC to examine government policies related to policing as well as municipal operations and events, Wilson said the committee should not focus only on the police.
“This committee has the opportunity to have a significant impact on the city’s future– its sustainability, its progress, and its development,” Wilson said.
Wilson had driven the City Council’s discussion of systemic racism after three residents wrote to the council accusing it of racism for not appointing Wilson as mayor during the council’s annual rotation in March.
The council did rotate Wilson in as mayor on Dec. 8 in a 3-2 vote, per a new rotation schedule driven by the City’s election-date change from March to November.
The 21 committee members as listed on the DCC meeting agenda are: Stephen J. Aguilar, Steve Budhraja, Samona Michelle Caldwell, Virgil A. County, Pam Dutch Hughes, Kia N. Gaines, Ronald Griggs, Telaireus K. Herrin, Harshan Jeyakumar, Harvey Jones, Yvonne Kaegebein, Triphina Moore, Charlene Padilla, Diana Phillips, Amanda Lynn Phou, Lupe Reyes, Todd Sahara, Jon-Stephen C. Scott, Kenyetta Suggars, Christopher Wilson and Lisa Wong.
Many said the summer protests motivated them to want to effect change in Signal Hill through joining the committee.
Harshan Jeyakumar, a financial consultant for environmental agencies, said this year’s events were a wakeup-call.
“In the past, a lot of people maybe like me would see those things and shake their head and move on with life,” he said. “But enough has happened […] and it’s now time to do more.”
Member Todd Sahara, a software consultant in the media and entertainment industry who is also an LGBTQ advocate, said he was surprised that a city as small as Signal Hill took this initiative.
“They went beyond just passing a resolution but actually forming a commission, and actually putting dollars behind it by hiring Fred to facilitate this discussion,” he said.
There was some discussion about the committee’s own diversity. Triphina Moore, a former educator, said it is not as diverse as she expected it to be.
“It’s a bit unfortunate because it’s not really representative of the community,” she said.
However, another member, Harvey Jones, said he was actually “shocked” at the extent of diversity compared with when he moved to Signal Hill in the mid-1970s.
“A lot of you never experienced the city back then,” he said. “It was completely different.”
Sahara said that people in some communities may not have known to apply due to language or cultural barriers.
Chris Wilson, who is also a City commissioner, said that’s why the outreach process is important – to overcome cultural or even gender issues that discourage people from participating.
“It’s an ‘all of us’ thing,” he said. “We have to make sure we are diverse in our thinking.”
Abdelnour encouraged DCC members not to hold back in accomplishing the committee’s mission, which may take up to two years.
“I would push for as much as you can,” he said. “The end goal is to build a better Signal Hill– a more inclusive, a more comfortable Signal Hill.”
The DCC’s next meeting will take place virtually on Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. More information and an agenda can be found on the City’s website at CityofSignalHill.org.