Celebrate culture or root out racism? Signal Hill Diversity Committee aims to ‘take temperature’ of community

Screenshot of Signal Hill’s Diversity Coalition Committee’s Jan. 13 virtual meeting

The City of Signal Hill’s newly formed Diversity Coalition Committee (DCC) met for a second time last week to share ideas on how to achieve its purpose as defined in the City’s Race and Equity Framework, adopted last July. 

According to that framework, the DCC’s mandate is to “examine the City’s current policies and engage the community on various aspects of race and equity as part of an evolving effort to address systemic racism and bias in the policies and practices of municipal government.”

Furthermore, the City’s July 14, 2020 Resolution Standing Up for Equality and Against Systemic Racism calls for the DCC to examine the City’s current policies related to policing, municipal operations and city-related events.

How to go about accomplishing all that was a matter of debate among the committee’s 20 members during the DCC’s Jan. 13 meeting. 

As members suggested potential initiatives to create awareness– such as hosting a speaker series, community-listening sessions and a cultural festival– some brought the discussion back to systemic racism. 

“Are we making sure that we are staying focused or true to the objectives that the City has laid out?” Member Triphina Moore asked. “How does a festival relate to racial equity?”

Member Stephen Aguilar agreed, saying, “We do need to take the time to make sure we understand our charge well enough to identify solutions that are going to solve the problems we are meant to solve as opposed to just a series of programs.”

Aguilar also said that the DCC having already divided into subcommittees– on education, facilitation and continuous improvement, based on the City’s goals for the DCC– may have been premature. 

“We’re outlining solutions when we really haven’t outlined what the problem is,” Aguilar said. “Dividing us up into subcommittees so quickly maybe preempted exploring the problem before getting to solutions.”

Fred Abdelnour, the DCC facilitator hired by the City– who is also a board member of the Signal Hill Police Foundation, which fundraises on behalf of the Signal Hill Police Department– had divided members into those subcommittees after their first meeting in December. 

See related story: ‘The end goal is to build a better Signal Hill’

Some members defended the idea of cultural and other events. Member Yvonne Kaegebein said racism is a serious topic and creating engaging activities would help make people feel more comfortable talking about it and keeping an open mind.

“Celebrating culture is the first step to introducing people to things that are different and unusual to them because that is where everything comes from– stereotypes, and thinking this is the way something is because one person is like this,” Kaegebein said.

Member Kenyatta Suggars agreed the DCC should find a way to make everyone comfortable. “A lot of racism exists because of people having limited exposure to people who don’t look like them,” she said.

A cultural festival doesn’t have to be for learning about other cultures but the culture of Signal Hill, Member Lisa Wong said.

The committee also expressed concern about communicating its existence and activities to Signal Hill residents and businesses, with some agreement to use the City’s own website, social media accounts and monthly newsletter. 

“It’s kind of exciting for the community to know that there’s a group that wants to hear that there’s a problem,” Member and Parks-and-Recreation Commissioner Pam Dutch Hughes said, further suggesting a “diversity box” in which people can report “uncomfortable” incidents they experience. 

Abdelnour suggested a common email address through the City to which people can write to the DCC.

“We need to find out from our community their thoughts and maybe this is one way to do it,” he said.

Member Diana Phillips suggested approaching organizations and religious centers in Signal Hill to help spread the word of the DCC’s existence and purpose.  

“I’m still concerned about groups of people in our community that may not be represented by our committee and figure out a way to reach them so everyone in Signal Hill is included,” she said.

Members also voiced an urgent need to understand Signal Hill demographics and concerns such as through a survey. Demographic data linked from the City’s website to the Southern California Association of Governments shows that more than 32% of Signal Hill’s 11,750 residents identify as white, 29% as Hispanic, 25.5% as Asian, 10.6% as Black and 2.7% as all other.

The committee discussed hosting regular listening sessions to “take the temperature” of the community regarding race and other diversity issues. A speaker series to help educate the community on race, culture and diversity was floated as another potential initiative.  

Abdelnour said Signal Hill City Manager Hannah Shin-Heydorn expressed support for such a series when he shared it following one of the subcommittee meetings. 

“They thought that was a great idea,” he said. “On whatever topics– from racial-diversity issues to minority-business development– whatever it is that can help our community get better and stronger.” 

Abdelnour also said the City is looking to the DCC to build something toward Signal Hill’s hundredth anniversary in 2024, possibly even creating a new logo. He further said he would like to see “trademark” DCC programs.

“Everything is on the table,” Abdelnour said. “How the city runs, what the city will look like, creating programs that lead into the 100th anniversary.”

The DCC’s next meeting will take place virtually on Feb. 10 at 6 p.m. More information and an agenda can be found on the City’s website at CityofSignalHill.org.


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