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Notes from racial justice listening session with Fourth Plain Forward

05 Aug 2020

City of Vancouver Racial Justice Listening Session with Fourth Plain Forward - July 23rd, 2020, 5:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

Fourth Plain Forward and The City of Vancouver held a virtual community forum via Zoom to listen and learn about race, racism and racial justice issues in the Vancouver community. The following summary reflects high-level notes from the participant comments. A representative of Fourth Plain Forward facilitated the event, and approximately 11 additional community members joined the call. In addition, a Spanish translator helped to facilitate the contributions of Spanish-speaking community members. Participants represented a mix of business owners and residents of the Fourth Plain Boulevard ‘international business district’. City representatives included Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, Councilperson Erik Paulsen, City Manager Eric Holmes, as well as representatives from the Vancouver Police Department.

Overview

City Manager Holmes thanked community members and members of Fourth Plain Forward for contributing to this important discussion and stated that this meeting is part of a larger set of listening sessions that will continue to engage with community partners.

Holmes noted how events such as the tragic death of George Floyd have brought forward the need to address institutional racism, as well as to advocate for racial justice in our community. He stated that the City is committed to change as they look through institutional systems and try to do so in a more equitable manner. Holmes closed opening remarks by noting that he was looking forward to hearing about the lived experiences of people on this call.

Public Comment Highlights

Members of the Fourth Plain Forward community introduced themselves and shared their experiences with racism in Vancouver.

•A community member born and raised in Vancouver shared their perspective on what it is like to be Brown in Vancouver. In sharing their experience in Vancouver schools, they asked participants to think about who is in the room and noted that anti-racism work goes beyond listening, but rather thinking about what security looks like in school. They shared that they have been pulled over multiple times, and feel that it was intimidating, especially as a teenager. They cited implicit bias as an important force in perpetuating racism.

• A business owner and parent in the Fourth Plain Blvd district described moving to Vancouver in the 1980s and noted the changes in Vancouver since that time. They described the impact of racism as “devastating”. As a parent to biracial children, they shared how their concerns about racism influenced their decisions about where to send their children to school. They noted that progress is made when people of color are a part of the environment, such as utilizing posters of historically important people of color around the classroom. They noted that racism in schools can be perpetrated by teachers too.

• A business owner who has been in the Fourth Plain district for four years shared that they have heard a lot of people who have suffered from racism. They had the opportunity to listen and cry with them and to support community members willing to share their stories. They related personal experiences with racism in the schools and their experience changing schools for a school with greater supervision and surveillance to feel safe.

•A long-time community member shared their experience moving to Vancouver over ten years ago without knowing any English or anything about American culture. They described how they experienced racial bias in school, particularly from teachers not being able to assist with ESL students. Beyond the educational system, they suggested that neighborhood relationships with the City has made undocumented residents feel unsafe and has forced families to move.

•A community member and translator thanked participants for sharing thoughts with City. They shared that as a first-generation Latinx, they saw a lot of discriminatory incidents. In Vancouver, they felt the impacts of implicit bias and racially-informed stereotypes. They shared how, in their experience, the Vancouver Police Department had negative community interactions at a multicultural festival that they attended. They also expressed a desire to stay connected and in good communication with the Police Department.

•A community member and worker in the area of disability support described how they support families with children with special needs. Most of the families that they support live around Fourth Plain Blvd., and they described the amount of racism they have experienced as “unbelievable”. For example, they have experienced discrimination trying to access medical services and noted that children with disabilities face additional challenges when they are people of color. They shared that while driving, someone has yelled “get back to your country”.

•A community member shared their experiences working around Fourth Plain Blvd. They stated that they hope that this will be only one of many listening sessions available to community members so that increased participation can be achieved. They shared that there was difficulty getting participation due to COVID and internet access issues. They hope that this will be only one of many listening sessions available to community members so that increased participation can be achieved. They also asserted the City relies heavily on neighborhood association meetings to share information but noted that the demographics of those organization is not representative of the larger community. They urged the Council and City to reach out directly to community members who are not typically included in these types of meetings. They also noted that COVID has disproportionately affected communities of color and that the Fourth Plain zip code has had more COVID cases than other parts of the City and County.

•A community member stated that the economic hardships associated with COVID require more assistance from the City and asserted that the Free Clinic has been closed since March. That was a critical site for people without insurance to obtain medical services. They also noted that there are language, access, and economic barriers to testing. They described how many of the business owners they work with are businesses with i10s and cannot access federal funding. The organization they work for was able to provide grant funding to 31 of those businesses. They noted that there is a need to help fund that gap. They are particularly concerned about the displacement of undocumented residents and asked that Council value and respect renters with economic assistance; they also stated that Fourth Plain Forward was one of the only organizations that provided grant funding that did not ask for immigration status.


Community Recommendations

  1. Provide city information and materials translated for communities who do not speak English.\
  2. Increase community engagement by the City to create strong community relationships.
  3. Provide COVID testing sites where community members around Fourth Plain Boulevard live and work.
  4. Increase positive community interactions with the Vancouver Police Department.
  5. Examine partnerships between police departments and schools and look at which kids are getting disciplined in school to increase awareness of racial bias.

Conclusion

City Manager Holmes thanked participants for sharing their experiences. He reiterated that the City is here because there is a clear recognition by City leadership that institutional racism does exist. He stated that the purpose of these sessions is to hear about the lived experiences of communities of color, and to address those inequities. He acknowledged that there is much work to do, and that this will be an ongoing conversation. Holmes stated that he is committed to ongoing engagement, and that Community Engagement manager Tony Ramos is looking forward to building connections in the community so that they City can do even better in how they engage in the community. He concluded by stating that he is looking forward to continuing to work with businesses and residents in the Fourth Plain Corridor.

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