(PHOTOS) – Decatur hosts diversity discussion

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt August 29, 2015

The city of Decatur is in the process of creating a “Community Action Plan” to address concerns about the city’s dwindling diversity.

As part of the development of the plan, the city hosted a Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation at the Ebster Recreation Center on Saturday, Aug. 29.

The city recently entered into a $109,000 agreement with a consultant, The Art of Community, to help develop the plan and facilitate the conversation. The consulting firm put together a Leadership Circle of residents and city employees that has been meeting regularly to develop recommendations about how the diversity discussion should move forward.

The development of the Community Action Plan came about after a group of citizens, led by former School Board member Don Denard, raised concerns about alleged racial profiling by city Police Officers. The city decided to make it broader dialogue about race and diversity in the city.

Decaturish photographer Jonathan Phillips dropped by the Ebster Recreation Center on Saturday and captured these images of the community’s dialogue about diversity.

Hundreds of people came out to discuss issues such as diverse and affordable housing, racially just community policing and more to build on the City’s 2010 roundtable discussions and strategic plan during  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation to ensure the city is welcoming, inclusive and equitable. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Hundreds of people came out to the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation on Aug. 29 to discuss issues such as diverse and affordable housing, racially just community policing and more. The city is creating a Community Action Plan to build on the city’s 2010 strategic plan to ensure the city is welcoming, inclusive and equitable.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Christian Perry speaks during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation at Ebster Gym on Saturday. Hundreds of people came out to discuss issues such as diverse and affordable housing, racially just community policing and more to build on the City’s 2010 roundtable discussions and strategic plan. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Christian Perry speaks during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation at Ebster Recreation Center on Saturday. 
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Mattice Haynes helps lead the discussion during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation at Ebster Gym on Saturday.  Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Mattice Haynes helps lead the discussion during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation at the Ebster Recreation Center on Saturday.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

The workbook for  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation Photo: Jonathan Phillips

The workbook for the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Peggy Parker uses a wireless transmitter to give her opinion on polling questions during Saturday's meeting at the Ebster Recreation Center. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Peggy Parker uses a wireless transmitter to give her opinion on polling questions during Saturday’s meeting.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Beverly Jones uses a wireless transmitter to give her opinion on polling questions. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Beverly Jones uses a wireless transmitter to give her opinion on polling questions.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Michael Harbin gets to know his neighbors. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Michael Harbin gets to know his neighbors.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Daniel Walker (left), Mary Alice Kemp and Cele Blair get to know one another during  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Daniel Walker (left), Mary Alice Kemp and Cele Blair get to know one another during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Pearleta Sterling (center) and Dawn Buannic participate in  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation in Decatur.  Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Pearleta Sterling (center) and Dawn Buannic participate in the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation in Decatur.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Shannan Miller (top right) visits with different tables during  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Shannan Miller (top right) visits with different tables during the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Fardosa Hassan participates in the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Fardosa Hassan participates in the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Ashley Cooper leads  the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation. Photo: Jonathan Phillips

Ashley Cooper leads the Community Action Planning Cafe Conversation.
Photo: Jonathan Phillips

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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  • Bill Jone

    Decatur is considered the most liberal, progressive community in the southeast, and there is essentially no evidence of discrimination here. Minorities moving out of the city is something that happened as a result of economic forces that are occurring all over the metro area. The minority population of the metro area has skyrocketed over the last several years. Many have moved to the suburbs. The migration of the residents of the metro area is something is ever-dynamic and there is a demographic that changes over time. Less diversity here means more somewhere else.

    The city government cannot engineer diversity, and cannot create racial quotas. It’s against federal law, its unconstitutional and frankly un-American. The government cannot guarantee minorities a percentage of the population any more than it can guarantee white people a percentage of the population. Racism is racism either way, and it is not “equitable” to deny any race the right to live here at the expense of another.

    Spending $109,000 for this is really mind-blowing graft. This “conversation” could have been had for free. There should be an independent investigation of this. This looks very similar to the graft that goes on in incorporated Dekalb, and it should be met with criminal prosecutions.

    • Marty

      The spending approved thus far is actually $124,000. The same groups and individuals that worked to influence the commissioners to allocate $115,000 of taxpayer money for the above described discussion also worked to acquire $15,000.

      “A group called the Decatur Community Coalition has been politely and persistently pushing the City Commission to address its concerns about alleged racial profiling by police officers. We found out that the city is paying a consultant $15,000 to coordinate a private discussion about the Police Department’s operations.” – Decaturish

      $124,000. There are approximately 20,000 Decatur residents which would be about $6.20 per resident thus far in funds appropriated by the commissioners. Another budgetary perspective: the $124,000 is equivalent to 1/12 of the city’s largest 2015-2016 capital expense, the $1.5 million earmarked for improvements at Oakhurst and McKoy parks funded by tax dollars.

      So depending on perspective, the $124,000 currently allocated by the commissioners is either “mind blowing graft,” or a paltry sum for what many of these groups and individuals may believe is a matter of the highest moral obligation. In fact, I admire the dedication and compassion demonstrated by these groups and individuals (although not their tactics and accusations) in their efforts to acquire public funds for issues they feel are extremely important. My experience is that a single individual with dedication and passion is equivalent to numerous individuals who are not similarly motivated.

      A problem that arises (and written about by Levitt and Fubner) is that when people, especially politicians, start making decisions based on a reading of their moral compass, facts may be among the first casualties. The issue is who determines what the facts are. Or as Patrick Moynihan was famous for saying: “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.

      Ultimately, the commissioners will answer to Decatur’s voters for the public funds they allocate to mind blowing graft or to matters of high moral obligation. Or as one of these groups (the Decatur Community Commission) wrote, ” we see the city commission as the top authority in Decatur.”

    • Crambone

      Sorry but the idea that this is simply innocent economic forces at work or government corruption of some kind is a sad smoke screen of denial. The fact is that economic growth favoring an affluent population, and to the exclusion and marginalization of other populations, is a choice Decatur has made and continues to make.

      I do agree that we can’t engineer diversity, but we can engineer and support a city with diverse socioeconomic levels. That effort would support a more racially diverse population as a result.

      I also fully agree that this money was misspent, but the label of government graft is not useful. The crime that the government spent too much money on the Diversity Discussion pales in comparison to the crime of unchecked gentrification, not to put too fine a point on it.

      Submitted respectfully, good sir.

  • ByAnyOtherName

    Looks like the Concerned Citizens of Decatur meeting was well attended.

    Over $100,000 tax payer funds wasted to discuss ” Where did all these white people come from and what do we do about it.”

    • Chris Billingsley

      Thanks By,
      This is a good question. What I would ask is “Where did all the black people go?” and “Who has been in charge of the CofD for the past twenty five years?”
      The tin foil, Glen Beck, Rush spirit that influences SOME of my thinking asks to connect the dots. What was the black population of Decatur in 1994? What changes did the City Commission and School Board institute to “further diversity”? Did the city governments intentionally encourage certain emigration into the city? What was the result in terms of our black population?
      Back in the day, Decatur’s black citizens and Catholics worried about the KKK driving us out but it looks like the progressives did a pretty damn good job of it. Except for the Catholics, for the time being.

  • Mic

    Thanks City Commissioners for wasting my tax dollars on this effort. So, if Decatur was found to be completely racist; what would the city do?

  • JC

    Thanks for covering this Decaturish. I don’t agree with some of the other posters that this is a waste or time or money. My concern, and maybe this is just a result of the photos that were selected here, is the very few young, white attendees at the discussion tables. That’s much of the demographic arriving in the city now, and those who are buying homes in the city at such enormous prices. Without having those newcomers at the table, it doesn’t bode well for the sustainability of this initiative.

  • Crambone

    If Decatur truly cared about diversity we wouldn’t have, for example, torn down and not replaced low income housing in downtown (Trinity and Commerce). If Decatur truly cared about diversity we would have, for example, made regulations to prevent building of $600k-$1million+ homes in neighborhoods like Oakhurst, which not so long ago was beautifully diverse on all levels but now is gleaming lily-white because it is being gentrified to a staggering degree.

    What Decatur doesn’t want to accept is that accepting diversity means accepting a diverse socioeconomic and cultural landscape. What people want in Decatur is an upper-middle class or upper class enclave. The reality of that kind of community is that it will be overwhelmingly white. This is a form of subtle, institutionalized racism and class-ism. It’s ugly to think about, but we have to admit it and accept it.

    The damage to the diversity of Decatur has been done. We can’t re-engineer diversity after the fact. Diversity isn’t something like a streetscape project that you spend budget money on, work on for a year, and stand back and admire. This official Diversity Discussion is well-intentioned, but is meaningless lip service. Actions speak louder and are already clearly showing Decatur’s priorities.

    If we want diversity at this point we could consider spending some or all of this money on things like building low-income housing in the city limits, investing in renovating and protecting current low-income housing, and capping home square footage, to name a few.

    • Andrew

      “If Decatur truly cared about diversity we wouldn’t have, for example, torn down and not replaced low income housing in downtown (Trinity and Commerce).”

      What do you mean by “not replaced”? The redevelopment of Decatur’s public housing at Trinity and Commerce replaced roughly 288 substandard units with an equal number of new units, rearranged in taller buildings on less land. A new, mixed-income building proposed on the now freed-up parcel at the corner is part of the financing strategy that allowed all the new units to be built.

      The mandate to replace old housing with an equal number of new units was key to the DHA’s efforts and serves to differentiate Decatur from a lot of other communities in which public housing on valuable land is rapidly being pushed elsewhere. If anything, the DHA deserves credit, not condemnation.

  • “Hooray for diversity! We need to address gentrification!” say leadership and candidates who take pictures of themselves at the meeting then promptly drive back to their million-dollar infill houses in Oakhurst.

    Crambone’s comment is spot-on: if we care about diversity (in the sense that we don’t want economic forces to push out our lower-income neighbors) we can take concrete steps to slow those forces (Crambone mentions a few; there are others). Or we can simply say “big houses and an increasing property tax base is good, damn the social consequences” and continue down our current path. But we as a city need to implement firm policies one way or the other. Make a decision. Meeting to discuss diversity issues is important; spending over $100,000 so that our leaders can pay lip service to the issue (and take nice pictures of themselves) without tackling it head on is both unfair to our citizens and a waste of resources.

  • SlumNOTNecessary

    Most municipalities are trying to clean up their ghettos.
    Decatur is so rich we spent $100,000 to try to figure out how to bring one back.

    OMG, unchecked gentrification! Yep, that’s the real problem.
    Presuming that “broke means black” the definition of inherent racism.
    I don’t want to live with the poor. I moved into a good area for a reason, and I love my –>racially<– diverse, rich-ass neighbors thank-you-very-much.

    If low-class is your idea of "diverse" you don't need a $100, 000 jaw-jaw session.. just get some old junk cars, park them in the front yard, and if your kid does their homework on time.. beat the $hit out of them. Preferably while drunk. That'll toughen them up for prison too.

    • Chris Billingsley

      Interesting comment SNN. Here’s a little advice. Don’t EVER publish your name. The progressives in town will hunt you down and lynch you up quicker than you can say “Clarence Thomas”.

    • Crambone

      If the logic stands that making the area more affluent lowers diversity (which is the case in Decatur as well as in countless other gentrified areas), then the opposite logic stands as well, that keeping gentrification in check helps maintain racial and social diversity. Acknowledging that fact and looking for ways to protect and support lower-income and diverse racial and cultural populations just has to be the opposite of racism. And then there’s your comments. But I’m no expert.

      And no one here is suggesting we create lower income areas (ghetto is your word), quite the opposite. I suggested helping improve lower income areas because I believe we have a responsibility not to let lower income areas decay into unlivable slums. It would’ve been great if we’d done that before we got rid of them and run people out of town, but as Austin Powers said, “That train has sailed.”

    • Eric

      SlumNOTNecessary, keep your rich hands off my ’76 Trans Am. I know it’s not running right now, but it’ll kick some serious butt one day. 6.6 liters of pure awesome power.

  • RealityKicksIn

    Here’s the problem I have with the city: we are too focused on extremes. The ideology is that we either stop building communities upward of 600k or build more and more low income, housing authority headed projects. Neither of these is the answer and I’m quite surprised no one has arrived at this solution–

    For every 2-3 houses/communities built at 700k plus, why can’t there be another 3 that are priced from 250k-400k?. This lower price point doesn’t guarantee an all minority occupation either as it could just as easily only garner more white inhabitants. However, it broadens our socioeconomic spectrum without the deliberate marks of the city forcing some sort of racial quota on anything.

    The reality is, decatur is moving in a direction where only one economic group or demographic can afford to live here.

    Personally, I make an income that would allow me to purchase a home here (I currently rent here), however, I don’t want 70% of my paycheck going to a house plus taxes. Because if I want a house (my preference) that’s definitely in a 700k range. Even making right around six figures, Why am I still not economically sound enough? Do I really have to make 200-400k yearly in my household to be deemed good enough to own a Decatur house? i wonder.

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