City OKs formation of Racial Equity Reform Committee

BENTON HARBOR — A Racial Equity Reform Committee is expected be formed soon in Benton Harbor after it received the support of city commissioners Monday.

The idea was proposed by Elnora Gavin of Benton Harbor, who leads Peace4Life at Benton Harbor High School. She said after the meeting that the committee will be formed in partnership with the Race2Equity Benton Harbor Hub and the Benton Harbor High School Black History Committee.

She said the committee will look for creative solutions to deal with racial equity education, relief, recovery and reform.

The committee will create a connection between the city and the Benton Harbor school system, which Gavin said has been under repeated attack from the state.

In May, state officials proposed that the school board trustees close Benton Harbor High School or the entire district could be shut down. Trustees have rejected any plan that would close the high school and are currently forming an advisory board with the state to develop an operating plan to move the district forward.

Gavin said that after she selects the committee’s five members, she will act as the committee’s consultant. For more information, she can be reached on the Peace4Life Facebook page.

She said that one day she hopes the city will have a racial equity department.

“We want to be more intentional about what has happened to Benton Harbor,” she said. “The things that are happening to Benton Harbor have been systemic. So we need to address them systemically.”

Commissioner Duane Seats said during the meeting that he supports the idea as long as something real comes out of it. He said there is inequity in all aspects of life – including the court and education systems.

“If we want equality, it’s going to be a long mile because this is intentional, socialized, undercurrent racism where even some of us in this room for some odd reason can’t seem to get along with each other and yet, we’re the only people in the area in power,” he said.

Seats said there are already several organizations in the nation that say they are working for racial equity. But he said it seems like all they want is money.

“If you don’t support us, then we’re going to shut you down,” he said. “If that’s what we’re doing, then I’m with you. But if this is just another organization for somebody to say, ‘I give you $20 to try to figure it out,’ then I’m not with that no more.”

In addition, he said black people need to educate themselves and stop hurting each other.

“These young boys, we can’t blame the other man for killing our kids when we’re killing each other,” he said. “We have to educate our own kids to say, ‘Put your gun down and pick your book up.’”

Commissioner Ron Singleton said he agrees it will take awhile, but they have to start somewhere.

“It’s good, now, to see some movement to start addressing these things,” he said.

According to the resolution, the American Academy of Pediatrics has found that racism is “a social determinant of health that has a profound impact on the health status of children, adolescents, emerging adults and their families.” And the American Psychological Association states that African Americans “are more exposed to racial discrimination than any other ethnoracial group.”

In addition, commissioners on Monday approved the amended article of Incorporation for Medic 1 Ambulance.

Contact: lwrege@TheHP.com, 932-0361, Twitter: @HPWrege