Red Deerians of colour spoke out to Mayor Ken Johnston about feeling marginalized and discriminated against in this city several times since his election in 2021.
A Black man told him “my community is hurting. We are not seen. We are not heard. And we are unable to contribute in the way that we would like to,” Johnston recalled during Monday’s discussion on a plan to end local racism.
Another time, a woman of African background revealed to Johnston that her children routinely eat their lunch in the school washroom because they felt harassed in the cafeteria.
“I thought I was doing good” by advocating for diversity and inclusion, said the mayor.
He now realizes “We can do better,” and that much more work is needed to lift barriers and show acceptance so all citizens feel safe and secure in this city.
City council took a first step by accepting Red Deer’s Community Informed Diversity and Inclusion Plan, on Monday. As a next step, council also directed City of Red Deer administration “to develop a proposed implementation strategy for our organization that honours the City’s leadership role within the community.”
Coming up with an “action plan,” that includes accountability and measurable results, could take months, said Johnston — so he urged Red Deerians to reflect on what they can do as individuals to help improve the situation in the interim.
Coun. Dianne Wyntjes raised the issue that the term “woke-ism” is commonly used by some people to disparage efforts to fight racism. These local residents tend to deny that discrimination exists here against people from other cultures, including Indigenous people, as well as people with disabilities, members of the LGBTQ-plus community and other minorities.
Maybe these people have different experiences and have never personally felt discriminated against, said city manager Tara Lodewyk. “But just because you can’t understand the challenges that some people are facing, it is not OK” to deny that these incidents are happening, she responded.
Coun. Cindy Jefferies said her sons and their friends, all in their mid-20s to early 30s, have told her they don’t feel Red Deer is inclusive and don’t always feel at ease here — and they are White and heterosexual.
“I want a Red Deer where everyone is welcome and everybody feels included — and I hope it’s not 2033 before I can say that,” Jefferies added.
About 80 Red Deerians from various minority groups were interviewed or took part in workshops, and their views helped shape Red Deer’s Community-Informed Diversity and Inclusion Plan. It aims for enhanced community well-being. Several councillors asked whether the wider community could also contribute to the conversation as it moves into the next stages, and were told there would be opportunities.
The Diversity and Inclusion Plan identified nine priorities, including addressing mistreatment and inequality, increasing accessibility and participation for marginalized groups, and boosting community-wide knowledge needed to support diversity and inclusion.
Among the recommendations for the City of Red Deer were to increase diversity hiring as an example of community leadership. As well, more representation of marginalized people on council committees, community boards, service club memberships, and other structures was suggested.