By Hadley Barndollar
PORTSMOUTH – The city has begun to take steps to support a racial justice municipality proclamation adopted by the City Council this past summer following the killing of George Floyd and subsequent national outcry.
The proclamation, which was unanimously passed in June and written in concert with the Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire, includes planned actions such as racial bias training for municipal officials and a concerted effort to highlight Black history in Portsmouth, among other items.
Recently, in a list of demands for elected officials and local governments, the Black Lives Matter Seacoast chapter called on municipalities to follow through on promises made after Floyd’s death.
In her report to the City Council ahead of Monday night’s meeting, City Manager Karen Conard updated on the action taken thus far in support of the proclamation.
“We are at the beginning of what we expect to be an enduring effort to address diversity, equity, and inclusion in our local government and city,” Conard wrote.
The city has established a web page under the city manager’s page to indicate its commitment to racial justice. The web page includes the text of the proclamation, as well as links to resources like the Seacoast African American Cultural Center, Black Heritage Trail, African Burying Ground and the NAACP.
Conard said an interdepartmental staff working group focusing on racial justice, inclusion and equity has been meeting “once or twice” a month since July. The group has 10 participants, she said, and has established a staff website that serves as a repository for useful resources – like videos, articles, presentations or training programs – that any member suggests may be helpful to the discussion.
The city has also scheduled its first mandatory training on diversity, equity and inclusion for Oct. 29 with Jermaine Moore of the Mars Hill Group. Department heads and supervisors have been invited to the training, which will be recorded and re-usable, Conard said.
Various city departments have been participating in roundtable discussions, and individual staff members have attended numerous trainings, including the Urban Sustainability Director’s Network “Driving Towards Equity” series, the International City/County Management Association’s “Building and Maintaining an Equity Mindset in Local Government,” and more locally, the Portsmouth Public Library’s series on “Standing Up to Racism.”
Conard noted one city department is offering its staff members a 21-day racial equity habit building challenge, and another has created an internal online forum to discuss related issues. The Portsmouth library is currently exploring endorsement of the Urban Libraries Council’s Statement on Race and Social Equity, she added.
The city has also joined the Diversity Workforce Coalition, and is evaluating the possibility of joining the Government Alliance on Race and Equity.
Conard said next steps being discussed by the city’s working group include better organizing web resources to assist those in self-education, expanding training to additional staff, hosting monthly brown bag lunches via Zoom to “celebrate differences,” and reaching out to other communities to learn what they are doing in regards to diversity, equity and inclusion.