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City of Ferndale, school district pass measures declaring intent to fight racism

By: Mike Koury | Woodward Talk | Published June 22, 2020

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FERNDALE — Amid nationwide and local protests of the death of George Floyd, police brutality and systemic racism, the city of Ferndale and its school district both recently passed resolutions dealing with racism.

At its June 8 meeting, the Ferndale City Council approved a resolution that declared the city’s commitment to be anti-racist and listed several action items the council wanted city staff to tackle over the following 90 days.

“Racism causes the black community to be adversely affected by negative health outcomes with disproportionately lower life expectancy, higher infant mortality rates, and higher rates of violence at the hand of law enforcement than the general population,” part of the resolution reads. “Psychological harm and generational trauma caused by experiencing racism also impact higher risks for certain chronic illnesses.”

The resolution, authored by Mayor Melanie Piana and Councilwoman Kat Bruner James, also recognized metro Detroit’s own history with racism, stating that the region’s formation was “influenced by past state, federal and local policies and laws that perpetuated racial segregation, creating inequities for our black communities, limiting individual wealth building, access to housing, access to quality education, access to employment opportunities, access to adequate healthcare and a fair criminal justice system. The City of Ferndale acknowledges its role in these dynamics and seeks to continue to change and repair its affects.”

The document as a whole can be found on the city’s website at www.ferndalemi.gov.

Within 90 days of the adoption of the resolution, the City Council is asking its staff to report back on several items, including a review of recruiting and hiring policies while also instituting policies that promote equity and inclusion among city staff, and the development of a racial equity policy and creation of a community advisory board for the Ferndale Police Department.

The board would review citizen complaint dispositions and use of force reports; conduct racial impact assessments of current policies; monitor implementation and accreditation of the 21st Century Community Policing model; review multijurisdictional cooperative law enforcement agreements for consistency with the city of Ferndale values; and advise FPD leadership and/or the council on other recommended actions to build community trust and promote anti-racism.

“Ferndale has designed our organizational values around diversity, equity and inclusion, and try to our best ability to live up to those values to meet the needs of all of our residents,” Piana said at the meeting. “But it’s clear that our nation has not addressed the structural racism that many of our Black community friends and family (experience), not only in Ferndale but across the United States, and we need to do more.”

Piana said the declaration is about addressing the sense of urgency the community has felt, especially as it pertained to Black Lives Matter and the peaceful protests that had been organized in Ferndale and other cities.

“It is an imperfect document and we anticipate coming up with the solid action items as part of the strategic planning process and budgeting process going forward,” she said.

In addition to the city, the Ferndale Public Schools Board of Education passed its own resolution at its June 15 meeting declaring racism as a public health crisis.

“We are aware of systemic racism and bias that exists within our community and within the broader population, and for a long time, the Board of Education has made that work a priority … within our strategic plan,” Superintendent Dania Bazzi said. “We have an equity vision for the district and our strategic plan was crafted with equity in mind, at the heart of it. So that was completed about a year ago. Obviously with the recent events, it’s come to the forefront and the board wanted to take a strong position, not only a strong position, but to give strong direction and the types of effort that they would like to see within the district.”

The resolution listed its own action items for the board to move forward with. That includes charging “its Committee of the Whole to research and develop a racial equity policy for the district to explicitly ensure our Black, Latinx, and other marginalized students are not disproportionately affected by racism,” “The Board charges its Committee of the Whole to research and integrate racially and culturally relevant elements into the curriculum and within the school buildings,” “The Board directs the district to discontinue the celebration of Columbus Day and recognize and honor Indigenous Peoples’ contributions and the impact that history has had on their heritage within our curriculum,” and “The Board will seek to reduce incidents of racial bias and discrimination through required diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings focused on race and implicit bias for its staff while also committing to monitor incidents that are reported and sharing statistics on its results.”

The board also authorized Bazzi to work with district employees to begin forming race and other identity-based employee resource groups focused on supporting and increasing staff climate and morale, and to work with the Ferndale, Oak Park and Pleasant Ridge police departments, which all provide services within the district, to review their standards and expectations to “further promote a culturally affirming climate, which our school buildings and students deserve,” a statement reads.

Going forward, Bazzi said she hopes this further ensures that the district’s students have the ability to pursue their life passion in a system that’s fair and equitable. She also stated that it will be important to work together with police departments and various other stakeholders so they can go through “the journey of learning and action together,” rather than work independently.

“Ferndale schools wanted to take a strong stance that we’re committed to fighting racism through equity based initiatives, and specifically tangible initiatives,” she said. “That’s what this resolution provides us. So as a whole, we are committed to fighting racism.”

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