Human Relations Equity Commission adds new voting positions

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published April 14, 2021

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MADISON HEIGHTS — The Madison Heights Human Relations Equity Commission will now have more voting members and be allowed to host nonpartisan events following a change authorized by the Madison Heights City Council at its meeting March 22.

The change was proposed by Emily Rohrbach, a member of the City Council and its liaison on the HREC. She wanted to amend the HREC’s founding resolution so that the number of voting members would increase from five to seven. However, at the suggestion of fellow council member Mark Bliss, the number was increased to nine voting members in order to include representatives from the Madison District Public Schools, Lamphere Public Schools and Bishop Foley Catholic High School.

Another technical change was making one of the council representatives a voting member — something consistent with most of the city’s other boards and commissions.

Previously, the HREC had served the council in an advisory capacity, researching issues of diversity and inclusion in the city. But with ambitions for events and programming similar to those run by the Madison Heights Arts Board, there was a desire to get more members involved on each of the HREC’s subcommittees.

Members of council shared their thoughts in a series of emails following the council meeting.

“I was convinced during the meeting that the addition of school community members to the HREC would be a benefit to the commission,” Rohrbach said. “I believe that having representatives on the HREC from our school districts will be beneficial. As an indigenous woman myself, I am truly personally invested in the work of equity in this community.

“The work of equity and inclusion is hard and never ends,” she continued. “I believe the good work this commission can do should not be overshadowed by controversy. I think most of us can agree that equity and inclusion are good, important goals. By establishing the HREC, we as a city have shown that we are committed to taking a real look at ourselves and finding ways to improve how we serve the community at every level, find our implicit biases and make changes that will benefit everyone. We can make lasting, continual changes to our city, with a commitment to equity, and I believe that the changes we made to the founding resolution will help us reach those goals.”

Currently, the HREC is working on a Juneteenth event for the summer. Juneteenth is June 19 and commemorates the end of slavery in the United States.

“I am very much looking forward to that,” Rohrbach said of the event. “In addition, we are considering how we can celebrate the beautiful diversity of our city. Many options are currently on the table, from cultural festivals to events that celebrate differently-abled people and the LGBTQIA community. This commission is brand new and is just getting started to help Madison Heights grow into a more inclusive, representative and welcoming community.”

Roslyn Grafstein, the mayor of Madison Heights, said the changes to the HREC are fitting.

“It only makes sense to expand their membership to include school representatives who have been elected by residents to make decisions in the best interest of our students,” Grafstein said, adding that in February, she reached out to the board presidents in the Madison and Lamphere school districts to arrange a meeting to see if there were any projects the city could work on in partnership with them. “We are still trying to firm up a date, but diversity and inclusion education is definitely something I wanted to talk about.”

Robert Corbett, another council member, agreed with the change.

“I think the wisdom in involving the school districts moves us closer to incorporating all the different and varied voices within our borders,” Corbett said.

Bliss shared some thoughts on why he suggested the amendment to include the schools.

“There has never been a more important time to collaborate with our schools on these important issues,” Bliss said. “Additionally, this revision will allow their subcommittees to expand, which is incredibly needed. Prior to this change, only two members were able to be on the Juneteenth event planning committee. As a comparison, with how the Arts Board is set up, the Trail Tunes subcommittee is able to have five. It’s a seemingly small change, but doubling their subcommittee sizes is an important step towards enabling this board to hold successful programs.”

Rohrbach said she’s excited by the commission’s new potential.

“I expect to see great things in the coming months and years,” she said, “and I look forward to more community involvement as we move forward.”

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