County government continues work on community equity, social justice involvement

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 10/11/19

PITTSBORO — What started in March 2018 as the creation of a Human Relations Task Force has continued to churn, and the Chatham County Board of Commissioners heard the latest update on the effort …

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County government continues work on community equity, social justice involvement

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Posted

PITTSBORO — What started in March 2018 as the creation of a Human Relations Task Force has continued to churn, and the Chatham County Board of Commissioners heard the latest update on the effort Monday.

Courtney Cooper-Lewter, a part-time analyst with the county, presented the newest information on the county’s plans to seek, as stated in February by task force co-chair Hunter Blanton, “measurable progress to non-discrimination and equity.”

Cooper-Lewter said Monday that she had been working over the last few months to research successful human relations or social justice models and seek community input on what citizens would like from the government’s involvement. The general consensus? Ease into things and let the community take the lead.

“I just think we should really slow down and phase in, try to support what is already existing and see if we can get some community leaders from that,” Cooper-Lewter said. “If we just slow down a little bit, I think we can get exactly what we hope to get from this process.”

The major recommendations from both the task force and community members were three-fold: rebrand human relations, build trust in the community and increase community engagement opportunities. The first involved changing the wording into something easier to understand, like “social justice” or “community engagement,” while the other two involved government officials and county employees becoming more visible and more involved in the process while not leading things.

One little way the county has tried to do that, Cooper-Lewter said, is by creating name tags for county employees and officials to wear at events to designate them as working for the county. It’s part of an effort to raise awareness of county involvement

“We’re trying to create something that’s non-traditional, so we have the opportunity to shape it how we see fit,” she said. “I think it’s important that we complement the existing community equity and engagement efforts. I think you can get creative about how that will happen.”

Cooper-Lewter said the task force was having a difficult time finding people to be involved and lead the effort, something Blanton mentioned in February.

“To maintain diversity and inclusion, all individuals have to participate fully,” he said. “Screening was about making sure those who were interested in being part of the leadership team fully understand the time and commitment and the expectations. Human relations work is super hard.”

Commissioner Karen Howard said work like this needed to take place — with the government working in support of community groups — especially in light of recent discussion and tension over the placement of the “Our Confederate Heroes” monument in downtown Pittsboro.

“Behind that is a very different conversation, and I think some groups would like to reach out to each other,” she said. “I don’t think this should be a commissioner-led, government mandated thing. It should be something that the community supports.”

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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