East Lansing’s Human Rights Commission is brainstorming various ways to engage the community on issues of human and civil rights now that one of its prior major responsibilities has been moved from its plate – reviewing policing and complaints about policing in East Lansing.
At the HRC’s Oct. 6 meeting, City Council liaison Ron Bacon shared that he and Mayor Jessy Gregg completed the process of interviewing 37 candidates for the Police Oversight Commission, and the East Lansing City Council approved the appointment of 11 individuals to serve on the commission. That new group is expected to meet for the first time in November.
Then, referring to the dedication of Robert L. Green Elementary School and the unveiling of a historical marker outside Green’s former home, Bacon encouraged the HRC to work on honoring the rich history of human and civil rights in East Lansing.
HRC Chair Chuck Grigsby agreed, saying that in the absence of overseeing policing in East Lansing, the HRC needs “to evolve on what we want to do” since this is the “first time that we need a new main thing.” (Access ELI’s archive of reporting on the HRC’s review of police complaints here.) Grigsby embraced the change as a moment for the HRC to better engage the community.
Those present – including Vice Chair Karen Hoene and Commissioners Thasin Sardar, Krystal Davis-Dunn, and Liz Miller – agreed and proposed ideas about what the HRC might do going forward to engage the community. (Commissioners Pat Canon, Carla McWherter, and Katherine Rifiotis Slivensky were not in attendance, and Grisgby announced that Quentin Tyler had stepped down from the HRC.)
Bacon spoke first, identifying voting rights, environmental justice, and housing as three significant issues for the HRC to address. Hoene agreed and called for creating three subcommittees to address the issues. She, along with Grigsby, recommended cooperating with East Lansing’s Housing Commission to ensure the needs of protected classes are being met.
Davis-Dunn suggested recognizing specific members of the community during meetings and creating spaces for more meaningful conversations with the community than can happen in just five minutes of public comment, such as conversations and coffee and panels – events the HRC has hosted in the past.
In addition to the areas Bacon recommended, Davis-Dunn called for following up with more work to address the City’s resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis.
The commissioners also embraced another topic proposed by Bacon: addressing the needs of senior citizens and the elderly in East Lansing. The idea, he said, was informed by the League of Women Voters posing a question at their candidate forum about whether it is possible to age-in-place in East Lansing.
Miller suggested holding an event with a panel of three to four individuals in the spring to tackle the issue and said that discussing seniors’ concerns would allow for an intersectional approach, pointing out that members of the LGBTQ+ community must consider if they will be welcome where they choose to grow old. Davis-Dunn pointed to the importance of learning from elders in the community and Hoene to issues of healthcare access.
Davis-Dunn also proposed a conversation that examines the implications of the State of Michigan and public universities being barred from considering race as a criteria for hiring or admissions – a process often referred to as affirmative action.
In closing, Grigsby encouraged commissioners to send him their ideas for community engagement. He called the discussion “exactly the conversation we needed tonight” and thought it would help the HRC “do wonderful things” going forward.
The HRC is scheduled to meet next on Wednesday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. The special presentation, “Repairing the Breach: Faith-Based Reparations in the Greater Lansing Area,” which had been set for Oct. 6, will be rescheduled for a future meeting.