Award Winner: A Proactive Discussion on Race
The Lake County Housing Authority (Ill.) developed a panel discussion where law enforcement officials, government officials, and those in educational leadership positions were asked to participate and to develop a strategy to confront the issue of race relations in the community. This program received an Award of Excellence in the Community Revitalization category, which includes programs that have a positive economic impact on a neighborhood or city, i.e. balanced growth, economic development, job creation; creative financing, public/private partnerships, mixed-use developments or neighborhood preservation. Nominated from among the NAHRO Award of Merit winners each year, the Awards of Excellence winners are chosen by national juries and honored at the annual National Conference and Exhibition in October. They represent the very best in innovative programs in assisted housing and community development.
In light of the recent tragedies involving law enforcement and people of color in the national news, Lake County Housing Authority (LCHA) decided to proactively address the issues of race in the community. The LCHA hosted a panel discussion called “A Proactive Discussion on Race in the Suburbs: What Unites Us is Far Greater than What Divides Us,” during which law enforcement officials, government officials, and those in educational leadership positions were asked to participate and to develop a strategy to confront these issues in the community. Community members and advocates were also invited to participate, making the panel well-rounded in experience and expertise. This was the first of three planned panel meetings. Key figures from the Lake County area came together to discuss the issues relating to race in the community—from law enforcement/community interaction to diversity in the educational system. Each participant spoke on the issues dealing with race from their point of view, and collectively developed solutions and plans of action to make the Lake County area more diversity-friendly and safe for all its citizens.
The LCHA Executive Director and CEO, David A. Northern, Sr., spearheaded the panel. He brought community leaders and members together to discuss all the ways they could help the Lake County community tackle the issues of diversity and community trust in law enforcement. Together, over the course of two months, the panel came up with strategies to improve race relations within the community. Mr. Northern began an email group chat, where members of the panel talked freely with one another to convey their ideas and demonstrate how the things discussed at meetings were being implemented. Mr. Northern and his LCHA team hosted each of the three meetings, and ensured that the panel had a safe and fruitful time discussing these very serious and sensitive issues.
Many positive outcomes grew out of the panel discussions. After the panels addressed trust issues between community citizens and law enforcement officers, in Round Lake and Grayslake, officers began building relationships with community youth by eating lunch with students. Lake County Housing Authority also arranged a family literacy night where families of all races and creeds attended, amongst community police officers to build stronger relationships and common ground. Local police officers and sheriffs coordinated with school officials to start a program where law enforcement came into schools during their lunch hours to build relationships with the children of the community. Panel members also forged relationships so that conflicts could be properly managed and prevented in the community and at schools.
The total cost of the project was minimal. All meetings were conducted during the normal work day, and LCHA employees served as facilitators. LCHA covered the costs of writing tools and presentation, and staff volunteered to cover the minimal cost of snacks at each meeting.
It is not typical for a housing authority to try and tackle community issues such as these; a city hall or members of government normally try to combat these issues. Police officers spending time with kids at schools to build relationships and trust is also not common practice. Programs such as these should start with the children, as they are the future of any and every community. Panel members, who are from all walks of life, had the opportunity to talk honestly and openly about a topic that is often swept under the rug instead of being brought to the forefront. It is through innovative efforts such as this that we can deal with and prevent current and future conflicts.