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Arlington Continues Conversation About Equity Through A New Unity Council

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The city of Arlington is taking a data-driven approach to becoming more equitable through a new Unity Council.

The diverse, 25-member group will determine where inequity exists in the city and give recommendations to the city council for how to make things better.

A Summer of Social Justice

The council was created in late June following Black Lives Matter protests sparked by the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police. 

Jason Shelton is the council's chair and director of the Center for African American Studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. He said the protests and COVID-19 data on deaths showed significant racial and ethnic disparities, which pushed the city council to look at other places where inequity exists in Arlington. 

“This will be a full-fledged effort to produce a project that is reflective of the diversity of our city and will reflect the wide range of opinions as well,” Shelton said. “Diversity is not just about race, religion, ethnicity, and skin color and all of that stuff, but it's also about diversity of perspective as well. So we will address all of that and try to speak to those kinds of issues.” 

The council will look at five specific areas of disparity: economic, education, housing, health and policing. Shelton said within those areas, they'll be searching for patterns in the data to show where Arlington needs improvement. 

Getting To Work

The Unity Council held its first meeting last month, where Shelton encouraged members to identify at least five people from the community they’d be interested in talking with. He said that will help prepare the group for interviews once data has been collected and analyzed. 

First things first though: the council, with the help of the city manager’s office, has to comb through data and compare Arlington to cities of the same size and demographics. Shelton said the group will use that data to get a better idea of where Arlington stands nationally and in comparison to other cities. 

They’ll also use the stats to help inform interview questions for community members. 

“You can't just run numbers and not understand why the numbers look the way that they do," Shelton said.

Recommendations

The group’s final recommendations to Arlington's City Council are due in February. Shelton said they’ll approach those recommendations from a few different angles. 

“Like short-term recommendations, things that we can do essentially right now, more mid-range recommendations, things that might take some time within the next couple of years we need to address,” he said. “And then of course the long-term recommendations, things that five, 10 years from now that the city needs to take note of and continue to look at.” 

Shelton said the overarching goal is to make Arlington a more equitable place for future generations.

"Regardless of where they're from, regardless of what they look like, what religion they practice, what their sexual orientation is, all of those things," he said. 

Then, Shelton said, Arlington can live up to its slogan: "American Dream City."

The Arlington Unity Council will meet at least once a month until its final recommendations are due in February. The next meeting is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 25.

Got a tip? Email Rebekah Morr at rmorr@kera.org. You can follow her on Twitter @Bekah_Morr.

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