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The members of an advisory committee on racism and social equity in the City of Sonora spent most of a recent meeting drafting a purpose statement and debating the intended purview of the group.

At the conclusion, they had finalized a rough draft that may be edited by the time the group meets again in two weeks. The purpose statement will serve as a guide to the function of the committee in the coming months, when it plans to hold public workshops or community engagement programs and draft a resolution for the City Council to consider.

"I think it's honest. I think it's realistic. I think it's what was asked of us when we were asked to form this committee," Councilwoman Colette Such said during the meeting. 

The draft was read by committee member Mercedes Tune as follows: "The purpose of the Social Equity Committee is to provide clarity about social and racial equity in our community; that we have an active commitment to fairness and justice and to find common ground and common language for civil interactions; to listen to diverse voices in the community, especially those at the margins, to understand impacts and provide safe spaces to have conversations; and to explore systems and unidentified areas of opportunity to ensure they work on behalf of the common good for all.”

The statement will be forwarded to each member for consideration and voted on at the next meeting.

The five members of the public who serve on the committee are Nikki Coleman, Darren Duez, Nathan Morales, Sylvia Roberts and Tune. Such and Councilman Jim Garaventa represent the city on the committee.

Roberts and Morales were not present at Monday’s meeting.

The group began with a discussion centered around four purpose statements credited to Roberts, Duez, Tune and Such. Much of the discussion centered on diction within those statements and how they could be integrated. They debated the use of specific words they all agreed to include, and how they could all find consensus with the mandate of the committee.

"Collectively, we are trying to put out there our aspirations for this committee," Tune said.

Coleman later added, "I want people to know we're trying to do good work and find outcomes for all." 

Duez raised multiple points of contention during the discussion, often referencing conversations he had with community members about the undefined function of the committee.

"I would like to sit down and really figure it out,” he said. “We don't know what we are here for, still.”

Duez argued much of the conversation was focused on "racial talk" and a "narrative" when social equity could define a larger breadth of issues from homelessness to mental health. 

"We're getting a lot of crap, I don't know about you guys, but I definitely do," he said. "Nothing is above the other. Everything is on the table is how I want to go at it."

Other members cautioned those answers for the community would come in time once the statement is more clearly defined.

"It's not going to be instant,” Garaventa said later in the meeting. “We're not going to have all the answers straight out.”

Duez also requested the statement be written in "simple text" for the benefit of community understanding. 

"If you need a law degree to read that, it's going to get convoluted and people are going to get mad," he said. "Where do you think that anger is going to come to? Us. Keep it simple."  Committee members agreed to later discuss times for community workshops and conversations and to find city agency policies on race to review at the next meeting.

The committee also discussed a racist incident during a Black Lives Matter protest in October that generated a viral video seen by millions of people around the world. 

During the incident, a woman with a Trump/Pence sign repeatedly used racial slurs and political epithets against an 18-year-old woman, who was white. The exchange was captured on video and viewed more than 1.5 million times over multiple social media platforms. 

Most of the committee members who spoke on the issue characterized it as a mental health issue as opposed to a racial one.

"It was less about race and more about mental illness," Such said. "I thought they handled it very well. I thought they were very kind."

Duez paraphrased a post he saw online by a Black man who said the slur didn't bother him because "sticks and stones won't break his bones."

Tune said she would like to see a community response with community organizations providing services. 

"This business of 'we're just going to lock people up and not address mental health issues' is clearly wrong," said David Goldemberg, county supervisor-elect for District 1, who was present for the discussion. 

At the beginning of the meeting, Tune also wished to acknowledge National Native American Heritage Month, noting Tuolumne County as the land of the Me-Wuk Tribe.

Coleman, who said she was Native American as well as Hawaiian, sang a traditional Hawaiian chant that she said is intended to have listeners reflect on their ancestors and what they stood for. 

Goldemberg also addressed the group before the discussion about the statement

"I've just got an interest with what's going on with this group and wanted to participate in the meeting just more for listening and education for myself and see what you folks have going on," he said. "I very much believe in these types of efforts. I think it's important." 

It was several weeks since the last committee meeting, which was held on Oct. 13. The next meeting was canceled in the wake of a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. power shutoff.

The committee decided to cancel a discussion about a mission statement as redundant. This was the first meeting with time limits to improve the efficacy of the meetings. 

The committee plans to eventually write a resolution on racism in the community and pass it along to the city council for approval. 

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.

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