Community Meeting on Race Relations in Elk Grove Draws Large Crowd, Numerous Suggestions For Action

Meeting facilitator LaKenya Jordan (left) reads from a sheet held by Chris Hodgson offering suggestions to improve
race relations in Elk Grove. 

October 20, 2017 |   

A community meeting focused on fostering improved race relations in Elk Grove drew a capacity audience to the Elk Grove United Methodist Church last night. The event, which was organized by the South County African American Coalition, drew about 200 people who participated in the discussion and workshop to generate ideas on the topic.

The opening comments were delivered by Betty Williams, the president of the Sacramento Chapter of the NAACP.

"The reason we are having this meeting tonight is to have an honest discussion about racism and discrimination," Williams said. "Being honest about it doesn't mean you are against anyone or any idea."

Following William's comments, meeting facilitators Addie Ellis, PhD., and LaKenya Jordan, MPH., asked participants to break into smaller groups to discuss the race relations challenges in the city. Among those attending and participating in the group discussions were Elk Grove City Council Members Steve Detrick, Stephanie Nguyen, and Darren Suen (Mayor Steve Ly came later in the meeting); Elk Grove Police Chief Bryan Noblett; Elk Grove Deputy City Manager Kara Reddig; Elk Grove Unified School District Board of Trustee Bobbie Singh-Allen; and FBI Special Agent Arvinder Ginda.

Following the break-outs, the groups were asked to present concerns discussed in their sessions. One of the first groups pinpointed a concern expressed previously by a member of the Elk Grove City Council.

Without elaborating, the group said that "Elk Grove has a lot of un-ruralizing to do." During a recent City Council meeting, longtime Elk Grove resident and Council Member Pat Hume noted the city's "redneck heritage."  

Within that same group, one of the participants also noted they were unaware of racial challenges in the city. As communicated in the discussion, "She feels like she lives in a bubble."

Feedback from the other groups included comments about police relations with youth, especially youth of color in the city; having cultural festivals is not diversity; the lack of diversity in the City of Elk Grove's executive staff and the police department; and the lack of jobs, particularity for youth; and leadership needed from elected officials to address the problems.

One group made the salient point that "Elk Grove is diverse, but not a community."

Following the identification of the problems, Ellis and Jordan had the group reconvene and come up with two suggestions to present to the larger group.

Among the possible solutions presented was training for Elk Grove Police officers in how to more effectively deal with youth; the collection of data on hate crimes and incidents; attending city council and school board meetings to make elected officials more accountable.

"What I hear as I go around is the importance of your youth, and your children," Ellis said.

Several individuals in the audience also voiced ideas on how to effect change in the community. The ideas ranged from more activism at government meetings to holding elected official accountable.

"I want to challenge our elected officials that are here because it starts at the top," Michael Craft said. "We need to change the way we do business, change the complexion at city hall, and change how the mindset deals with Elk Grove. When we starting doing that, we'll see change."   

Another participant said the city council should reevaluate how much of the city's budget is spent on law enforcement.

"The first thing I want to do is not put more money into the police budget," Chris Lodgson said. 

Referring to an idea expressed at a recent Elk Grove City Council meeting by community activist Amar Shergill that the city established a budget item to help DACA residents, Logdson said the city should look at setting up a fund to help the victims of hate crimes.

FBI Supervising Special Agent Arvinder Ginda, who is in charge of the Sacramento Field Office's civil rights, hate crimes, and public corruption unit was invited to address the audience near the end of the meeting. Ginda acknowledged that is a difficult but necessary conversation, and while hate crimes affect the entire community, he did strike a hopeful note. 

"Don't let hate divide you," Ginda said. "Don't let hate separate you."

As the meeting was winding down, Kendra Lewis, who was one of the primary organizer of the conference thanked the community members and expressed hope the challenges can be overcome through further community involvement.

"We are better than some of the things that are happening in this community," she noted.

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