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Forum addresses discrimination concerns

Springfield surveys used to start dialog about key issues.

Surveys compiled by the city’s Human Relations Board last year show race, color and sexual orientation to be the biggest issues of discrimination in the community.

The findings were released by the board at the first of two community forums on discrimination, held Thursday at the Springfield High School Learning Cafe.

The board compiled the civil rights surveys at last year’s CultureFest. They received 202 surveys, but 36 could not be used because participants did not include enough information.

While the surveys are not scientific because of sample size, said board president Eric Smith, “It’s a taste of what people are saying in our community.”

The surveys asked residents if discrimination existed in a variety of categories, including race, color, national origin, ancestry, age, military status, family status, gender, religion, disability status and sexual orientation.

Of all the categories, racial discrimination received the most hits, followed by color and sexual orientation. A pie chart displaying the total of all surveys showed 13 percent believed racial discrimination existed, followed by color (12 percent) and sexual orientation (11 percent). Age, disability and national origin all came in at 10 percent.

After the findings were released, audience members combined into small groups to talk about their experience with discrimination in Springfield. They were asked to discuss three questions, including:

• What has been your experience related to discrimination in Springfield?

• What is a picture of Springfield as a place without discrimination?

• How might we work together to achieve that picture for Springfield?

The group session saw participants speak about what they considered housing discrimination, the negative perception of the south side, the need for LGBT citizens to be protected under citizen ordinances and a lack of diversity in hiring practices among others.

Residents believe more events like CultureFest and Holiday in the City can help bring all types of people together in the community. The groups also said more organizations like Peacekeepers and the local NAACP chapter can help make the community a better place.

A second forum will be held from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on March 5 at United Senior Services, 101 S. Fountain Ave.

“We wanted to make sure you felt heard,” said board member Winkie Mitchell.

The information from the forums will be collected used by the Human Relations Board as it moves forward in future months. Smith encouraged citizens to attend the public meetings, which are held on the fourth Monday of each month with the exception of May and September, which will be held on the third Monday. They’re held in the second floor conference room at City Hall, 76 E. Main St.

“You can be a part of shaping what’s next,” Smith said.

The human relations board has seven members: Smith, Mitchell, Samina Ahmed, Philana Crite, Cynthia Harshaw, Amy Knapp and Jackie Schafer. The board’s liaison is Mayor Warren Copeland. The board was created by the city to study and educate citizens about equal rights, according to the codified ordinances.

The board’s vision is “to support the City of Springfield as a community where all people are given every opportunity to experience dignity, tolerance, value, purpose and belonging, regardless of race, color, national origin, ancestry, age, military status, gender, religion, disability status, sexual orientation and other expressions of human diversity.”

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