On Thursday, Aug. 20, the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) hosted the first meeting of its Equity & Inclusion Commission. Ambassador Andrew Young delivered a virtual keynote address to the 26-member commission, which is chaired by LaGrange Mayor and GMA First Vice President Jim Thornton and Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis.
In his welcome, Davis reminded his fellow Commission members that, “the role of the GMA Equity and Inclusion Commission is to recommend actions that bear witness to the principles of justice, equality and fairness, develop a long-term plan of action to address institutional and systemic racism, and equip city leaders to listen thoughtfully and dialogue constructively with the residents they serve,” he said.
GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson reminded Commission members of the importance of listening deeply, uniting widely, and acting boldly in order to bring justice to the complex systems that shape and influence today’s society. These systems are included in (but not limited to) some of the commission’s focus areas of training and education, state legislation, public safety reform and employment. The Commission will also address, propose and implement solutions for additional impediments to equity including housing, medical access, food disparities and development.
“Today GMA begins its journey to address the ugly legacy of systemic racism and inequality,” said Vince Williams, Union City mayor and GMA president in his remarks to the Commission. “This is a big step, a courageous step and the right step for our cities and the state of Georgia, and our association is uniquely positioned to tackle these issues and serve as a catalyst for lasting change,” he said.
“Solving problems starts with a conversation,” said Commission Co-chair and LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton, GMA first vice president, as he urged transparency and set the tone of the commission’s time together. “Let’s have an open, honest, and truthful conversation. Let’s practice that virtue that we know as empathy, where we try to place ourselves in someone else’s position and see the world through their eyes.”
“What cities have to do is find a way to create places of peace, places where people get along with each other regardless of their color of skin and how rich or poor they are,” said Ambassador Young during his address. “Places where the law is respected and where education and health are cared for.”
Ambassador Young closed with a message of hope for the Commission and by quoting Georgia music icon, Otis Redding, “Take your time,” he said. “When you have problems, try a little tenderness. When things are going wrong, all it takes is a little respect to go a long way. If we work together as brothers and sisters, we will succeed.”
The commission was created in early June when the GMA officers, led by Dublin Mayor Phil Best, GMA immediate past president, GMA President Vince Williams, sent a statement to the membership that expressed the association’s strong opposition to racism, violence and acts of injustice, inequity and inequality that was occurring across the nation.
With the support of a 12-member GMA staff team, a mid-term report will be issued to the Board of Directors in January 2021, and a final report will be presented to the Board and membership at the 2021 Annual Convention. It is anticipated that the Commission will meet monthly through June 2021.