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Commission on Racial and Structural Equity Heads into a Busy Month

Patti Singer

By July 31, the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity plans to have its members in place and by the week of Aug. 3 wants to schedule the first meeting.

The ambitious timetable was announced at a June 29 news conference by chairpersons William A. Johnson Jr., Muhammad Shafiq and Arline Santiago. The roles for former mayor Johnson and Shafiq, executive director in the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, previously had been announced.

Then again, the commission has a deadline. RASE, announced earlier in June by County Executive Adam Bello and Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren to look at changing policies and laws to dismantle structural racism and inequity, is expected to issue a report in January.

Arline Santiago was announced June 29 as the third chairperson of RASE. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Johnson and Shafiq made their first public statements in their roles, and they were joined by Santiago. The senior vice president and general counsel at ESL Federal Credit Union was announced as part of the commission’s leadership team at the June 29 news conference.

“It’s an honor to be asked to serve … both as a community member and as an officer of ESL Federal Credit Union,” Santiago said.

She said ESL is intricately tied to the community and as an institution, it understands that structural racism remains pervasive.

“This topic is painful for many but we must not shy away,” she said. “Engaging in conversation and working together … can result in positive and long-lasting change.”

Santiago was added to bring business and legal acumen, according to Bello and Cephas Archie, the city’s chief diversity officer who represented Warren at the news conference.

County Executive Adam Bello and former Rochester Mayor William A. Johnson Jr. before a news conference June 29, 2020. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Johnson and Shafiq said the commission needs to be inclusive and they sought representation not just among women, but also from the private sector and from someone with experience in community groups. Santiago has been involved with Foodlink and PathStone.

The three laid out the commission’s short-term plan.

  • The deadline is 5 p.m. July 10 for anyone 16 and older who is interested in being part of the commission. In order to be considered, people must apply at or by calling (595) 753-1090 to get an application. Invitations to apply are being sent to segments of the community that may not otherwise know about the commission.
  • A community-based panel will screen applicants. The commission will be selected by Bello and Warren, ideally by the end of July. Johnson said that because the commission is talking about changing laws, about eight seats will be reserved for representatives from City Council and the Monroe County Legislature. He said law enforcement also will be represented. Johnson said there may be more than 13 community seats, but the number would not become unwieldy.
  • Early meetings of the commission would involve forming subgroups and developing ways to reach as much of the community as possible. Shafiq said that even if people aren’t selected for RASE, they still will have an opportunity to participate in commission activities.
Muhammad Shafiq, one of the chairpersons of RASE. Photo by Patti Singer/Minority Reporter Media Group

Shafiq said that once seated, the commission will:

  • review existing rules and laws affecting multiple sectors;
  • look at relevant work and research from other counties and states, and make recommendations that are realistic, relevant and result in change that brings equity;.
  • involve the community through town hall meetings and other outreach; and
  • find creative ways to ensure that young people are involved and intergenerational voices are heard.

“The goal is to allow the community to become a shining star in racial equity, justice and harmony,” Shafiq said.