Race Talk: a call for a diversified planning and community development field

Race Talk panel at the MA planning Directors conference

By Beyazmin Jimenez & Elijah Romulus

The Race Talks was a combination of ideas that has been forming from the participation of several planners and community development professionals working in the community development field. Through a monthly book club and participation in the planning of the pro-housing YIMBYtown conference, many have been working towards finding ways to better address the need for more inclusive and equitable practices in their respective fields. Taking into account the past history of racial and class segregation that has plagued the planning world through policies and intentional action, many subscribe to the thinking that the same intention must be placed to help undo this legacy and prepare our communities for a more diverse and equitable future.

Our group consisted of professionals who have both experienced what it is like to be a minority professional in a White-dominated field and who are now leaders with hiring power using their experience to help mitigate the path for those coming up next. With the support from the Boston Foundation, The Massachusetts Smart Growth Alliance helped organize a delegation of 11 professionals to attend the MA Planning Directors (MAPD) Conference in North Adams. We had the pleasure of presenting this conversation at the event to help bring light to the need for more inclusive hiring practices. Our panel consisted of Beyazmin Jimenez, Civic Engagement Manager, Madison Park Development Corporation (moderator); Allenta Michel, Founder, Powerful Pathways; Elijah Romulus, Town Planner, Town of Bridgewater; Jim Pereira, Transportation Planner, Old Colony Planning Council and Pedro Soto, Associate Director, Beyond Walls. Guest panelist: Andre Leroux from the MA Smart Growth Alliance.

The conversation opened with quotes from the Color of Law, a crucial historical account by Richard Rothstein portraying the policies that enforced federal and local housing segregation nationwide and a basic question to our audience: What is the role of planners in increasing diversity and prioritizing equity in the planning and community development field? What followed was an honest conversation full of personal anecdotes and insightful feedback from the panelists on ways to move forward.

When it comes to hiring, reach out to different colleges with black student unions, high schools, etc. If and when you hire a person of color make sure you support them through the profession. You must cast a wide net to ensure not just a diverse pool of candidates, but to ensure outreach is targeting groups that would typically be left out. The public sector compared to the private sector isn’t as tough when it comes to issues of race but they work with private developers, contractors, lawyers, and the general public. In those cases you have to show full support of staff in that regard. Planners are the change agents and we must lead by example if we expect others to follow.

- Elijah Romulus, Assistant Town Planner, Town of Bridgewater

A simple overview of your job description will inform you if there are ways to extend the net to individuals who are typically overlooked when making hiring decisions. The demand for higher education, specifically a Master’s degree, can close out the doors to candidates with plenty of rich experience but who did not have the same educational opportunities afforded to their White colleagues.

- Allentza Michel, Powerful Pathways

A terminology and Color of Law timeline handout was distributed at the conference. Go to this link for a copy.

Our group will be debriefing on our experiences from the conference and determine how to continue to amplify this message across fields. We hope that this conversation will not just stay in the vicinity of our audience but that we can continue nudging at this problem and finding real solutions.

If you would like to plug-in to the Race Talk group or attend their brown bag, contact Anabelle Rondon at arondon@ma-smartgrowth.org.

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