The Albany Human Relations Commission is in the middle of a rebranding after several members were reported to have ideals contradictory to the advisory board's original mission. And the Corvallis/Albany NAACP branch wants to ensure the new mission doesn't stray too far from creating a safe community for all, including people of color.
NAACP President Jason Dorsette and the group's political action chair, Susan Leonard, released a statement registering concern over the HRC's future.
"We firmly believe that one of the goals of the HRC moving forward should be to work to ensure that Albany is a safe and welcoming community for all residents," the statement read.
It came on the heels of the most recent joint session between the HRC and the Albany City Council, where the commission's purpose was up for debate. Some members question the need to hold events like Festival Latino and would rather the board focus on the community's commonalities, while others envision the HRC as a place for marginalized communities to bring their concerns.
The need to address the board's mission stems from reports in the Albany Democrat-Herald and Corvallis Gazette-Times that revealed members of the HRC held beliefs that flew in the face of the board's mission to strengthen connections in the city's diverse community.
The NAACP raised its concerns over the most recent discussions, noting that it hoped the board would work to ensure a welcoming community.
"Fostering that kind of community requires an unwavering commitment to equal opportunity, inclusion, and fair treatment for all residents, and a philosophy that recognizes diversity as a strength," the statement read. "Creating that kind of community requires an intentional emphasis on African Americans, Indigenous, and other people of color; as well as those with other marginalized identities; who have shouldered the plight of disparate living experiences in our local area."
The group also highlighted the need for activities and events that educate the community as well as celebrate cultural differences.
In February, at the first meeting meant to map out the HRC's future, City Councilor Bessie Johnson questioned the need for festivals dedicated to certain cultures, saying, "Events should be for everyone. It shouldn't be a Latino event or Hungarian event or German event. I go to St. Mary's (Catholic Church), and we had a festival (where) we had food and dances for everyone. So everyone felt comfortable going. It wasn't just like, OK, this is a Latino thing, I don't really want to go there because I guess it's for, and I don't want to offend anybody, but it's for their kind."
The HRC's mission is expected to be hashed out by a smaller group of members of the HRC and City Council while the board is set to meet and swear in officers in the near future.
"The NAACP is committed to building bridges with individuals and organizations to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion, and positive changes," the statement read in closing. "It is our hope and expectation that the Albany Human Relations Commission continues to work toward the same goals as our organization and others as we collectively seek to create a safe and welcoming environment for all."