Madison Mayor Seeks to Improve Race Relations: Multi-Pronged Approach Uses Task Force, Commission as Resources. (Cities Promoting Racial Equality)

Article excerpt

In response to NLC's March 2000 Campaign to Promote Racial Justice, more than 225 cities took steps to create urban environments within which all individuals would feel respected and valued. In this series of articles, NLC looks at some of these cities two years later, to give them an opportunity to share their accomplishments and ongoing efforts to reduce racism and promote racial justice in their cities.

In 1998, Susan Bauman, mayor of Madison, Wis., created the Task Force on Race Relations to develop a strategic plan for respecting diversity and undoing racism in the city of Madison, where 16 percent of Madison's 208,054 residents are African-American, Asian or Latino.

Mayor Bauman sees improving race relations in Madison as one of her most important priorities. "My vision of the City of Madison is a community that respects and values the richness of our diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds," she said.

In May 1999 the task force issued a number of recommendations in the areas of economic development, education, home ownership, multicultural initiatives and recreational activities for youth. The recommendations involved various city agencies and other organizations such as the Madison Metropolitan School District. The Equal Opportunities Commission was assigned to keep track and report yearly to the mayor and common council on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations.

A key recommendation of the task force was the implementation of a Study Circles on Race Program.

Mayor Bauman appointed a steering committee that became the pilot group for the first group of circles that began meeting in September 2000. Each group of 15 to 18 people had two trained facilitators and held 10 weekly meetings to dialogue on the sensitive issue of race.

According to Anthony Brown, executive director for the Equal Opportunities Commission, "Since our city has begun implementing the recommendations of the Task Force on Race Relations, particularly the Study Circle Program, I have observed a vast number of people from a wide spectrum of our community wanting to get more involved to improve cultural and ethnic relationships."

After completing the dialogue phase, circles will move on to implement an action phase. A total of 17 circles have met over the last two years involving 34 facilitators and approximately 225 participants. "As mayor of Madison, I am committed to the Study Circles on Race Program," said Bauman. "I believe our participation in this program will make what is already a great city, even better. …