Community relations

City is right to recognize, respect and value diversity by establishing new commission

It should not require a mention in this newspaper that diversity is a critical characteristic of our society – nationwide and in this community. Nor should it be that the various groups and individuals that create our collective diversity experience discrimination, either outright or in insidious ways, here and elsewhere. But because the notion of diversity still provokes ugly or simply ignorant behavior, it is worth a reminder that each and all of us is different for a litany of reasons and that each and all of us deserve to be treated with equal respect.

In establishing a community relations commission, the city of Durango does one better: It recognizes that there exists some tensions around diversity and provides a forum for diffusing and avoiding those tensions. It is a profound value statement that all in the community should applaud.

The Durango City Council voted Tuesday to form the commission, which will be charged with promoting “social harmony”; boosting participation in government, social, business and media activities; and recommending solutions when conflicts arise outside the city’s jurisdiction or mediating them when they are within its bounds.

The commission also will advise the City Council on policies it can adopt to “promote social harmony, prohibit discrimination, and encourage the creation of a regional community relations commission.” This last recognizes that the “community” in question extends beyond the city and should incorporate jurisdictions and organizations throughout the region to maximize the educational and outreach efforts required to promote diversity, discourage discrimination and boost civic engagement from all members of the community.

There is any number of ways to differentiate and categorize people – sex, race, economic status, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identification, marital status or political affiliation, to name just a few. And in each of those identities lies the potential for someone else to take and express umbrage – this despite the fact that there are federal laws in place prohibiting the practice.

Acknowledging that discrimination takes place in this community and setting about to address and correct it sends a powerful message to those who have experienced discrimination or demonstrated it – one that above all else is a learning opportunity. For every egregious episode of discrimination, there are far more low-level incidents where it is conceivable those involved were unaware of their actions’ impacts. In providing a venue for discussing these matters, the city helps move the community toward eliminating them.

The community relations commission has been a long time in the making and has involved input from a range of individuals and organizations. Fort Lewis College, the La Plata Unity Project and a U.S. Department of Justice conciliation specialist helped push it from conception to Tuesday’s approval.

Once the City Council appoints members – an exercise that should be handled with great consideration – the commission will have a unique challenge and opportunity to craft its identity and implement the charge granted it.

The potential to build common ground is great, but the formation of the commission alone is a significant statement for the values Durango holds closely. Kudos to the City Council and all those involved in advocating for the community relations commission.