Reaching for representation hands

Thankfully, Cheyenne isn’t like Minneapolis, Columbus or Chicago, where every time you turn around, another Black person is being killed by a white police officer. But that doesn’t mean Wyoming’s capital city doesn’t discriminate against people based on the color of their skin (or their economic status or sexual orientation, for that matter). That bias just manifests itself in less-violent ways.

And even though most of us knew it to be true already, we hope our two-part “Reaching for Representation” project today and last Sunday will not only spotlight a problem in our community, it will get a conversation going about how to change things for the better here. Because it’s not enough to simply know there’s a problem. We have to work hard at overcoming it.

So where do we begin? Well, the good news is we already have – at least in one small way. Last year, the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees voted to change the way its seven-member board is elected. Starting next year, while four members will continue to be elected to at-large seats (meaning by voters across the state’s largest K-12 district), three will be chosen by voters in areas roughly lining up with the district’s three triads – South, East and Central.

That means candidates for those three seats can focus on campaigning in a smaller area, which should allow more people – including some with fewer resources – to get elected. While there’s no guarantee, of course, the hope is it will lead to at least some minority representation on the all-white board.

But that’s just a small step toward solving a much larger problem. As our series pointed out, we need to be offering seats at decision-making tables all over our community, not just on the school board.

That means elected leaders in our community must intentionally seek out the opinions of those who aren’t represented in key decisions. And they can’t just sit back and say, “Well, our meetings are open to anyone who wants to attend.” They must go to where people live, holding gatherings in low-income neighborhoods and at times when people’s jobs are most likely to allow them to participate.

It means encouraging minority members of our community to serve on committees and provide input before key decisions that affect them are made. And we’re not just talking about government bodies here, either. We’re including the local Chamber of Commerce, nonprofits like United Way, and civic groups like Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions. (After having two minority community members in recent years, this editorial board is currently without a minority voice, so we are working to fix that.)

It should be obvious, but without making this effort, Cheyenne and surrounding communities will continue to perpetuate and exacerbate the disparity between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

Take the area south of the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, for example. Sure, there’s South High School, one of the nicest school facilities in the state, as well as David R. Romero South Cheyenne Community Park. But south Cheyenne also is home to most of the oldest elementary schools in the state, and Johnson Junior High is still waiting for a new synthetic turf football field like the ones built at McCormick and the new Carey Junior High.

Was this intentional discrimination, an undercurrent of preferential treatment or simply an oversight? We don’t know, and it’s not really important at this point. The past is the past. What’s important is that we all make a conscious effort to do better going forward.

But wait, don’t members of minority communities have a role in this, too? Of course they do. In order to gain the representation they deserve, Black, Latinx, LGBTQ and other residents must be willing to step out of their comfort zones and make themselves heard.

That doesn’t just mean deciding to run for elected office. It can be as simple as picking up the phone and calling someone to share an opinion about a key issue. It could mean getting a group of friends together to write emails or letters to advocate for change. It might mean setting aside time and making the effort to attend a government meeting in person so officials can see people care.

For example, if south Cheyenne residents feel strongly that Johnson Pool needs to be renovated, they’ve got to tell council members they want them to make it a higher priority. And those who live south of the city limits might want to lobby council members to annex their neighborhoods into the city so they can press for the same infrastructure upgrades as other areas. (Or they could remind Laramie County commissioners that they represent ALL county residents, not just those who live in rural areas, and ask them to consider funding upgrades.)

Regardless of what action you choose to take, and no matter the color of your skin, we encourage you to do something. Because the status quo isn’t good enough, and the time to move toward equal representation is now.

WE WANT TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK: Contact us via email at opinion@wyomingnews.com.

Article published by the Wyoming Tribune Eagle: https://www.wyomingnews.com/opinion/staff_editorials/we-all-have-work-to-do-to-achieve-equal-representation/article_bb31ae33-7324-557f-b9f6-2237e543a74e.html