Hall finally gets to serve on REAC

It took a few months, but Olivia Hall finally attended her first Racial Equity Advisory Committee meeting as a member Sept. 1.

“I’m really grateful to be here today,” she said, adding the community’s voices were heard.

Hall was nominated to the committee months ago by City Councilmember Brenda Fantroy-Johnson. But during the selection process, Fantroy-Johnson did not disclose that Hall worked on her campaign committee. That led to the council initially denying a spot on REAC to Hall. But when Fantroy-Johnson later announced the relationship publicly at a council meeting, the members changed their minds and voted Hall in. Community support for Hall was strong, as more than 20 people spoke in favor of her at one council meeting.

“It shows the power of WE and how important that is,” she said. “I’m really proud of our community.”

REAC co-chair Renni Bispham added, “I’m excited and looking forward to a fresh perspective and additional energy” on the committee.

But as Hall came on board, Deanna Martinez attended her last meeting. She had to do it via Zoom as a family member recently tested positive for COVID. “I’m sorry I can’t be there physically,” she said, adding it’s been an honor to work on REAC. If anyone needs help, “I’m there at the end of the phone line.”

Bisham said Martinez spoke loudly for justice, and, “We are going to miss that.”

In other news, REAC member Clarissa San Diego talked about an update to the work plan due to changes on the panel and because of things they’ve learned over the past two years.

She said they’d like their subcommittees to align with other city committees and suggested adding climate action and technology to their list. She said they want more community outreach regarding race on BI. They also want to develop tactics for the city to make it and the police department more equitable.

San Diego said REAC received $35,000 from the city in 2020, but nothing since, and therefore only has a balance of about $1,000. Earlier they made a budget request for $11,000, but they’d like to increase that to $20,000 as the council begins budget deliberations.

It was mentioned that the city is looking at a new position, an equity and inclusion officer, who could help REAC.

Meanwhile, REAC member Eric Stahl talked about seven items on a “to do” list for the next several months. They include: Work on soft changes such as art and a name for the new police-court facility; work with city manager Blair King on a “race equity tool kit” that could include hiring an equity officer and making sure city policies include equity; recruiting and transition work with council members; improve police-community relations; work with King on contracting with more minority businesses; affordable housing; and city code.

Also, co-chair Savannah Rovelstad said they have a lot of ideas for events, but their next big one is Oct. 9-10 at BARN to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and Filipino Heritage Month. She said a drum-making workshop will be popular, along with cooking demonstrations. “Food is one of the biggest reasons people come” to events, she added. She said Bainbridge Artisan and Resource Network will allow the use of their studios to help REAC save money.

And, Ellen Schroer, deputy city manager, said she is gathering data until mid-September. She has found that REAC members spend from 15 to 65 hours a month. “That’s an extraordinary amount of time” to give to the community, she said. Schroer said members have told her they appreciate things like the racial equity training city staff is receiving, and their increased involvement in policy decisions. However, they still desire improved communications with the council and staff.

Finally, Janna Cawrse Esarey of Bainbridge Reads talked about a program to educate the community about justice. The book “Stamped” will be used. It talks about African American history in a casual, conversational, relatable and sometimes humorous tone. Films and expert panel presentations also will be part of it, along with in-person and online discussions. It will be discussed at the City Council meeting Sept. 13.

Olivia Hall, second from right, at her first REAC meeting as a member.