The Sandy Springs City Council in November will begin considering comments about race and social justice from approximately 250 attendees of a series of meetings. But that will not include any data about the attendees’ own diversity, as their race, ethnicity and other demographic information were not recorded, according to attendance records obtained by the Reporter.
Two high-profile attendees — Black Lives Matter activist Lydia Singleton-Wells and state Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick (R-Marietta) — said in interviews that more diversity was needed in the “Civic Dinners on Inclusion & Belonging,” which were held in July and August.
“The group I was in wasn’t very diverse and I think ‘building in’ different demographics might be useful,” said Singleton-Wells, who is Black and who organized Black Lives Matter protests in Dunwoody earlier this year. “The Civic Dinner I attended was great. However it took place with a group of like-minded people and you really truly need differing people from differing backgrounds to get a complete understanding of what the problem is before you can fix it.”
Kirkpatrick, who is White and represents parts of Sandy Springs and Cobb County, generally agreed while saying she hopes the city continues the discussion effort.
“Many people stay in their comfort zone in their daily lives, especially in this pandemic, and they may not routinely be around others from different walks of life,” Kirkpatrick said. “Developing personal relationships can really help build bridges across many lines and I hope we’ll be able to safely do this face-to-face in the near future.”
In the meeting process, local residents, business people and activists took part in 44 virtual discussions hosted on the platform of the private company Civic Dinners. A city employee took notes that will be the basis of a report to be submitted to the City Council in November, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said.
Mayor Rusty Paul proposed the meetings and brought the idea to the City Council on June 2 after Rabbi Brad Levenberg of the local Temple Sinai and chair of the Sandy Springs Interfaith Clergy Association asked him to have the city host a town hall meeting on racism and social injustice. The pandemic prevented in-person meetings.
Attendees could sign up to volunteer to participate in sessions already scheduled. Or they could volunteer to host their own session. Kraun said demographics were not recorded.
The council may take action or develop policy based on what it learns from the discussions. City Council members did not attend the sessions.
“I think the Civic Dinners were wonderful for the community, but I believe that the city of Sandy Springs needs to have to be a more diverse and intentional conversation,” said Singleton-Wells. “City officials and all those in authority in Sandy Springs need to truly dig deep into the current racial divide and utilize a very diverse panel to discuss creative and in depth solutions to move forward.”
The idea of Civic Dinners-hosted discussions is great because attendees can learn much through talking with people from different backgrounds, Kirkpatrick said.
She liked that the discussion was structured around specific questions.
Kirkpatrick said she was familiar with the concept from experiences with the Atlanta Regional Commission, so she was pleased when Sandy Springs tried it.
“I hope the effort will continue to engage people from different backgrounds. Sandy Springs seems committed to the idea of community discussions and I am encouraged by this initial effort,” she said.