As citizens across the nation continue to protest unfair treatment, Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry has created an equity initiative so the community can come together to help take steps to achieve the dream of a bias-free society.

The initial virtual listening session was Monday, June 29.

Focus groups will now work together during the next six months. Designated focus groups are: criminal justice, education, health/social services, media/business and neighborhood/clergy.

The public can sign up to join one of the focus groups. In addition, Mayor Henry will continue to host listening sessions over the next six months as part of the initiative.

At the virtual meeting, Mayor Henry laid out the framework for five listening sessions, one for each group, that are taking place this week.

“The purpose is to listen to the public and allow them to weigh in on their opinions as it relates to these different areas in our community,” he said.

Social unrest throughout the nation was a motivating factor for him to create this initiative, Mayor Henry said. “Clearly we’re not where we were in our (country’s) foundation. (But) we still have work to do in a lot of areas. So, I thought it would be appropriate for us to start talking about equality in areas and segments of our community where it’s important.”

Future steps will include focus groups transitioning from listening sessions to action plans in terms of how equity can be better achieved in the areas outlined. Groups will each have a facilitator.

Fr. Phil Egitto, pastor at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Beach, welcomed the initiative.

“I really think it is great that he is taking action and not just words,” Fr. Egitto said. “The group is opening the eyes and helping people understand the reality of the situation, which perhaps they didn’t really understand before. I think it’s great and I think our mayor is doing a great job in increasing our awareness in our community that we may start putting an end to at least some of the racism that exists.”

Sara Truhlar, part of the leadership team at Our Lady of Lourdes, coordinates a weekly parish Zoom meeting to discuss racism.

“We started a (weekly) Zoom discussion group to talk about how we should be responding as Christians,” Ms. Truhlar said. “This is on all of us. We have to start living with intention as anti-racists.”

She agrees with the areas on which the mayor has focused.

“The focus on this problem has been on police brutality with good reason, but the problem is way bigger than that,” she said. “Until we own that and become intentional about addressing all of these other areas, then we’re just going to continue to do what we’ve always done.

“The global solution to combating racism or creating global equity like Mayor Henry is saying is obviously to change everyone’s hearts and minds,” Ms. Truhlar said. “In the meantime, we have to look at how are schools are being funded, and how certain colors of people have or don’t have access to healthcare, or are they given opportunities for certain jobs or certain housing or certain financing. We’ve got to look at the global issue and not just focus on one thing which is what he’s (Mayor Henry) doing which is incredible. It’s just so great that he has taken this holistic approach. We have to keep going. We cannot stop.”

Nancy Keefer, president and CEO of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, said a different perspective is needed.

“I think we all have to look at business through different lenses and then look at our community through different lenses,” Ms. Keefer said. “I think that’s what the mayor is trying to do. From the business side of it, we’re pleased to be at the table having this conversation. It’s really important for business to do that. As the chamber of commerce, we will participate and see where we go as we move forward as we have these focus groups and talk about actionable plans.”

But it will be more than talk, she said.

“What we’re trying to do is figure out as a community together how we’re going to put some things into action,” Ms. Keefer said. “The mayor is very interested in making things come to fruition, to come to full action. We are absolutely happy to be a part of it. I want to make sure that we are really broadly represented. I want to make sure other businesses and organizations are at the table if they’re not (already). I want to make sure we have a really good inclusive conversation.”

She added Mayor Henry set up the structure, but it is up to people that want to be involved and be part of the solution to reach out now. She anticipates the groups to expand.

For more information or to add comments, email equityinitiative@codb.us or call (386) 671-8203.

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