What began as a summit hosted by Whole Child Leon County in early 2019 has become a coalition of community leaders and advocates known as Equity Tallahassee Leon — a group committed to starting the difficult conversations surrounding implicit bias and racism in Leon County.
Courtney Atkins, the Executive Director of Whole Child Leon, says a facilitated discussion of more than 300 people in September 2019 led to the community wanting to embrace the work that Whole Child Leon was doing. From there, they created the steering community of Equity Tallahassee Leon.
The steering community has nine members total, which includes City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox and Shonda Knight, the executive director of community and media relations for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office.
“We decided to create a website and have videos of people in our community telling their stories dealing with racism in an effort for people who think it’s not happening here or don’t understand racism or the historic background of institutional racism to use this as an educational moment and be able to listen to their neighbors talk about their experiences,” Atkins said.
Atkins says examples of inequity in Leon County include redlining in communities and the lack of resources in Title 1 schools.
“I think that schools on the north end and other economically secure areas, their PTOs are a lot more active because maybe there’s one parent in the household not working and they can be involved, but when families are struggling with poverty and working one or two jobs, it’s hard to get super engaged in your child’s school,” Atkins said.
Williams-Cox said food deserts in Leon County are also examples of inequity in the community. As the second Black woman to be elected as a City Commissioner in 200 years, her hope for this coalition is to lift up those who feel like they have been left behind and continue the conversation on solutions to move the city forward.
“We cannot let there be another 200 years before that happens again,” Commissioner Williams-Cox said. “Those are also the kinds of things we have to look at as far as equity in employment as well and making sure people can earn a decent living.”
Knight said that her hope is that the coalition can start to break down some of the barriers that exist when it comes to racial tension, stereotypes and misinformation.
“For me, the more we get out of our comfort zones and open our minds and hearts to want to learn someone else’s perspective, the more we’re going to learn what makes all of us valuable,” Knight said.
Equity Tallahassee Leon has a challenge for the first week of March, “an exchange of perspectives,” to get people to reach out to someone of a different race and background to sit down, have a deeper conversation and then share it on their website.
“We really want people to understand that equity is not the same as equality,” said Atkins. “We want to ensure that racism and ethnicity are not predictors of life outcomes.”