NLC to hold meetings

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 21, 2004

Editor’s Note: Starting Monday, June 21, the National League of Cities will host a trio of meeting designed to help Selma become a stronger community.

In an effort to help make the citizens aware of the meetings and get them involved, the Selma Times-Journal will run a series of four articles presenting the contents of the Community assessment report.

We offer these excerpts without comments from local officials in an effort to let the public decide whether or not this is an effort they want to support. This is part four of a four-part series

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After a year of work, the National League of Cities (NLC) will hold a trio of community meetings later this month to discuss the findings of their community assessment report.

An NLC team visited Selma in 2003, spoke with 14 focus groups and various political, social and religious leaders as well.

The NLC’s purpose is to assist the community in improving race relations and the quality of life in Selma.

The NLC compiled a 27-page booklet that takes a serious look at Selma’s race relations, educational situation and economic development.

The NLC will release their findings in a trio of meetings.

The first meeting will be Monday, June 21 from 7-9 p.m. at the Carl Morgan Convention Center.

The second will be Tuesday, June 22 from 10 a.m.- noon at the Council Chambers at the Selma City Hall.

The third meeting will be Wednesday, June 23 from 4-6 p.m. at the convention center.

According to the NLC, Selma residents had several ideas about how to improve Selma’s future.

“People see the tension between the history of the Civil War (the battle of Selma, a city event which celebrates the Civil War) and the history of the Civil Rights Movement (the Jubilee event, a city event which celebrates Civil Rights).

Even the young adults noticed and commented on the need to create a bride between the two events and believe it will never happen.

Each event remains celebrated by predominantly one racial group.

Many spoke to the importance of creating one major event that all members of the community can come together and celebrate.”

The book says through a comprehensive change effort, Selma can create a new culture that seeks to encourage the whole community.

To achieve goals such as better education, better race relations, further economic development and effect local government, the community must address how it works together.

“This community culture will help dismantle some of the power struggles that have been barriers to addressing the pressing social and systemic issues.

To create this culture, it will mean Selma residents, beyond the usual faces, will need to step forward, roll up their sleeves, takes some risks and get involved. Every Selma resident, especially those in current leadership positions in Selma will need to ask, ‘How should I conduct myself differently, to support this new culture?’ While visiting Selma, the residents told the NLC team about several conflicts among members of the city council.

The tension among those in leadership, both black and white, has led many to be disenchanted, so change needs to occur first.

The local elected officials can model what Selma can be through their leadership and willingness to address conflicts.”

The commission recommends that One Selma replicate their dialogue across racial lines to other areas of the community. They add that young people must play a part in improving racial relationships. The NLC gives several questions the community must answer as they decide whether or not to proceed with the process.

“Do you agree with the list of assets and the challenges about governance and leadership, education, economic development, and race relations, the City of Selma faces outlined in this report? – If not, what challenges are missing in this report? -If not, what community assets are missing in this report?

What do you believe are the immediate priorities in each of the issues areas?

Who are individuals and organizations who you believe can provide the leadership to this change process? Are you willing to get involved to address Selma’s challenges and leverage its assets?”

The NLC warns the road won’t be easy.

“It will be filled with disappointments and possibly failures, and also filled with great opportunity for change and growth.

During previous visits, the NLC team consistently found that residents of Selma are committed, passionate, tenacious and ready to move forward because they believe in this great community and want to create a new legacy for its residents and the nation.”

The meetings set up for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday will allow the NLC to hear responses to questions and to listen to ideas on the best ways to proceed.

“After the community of Selma has had an opportunity to review and discuss this report, and agrees to work together in a collective effort to move to the next phase, the NLC will work with the community to continue the journey of creating a better Selma.”

The booklet adds several quotes from Selmians about their city.

“‘The biggest challenge is getting both sides to work together in order to improve race relations, economic development and community development.

There appears to be a lack of trust and trying to hold on to how it once was.’

‘The biggest challenge for the community is to live down its bad name.

Race is really not a problem in everyday life.

There are no educational barriers per se, however it is not cool to achieve in school or the community.

The media attention to poor marks in self-perpetuating.’

‘Some believe that race relations have changed, but for others it has not. As far as the mayor or other city business, nothing has changed.

They never want blacks to be in charge, as long as they are in charge it’s Ok.’

‘Race relations are better, in one sense since blacks won control of the city, they have less reason to resent whites, and the more bigoted whites who can afford it have moved away so that the improvement is somewhat negative.’

‘I personally have not observed anyone being treated differently.

Selma is a friendly town.

We speak to each other when we meet on the street.

The majority of us live and work in harmony.’

‘Some whites are contemptuous of blacks in authority positions.

Some blacks in authority are condescending and if legitimately corrected or questioned become belligerently defensive, making problem-solving difficult.'”