First published in the July 30 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
By Gavin J. Quinton
The Burbank City Council approved funding this week for a classroom training program to educate city leaders on addressing racial disparities in the city. The program’s curriculum, called “Race Equity and Leadership,” or REAL, will include lessons on institutional racism, key historical events and other human-resources tools.
The city approved $130,000 in unallocated budget funds for the project, which isn’t enough to provide training for all board and commission members. Instead, training will be offered to chairs and vice chairs of city committees, including the City Council.
“The city of Burbank is committed to an organization and community that cares for everyone, ensuring all [are] included and cared for equally,” said Judie Wilke, assistant city manager, in her presentation to the City Council this past Tuesday.
The council began discussing potential equity measures in June 2020. In light of national civil unrest after Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, the City Council considered establishing a reconciliation committee to “foster community dialogue regarding the divisiveness that was created during the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to city officials.
Burbank Unified School District also controversially removed five classic novels including “To Kill a Mockingbird” from the district’s mandatory reading list in 2020 due to depictions of racism. Local activists, such as Sungjoo Yoon, spoke out against the move during a BUSD meeting, saying that the books taught him about social justice and the dangers of complacency.
Ultimately, City Council members approved a resolution against hate, displayed it in City Hall and created a Council subcommittee on racial equity and diversity. The subcommittee has held four meetings since December 2020.
At a meeting this past Feb. 9, the subcommittee heard a presentation from the National League of Cities, or NLC, an organization whose mission is to strengthen local leadership, influence federal policy and drive innovative solutions.
NLC created the REAL program to strengthen local government leaders’ knowledge and capacity to eliminate racial disparities, heal racial divisions and build more equitable communities, according to city officials.
To implement the training, the city will assemble a “Racial Equity Core Team” in partnership with REAL, responsible for engaging officials with curriculum and coaching. Its members will also interface with community members and stakeholders “to prepare a racial equity plan to eventually be adopted by the City Council,” Wilke said.
“The plan will seek to assert community-informed goals, address root causes and inequities by identifying policy practice and procedural changes, as well provide an indicator that measures success,” she said.
The team may consist of city employees from every level and department as well as community members from organizations such as the Burbank Human Relations Council. The team could also be approved to continue the program after the $130,000 funding from the NLC is exhausted, Wilke said.
The council voted unanimously on Tuesday, July 26, to adopt the classroom training agreement with the NLC and to establish the Racial Equity Core Team. The training is expected to support Burbank city staff and leaders through January 2024.