Mayors play an important role in reinforcing the values of their cities and their residents. When tensions and uncertainty across the nation are very high, mayors have a responsibility to remind us what we have in common, foster values of inclusivity, and reject hatred and violence. The implicit biases, or unconscious prejudices, wired into our brains can lead us to develop irrational fears. Leaders play a role in breaking down stereotypes and preventing the scapegoating and violence that hurts us all and betrays the values embraced by our cities. NLC’s REAL (Race, Equity and Leadership) initiative works with elected officials to build their capacity to create structural changes and through public leadership on racial healing.
Earlier this month, a number of mayors embraced racial healing and religious diversity in their responses to marches against Muslims in 29 cities organized by ACT for America, a national group labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. In advance of the marches, 129 groups around the country expressed concern about the promotion of hatred, bigotry, violence and white supremacy advocated by those connected to the marches. These mayors took the opportunity to demonstrate the inclusive and welcoming spirit of their cities by standing up against Islamophobia.
Mayor Steve Adler of Austin, Texas, stood with Mohamed-Umer Esmail, an Austin imam, holding a sign that said “Muslims are welcome in my town” at a press conference with faith leaders outside the governor’s mansion.
“As Elie Wiesel taught us, the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. That’s why it was important for me to say this weekend, publicly and loudly, that anti-Muslim views are not welcome in this town. Even when these views are espoused by a tiny fringe group that draws more television cameras than supporters, it’s important for leaders in our communities to stand up and be counted, every single time, in opposition to hate,” said Mayor Adler. “To ignore hate and discrimination even a single time could leave the false impression that we agree with it.”
Some mayors demonstrated their leadership by using social media to state that Muslims and refugees are welcome in their cities, whether or not they directly referenced the hate marches or not. Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago issued a statement via Twitter late Sunday evening, stating, “Hate does not have a home in Chicago. All religions are welcome here.” The Tweet included a YouTube video of the mayor’s remarks at an interfaith Iftar meal earlier this year. The mayors of Syracuse, New York City and Seattle also showed support for the Muslims that make up their communities via social media.
Mayor Virgil Bernero of Lansing, Michigan, issued a statement calling out ACT for America and showing solidarity with Muslims in Lansing celebrating the holy month of Ramadan, while the mayors of Seattle and Waterbury, Connecticut, showed support for free speech and reiterated that Muslims are welcome in their communities.
Seeing an uptick in hate crimes against Muslims and hearing concerns and fears for their safety, mayors are in a unique position to reinforce the values of their communities by speaking out. Local elected officials across the country are responding to the tense climate and building racial healing and racial equity into their strategies for strong, resilient cities. NLC’s 2017 State of the Cities report revealed that racial inequity was referenced by mayors in more than 10 percent of mayoral State of the City addresses this year.
“We applaud the leadership of mayors across the country who, every day, are ensuring their cities are vibrant, thriving and safe communities for all, particularly communities of color and religious communities who have been historically excluded, “said Leon Andrews, director of REAL.
The REAL team utilizes a set of best practices that begin by normalizing conversations about race and equity in order to build the inclusive and equitable communities we want.
To respond to the current tensions after the divisive general election, NLC encourages local elected officials to issue a statement or formal resolution affirming your commitment to the values of equity, fairness, inclusion and justice.
The REAL team worked with partners at the Center for Social Inclusion and the Government Alliance for Race and Equity to develop sample language last year that city leaders can use in these statements:
- We believe in and stand for values of inclusion, equity and justice. We condemn Islamophobia, racism, sexism and xenophobia in rhetoric or action.
- We welcome all people and recognize the rights of individuals to live their lives with dignity, free of discrimination based on their faith, race, national origin or immigration status.
- We will continue our work in making our services and programs accessible and open to all individuals.
- We believe in the public sector for the public good. Advancing equity and inclusion is critical to the success of our communities and our nation.
Please share your statements and resolutions with us!
At NLC University’s Leadership Summit on Inclusion, October 2–5, 2017 in San Diego, California, participants will have the opportunity to think together about how to build an inclusion action plan in their city with experts on racial equity and civic engagement from NLC, the National Civic League, and others. By being thoughtful about what inclusion really means and how action can build on statements of inclusion, you can bring a Leadership for Inclusion approach to your city. Click here for more information or to register.
Featured image from Getty Images.
About the author: Aliza R. Wasserman is the senior associate with NLC’s Race, Equity, And Leadership (REAL) Initiative.