Despite diversity initiatives, people of color represent about 1% of Concord city boards and committees

By JAMIE L. COSTA

Monitor staff

Published: 07-16-2023 4:00 PM

For Kalamoh Donzo, joining a committee in the city of Concord was difficult, especially as an immigrant, he said.

At first, he thought it would be impossible, but with the help of City Councilor Stacey Brown, who advocated for his position on the Community Development Advisory Committee, he was appointed to the committee within two months of applying.

“When an immigrant like me occupies one of those positions, it brings other people on board,” Donzo said. “The community in Concord has been marginalized because they don’t have representation, and they need people from those communities to be able to distribute information they have from their leadership.”

With experience in the field, Donzo expressed interest in the Community Development Advisory Committee to both apply his education and represent other people of color in the Concord community, he said. Originally from Liberia, Donzo immigrated to the United States in 2006 before moving to Concord in 2018.

“My community admires it because it conveys a lot of important messages to our community, that the community is willing to embrace and diversify,” he said. “The more we are on some of these committees, the more we are able to reach out to our people to contribute.”

Still, Donzo is only one of six people of color to sit on the 442 board and committee positions the city offers, which is a little more than 1%, according to Brown’s count. About 12% of Concord residents are non-white, according to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau. If board diversity were to represent the population as a whole, 53 people of color would need to be on the respective boards and commissions.

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Though some of the board and committee positions are elected, most are appointed by Mayor Jim Bouley and City Manager Tom Aspell. At the July City Council meeting on Monday, councilors approved seven appointments made by Bouley.

“I am not happy with the process at all,” said Brown, who has consistently advocated for more diversity in city positions. “Not having any information other than their name and their residence, I don’t think that’s enough, and I don’t think it’s being transparent to the public.”

To address the issue more clearly, Brown would like to see the city adopt a formal process that is consistent and transparent, she said. Without a standardized process, it becomes difficult for people to apply, especially for people of color and immigrants who might not be familiar with local city government processes, she said.

While calls for diversity, equity, inclusion and justice have increased locally and across the country, Brown became more vocal about diversity on boards and committees after Concord resident Kevin Porter wrote a letter to councilors challenging their DEI policies and implementation.

At the time, she found that there were only three people of color across the city’s 59 boards and committees, which has since doubled. She continued to suggest more diverse people for boards, like Donzo, to help diversify the voices of city officials in addition to suggesting the implementation of a DEI ad-hoc committee to look at diversity in the city.

Her suggestion was originally shot down by her counterparts, and Bouley launched his own version over the winter to meet with and discuss residents’ concerns regarding diversity, equity, inclusion, justice and belonging. As a result of those meetings, residents echoed Brown’s concerns about a lack of representation while showing appreciation for the city’s growing diversity.

“I told him (Bouley) it was a very good beginning and that should not be the end but rather a better beginning, and he should continue to build that leadership with immigrants and people of color,” Donzo said. “We want to change the dimensions of how people look at things in the community, and we want to bring everyone together.”

The committee, which is made up of Bouley and councilors Byron Champlin and Zandra Rice Hawkins, will meet again on Monday, July 24, to further discuss the city’s goals, with plans to create a permanent committee with members of diverse backgrounds to help direct the city toward greater inclusion and more diverse representation.

“My vision is for a standing committee that would look at things like best practices for other municipalities either in Concord or outside of Concord,” Champlin said, speaking on behalf of himself. “It would be a committee that would look at what we are doing in the city, what we think we are doing right and what we could be doing better.”

Bouley did not respond to a request for comment.

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