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New Board To Fight Discrimination In Kalamazoo

The photo is a still from the meeting video. It shows a gallery view of nine Zoom participants, with an extra tile for the City of Kalamazoo logo
Sehvilla Mann

The City of Kalamazoo’s Civil Rights Board met for the first time this fall. Its founding documents lay out a series of protections for renters and homeowners. But fighting housing discrimination is only part its mission.

While state and federal laws protect against some kinds of unfair treatment, the City now stands ready to intervene for complaints not covered by those laws.

Kalamazoo has appointed seven people to the Civil Rights Board. They’ll investigate things like claims of unfair treatment in housing – but also, civil rights violations at people’s jobs or in places like stores or restaurants. Bonner says the Board plans to reach out to the community to make sure residents know their civil rights and how to file a complaint.

“What we hope to happen is that people will be more confident in asking what is legally right and filing complaints when these rights are violated,” Bonner told WMUK in a recent interview.

Vice Mayor Patrese Griffin helped to nominate members of the Board.

“As we look to become a more equitable community and a community where everyone is able to enjoy life, it is important that we have a strong enforcement component to make sure that it actually happens,” Griffin said.

Griffin said the Board’s members are passionate about protecting residents’ civil rights. Jacob Beach is one of those members. He said he wants everyone in the community to know the Board can help them with a civil rights complaint.

“If anyone has felt that the ordinances that were passed were violated and their civil rights were violated, reach out to the city and file a complaint because that is most important is that we are here to hear complaints and make sure the ordinances passed are being followed,” Beach said.

Member Gabriela de la Cruz said discrimination is a reality for many people in Kalamazoo.

“We’re not pretending that because the civil rights movement is in history books during the 60’s that it’s ended and that the chapter has closed and everything is bright and cheery,” she said.

“Clearly things haven’t improved all that much and so we have a lot of work to do and creating this Board really shows that we are ready to do the work.”

De la Cruz says she and her colleagues are eager to begin that work. She added, it’s up to the public to hold the Board accountable.

“I hope that people who are watching and listening keep that in mind and really feel safe letting us know if we’re falling short or not meeting an expectation because we can’t get complacent and just twiddle our thumbs, you know what I mean?” she asked.

The Civil Rights Board’s next meeting is Wednesday. It’s open, virtually, to the public.

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