The Simsbury Board of Selectmen approved the SPIRIT Council as a town committee and passed a resolution declaring racism as a public health crisis, at its meeting on Sept 29.
The SPIRIT Council was formed via the United States Department of Justice’s conflict resolution agency, Community Relations Service (CRS), which created a community leader-driven process for identifying and solving problems, called “City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together, or “City-SPIRIT.” Simsbury adopted its own version, Simsbury Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (SPIRIT).
Simsbury’s SPIRIT Council has been operating as a subcommittee of Community For Care, which is a Board of Selectmen-appointed committee of town and school officials with the goal of discussing and solving problems in the area of mental health and substance abuse.
SPIRIT Council Co-Chairs Cheryl Cook and Nicole Kodak, as well as subcommittee chairs, outlined the new council’s formation, and its accomplishments since its creation.
Cook said the council was formed shortly after a DOJ/CRS presentation in May 2019, and held its first meeting last October.
“Simsbury is a town that welcomes, celebrates, and takes actions to support diversity and inclusion among current and future community members,” Kodak said, stating the council’s vision.
Kodak added that the council’s members include parents, teachers, former town officials, and others.
“It’s a very fine group of people committed to moving this work forward,” Kodak said.
Nkosi Lee, chair of SPIRIT’s events subcommittee, said that the many events taking place throughout the country this past spring meant it was important for SPIRIT to host virtual discussions, which lead to a monthly series called the “Let’s Talk” discussions.
“We just thought it was expedient to have some sort of events where we could have dialog, where we could have discussion,” Lee said. “It’s a broad topic with diversity and inclusion. It goes beyond race.”
Upcoming discussions include the topics of Indigenous People on Nov. 5, World Aids Day on Dec. 3, and Human Trafficking on Jan. 7.
Lloyd Huie, chair of the outreach sub-committee, said the primary goals are to reach out to other organizations both in Simsbury and beyond, and to create awareness and partnerships.
“Part of creating awareness is to reach out to the community and connect to different organizations, so we can learn from each other and understand each other,” Huie said, adding that colleges, chambers of commerce, local organizations, as well as other towns and cities have connected with SPIRIT.
First Selectman Eric Wellman thanked the SPIRIT members for their energy and level of commitment and organization, and said the events and meetings that he was able to attend were “powerful and incredible.”
“You’ve helped me to gain a level of understanding that I didn’t previously have,” he said.
“You guys are already moving the needle. You’re already making a difference,” said selectman Sean Askham. “We’re talking about doing some tangible work here. This is a really important topic that impacts all of us in different ways.”
“All of us have our personal biases,” said selectman Mike Paine, adding that success of the group lies in continuing to take “baby steps.”
“We have to be relentless, but we have to still move it forward,” Paine said.
Wellman proposed making SPIRIT an official town committee with 18 members, and the motion carried unanimously. The members will be named at the Board of Selectmen’s next meeting.
The resolution also passed unanimously.
SPIRIT’s Tanesha Grant said the resolution came from a meeting with the council in June, as well as the death of George Floyd, and that Simsbury would be the first in the Farmington Valley to make such a declaration.
“The importance of this,” Grant said, “is getting other folks in town to understand that health inequity is a serious consequence to everyone who is either being exploited or marginalized as a result of it.”
Grant said the resolution will ask the town to look at practices and policies, and look at ways to improve diversity and fairness.
“The majority of folks that are policy-makers are not people of color,” Grant added. “So, when policies are enacted, they typically have a negative impact on people of color.”
Wellman also moved to ask Town Manager Maria Capriola to work with department heads to “review town policies and procedures with an equity lens” and report back to the board.
For more information, visit www.simsbury-ct.gov.
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