City panel reaches out to Latinos


Staff Writer

Friday, April 12, 2019

The Rocky Mount Human Relations Commission is moving forward with plans to create a welcoming atmosphere for the city's growing Latino population.

“We want to strive to make all our citizens feel welcome,” said Archie Jones, the city's human relations director.

The commission's prioritized goals for inclusivity include adding a Latino to commission, providing access to resources, holding community meetings and creating a festival to celebrate Hispanic heritage.

The commission can take the lead in addressing concerns of Hispanics as expressed by a group who spoke during last month's meeting. Jones said he wants to come up with a game plan.

Latinos expressed apprehension when seeking help from police, Jones said, adding the commission could help by holding meetings in Latino neighborhoods to help them seek resources in the community.

The meetings would be similar to the successful Chat with the Chief series but with a much larger attendance.

Commissioner William Sharp said in selecting a venue for such meetings it’s important the commission goes where the Latino population is located.

Commissioner Mary Wells said a Latino should be appointed to the board.

Commissioner Steve Stevenson said the commission can't ignore the fact that some of the members of the Latino community are undocumented.

“Undocumented keeps coming up, that's a fear factor right there,” Commissioner Curmilus Dancy said.

As far as reaching out to the Latino community, the commission needs to let that community say how it wants to be approached.

Dancy said he's working to expand the commission.

Co-Chairman Linwood Williams said the more diverse the board, the more representative it will be.

"We can't ignore the undocumented factor," Stevenson said, adding that use of federal or state funds to aid undocumented individuals brings the commission into the realm of being a sanctuary.

“We don't want to ever intend that if that's not what the city wants to be,” Stevenson said.

Commissioner Nehemiah Smith said the commission shouldn't focus on documentation because it's a fear factor for the Latino community. Undocumented residents are already part of community.

“Documented or undocumented, they spend money at our stores and in our city,” Smith said. “They are here, they are a part of this. And we are the Human Relations Commission so therefore it is our goal to be humane in how we deal with this issue. Because not so long ago, there were other people who had to have papers to get around.”

Smith recommended a rights card could be created to be handed out explaining laws and rights in case they are stopped by police. The card is a good idea for everyone.

"We don't want anyone in our community to feel unsafe," Smith said.

Stevenson said police aren't profiling as much as automatic license plate readers are finding expired tags, which leads to other problems.

Dancy said a police representative should be in attendance at the meetings whenever issues involving law enforcement are discussed.

Smith said the commissioners' goal should be to eventually get rid of the commission.

“Our goal should be such that the commission doesn't have to exist anymore because we have dealt with the issues that need to be dealt with and put people in a position where they can deal with each other from a humane point of view,” Smith said.

The issue of race is dividing the city, Smith said.

“We pussyfoot around that issue because we don't want to discuss it, but it's imperative that we do discuss it,” Smith said, adding that unity is about shared values and beliefs.

Smith said people bring religion into the issue, but Sunday is the most divided day of the week.

Smith said the commission should be doing the requisite work to end the commission instead of spinning wheels.

Wells said the commissioners can't forget about the work in between meetings.

"Anybody who knows me knows there's not a racist bone in my body," Wells said. "Some of my best friends are black."

Dancy — who was asked by the City Council to step down because he isn't a resident of the city — said he feels like the commission failed him. He said he's always been above board at meetings and a team player, but now that he's off the commission people will hear from him.

“I don't bother people until they come after me,” Dancy said.

Dancy said the Telegram has told lies about him. He said he had to call WHIG-TV during his lunch break at Honeywell to clear it up.

Williams thanked Dancy for his time on the commission and complemented Dancy on his dedication. The commission held a small party for Dancy after the meeting.