By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
When Cyndi Swaney moved to Keizer from California, she ended up renting a room in a home with a group of other adults. When she arrived to move in, the property manager rushed out to meet her in concern.
“The manager asked if I knew that one of the other roommates was a black man and if I was okay with that,” Swaney told the Keizer City Council at its meeting Monday, March 20. “I remember thinking it was an awkward question and I wondered why his race would matter.”
As she reflected on the experience later, she wondered if her black housemate was okay with everyone else being white.
“My guess is he wasn’t asked,” Swaney said.
Swaney and another Keizer resident, John Scott, spoke to the Keizer City Council about their experiences Monday, March 20, and asked the council to take up a resolution declaring Keizer to be a safe and inclusive city.
More recently, Swaney had participated in a recent conversation on a neighborhood social media site regarding a swastika that had been drawn in the snow of a neighborhood lawn. Swaney felt the conversation that evolved was mostly dismissive of the act and wasn’t tackled with seriousness the incident merited.
“I don’t want Jewish people or people of color feeling fear or unwelcome in my city for any reason,” she said.
As an educator, Swaney applauded recent efforts by the Salem Keizer Education Association, Salem-Keizer School Board and City of Salem to take a stand on issues of diversity and equity and wanted to see Keizer do the same.
Scott, a Keizer resident and black man, said he would like to see a resolution that tackled the nuance of diversity issues as well as the broad strokes of exclusion.
“For instance, I have an afro and people think that gives them the right to touch it. To pet me like an animal,” Scott said. “If I saw someone with an incredible neck and I asked to touch it that would be weird. Right? But that’s what people with hair like mine, or dread(lock)s, go through.”
Scott, a social studies teacher at Parrish Middle School, said students often ask why there are certain months set aside for the study of special groups, like Black History Month.
To help them understand, he has them look through their textbooks and find the mentions of African American achievement in relation to those of whites. Given that the books come from somewhere else, he then has them look closer to home.
“We look at the principals of the schools in Salem-Keizer. If you’re a woman, you can be principal at middle and elementary levels. If you’re a woman of color, there’s only one of you. That’s not overt and intentional, but it’s little things that let you know what your expected role is,” Scott said.
Members of the city council seemed largely receptive to the idea, but Councilor Roland Herrera actively wanted the council to take up the baton.
“I would like to see us revisit it and I think it’s something the community could use. For those that don’t feel (the pressures of being a minority) it doesn’t have an impact. For those of us that do, it’s felt and seen all the time,” Herrera said.
Mayor Cathy Clark was also on-board with the idea.
“I’d love to have a conversation about what this would look like and how to more deeply and broadly engage within our community,” Clark said. “And what, specifically, can we do to broaden that conversation.”
At the same time, she said a resolution was a piece of paper and she was more interested in what might be done as a far as setting “practical” goals.
Scott urged her not to discount the power of a resolution.
“I realize that a statement is paper, but the statement can lead to action. We can be practical, but we can also be bold,” he said.
To adopt a resolution, there will also be roadblocks to clear. In 2003, the then-councilors passed a resolution of non-involvement in state and federal issues. City Attorney Shannon Johnson believed it was passed with regard to the Iraq War as other cities were passing proclamations of support or resistance to the cause.
It will be up to the current councilors to decide whether diversity and inclusion is something covered by that 2003 resolution or something altogether different.
“To me, this is a human problem that goes beyond state and federal issues,” Herrera said.