We Hear You looks forward to implementing action plans with community partners

The We Hear You Coalition is looking back on racial inequalities in Midland County to support the development of a more inclusive community.

Midland-area leaders joined forces two years ago, following the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020. A police officer knelt on his Floyd’s neck for approximately nine minutes on a street in Minneapolis as Floyd repeatedly said he couldn’t breathe. The killing, captured on widely-viewed bystander video, sparked protests around the globe — including Midland.

Looking back, co-organizer Diane Brown Wilhelm said the coalition is honoring the moments of progress along the way by connecting foundational work “that everybody is taking on to make a difference.” 

The coalition organizers have presented findings from a large data collection effort to key local partners in an effort to increase the collective understanding. However, Brown Wilhelm recognizes that there are community members do not understand the initiatives of We Hear You.

Despite that, Brown Wilhelm and co-organizer Sharon Mortensen said there are many community partners who have taken interest. One of them is Chief Nicole Ford of the Midland Police Department, who is working to implement tangible actions plans into the department’s effort to address racial injustice. 

Ford said she is exploring “different areas” to hit by 2024 in order to “move us forward in a positive direction,” as a police department. 

“I’m extremely happy that I get to participate in a group like this because I really liked that we use the data to drive our decisions,” she said. “I love the cohesive group that we’ve become. Now it’s an open dialogue. That’s where we really start to make some positive changes.”

Mortensen and Brown Wilhelm said the coalition would like to build a three-year roadmap to implement actions aligned with the efforts to address inequalities found in the survey based on policing, business, government structure (elected and appointed officials), health care, housing, income and poverty. 

“We can’t do this work alone,” Brown Wilhelm said. “We need to make sure that we’re positioning this so that the work continues for the long-term.”

For example, the Midland County Community Health Improvement Plan is being examined to incorporate addressing some of the health disparities to address the inequalities, according to Mortensen. 

The We Hear You organizers began addressing the needs of marginalized communities by conducting a survey to get a better understanding of what issues need to be addressed in the city related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Over the last year, the group has been presenting its findings to critical stakeholders across the coalition’s focus areas. 

The We Hear You initiative comprises three components: a summary report; Community Survey; and Community DEI Dashboards. Saginaw Valley State University worked with the coalition on the Midland Racial and Ethnic Equity and Inclusion Survey that was sent out in February 2021. 

Along with helping fund the We Hear You survey, the Midland Area Community Foundation reported an increase in residents’ interest of its Cultural Awareness Coalition. 

Community Foundation President/CEO Sharon Mortensen said the group is developing a community voice, in part by organizing a Juneteenth event. The Juneteenth Block Party will be held from 2-6 p.m. on June 19 at Creative 360, which is located at 1517 Bayliss Street. It’s sponsored by the Midland Area Youth Action Council.

“Encouraging voice through some of the activities of coalitions, like Cultural Awareness, that are bringing people together is really a critical way to get folks involved in our community,” she said. “Their voices can be heard and ideas that they have can be implemented.”

One project under the Cultural Awareness Coalition created was the Visibility Project Podcast, which launched in 2021, to give a voice to marginalized groups in the City of Midland. Topics discussed include domestic violence, overcoming stereotypes and fighting through physical disabilities.

The first component of the recent findings consists of an analysis of Midland County data in comparison to secondary data sources such as the U.S. Census, the CDC, and the FBI. For example, the coalition found a great variation within the general perception of police based on WHY respondents’ race/ethnicity. A greater percentage of African American and Hispanic respondents (42.5 and 42.7 percent, respectively) perceived their neighborhoods to be crime-free in comparison to non-Hispanic white respondents (only 34.8 percent).

The full report repeatedly emphasizes collection and analysis of data as a first step to help develop intentional, strategic, assessed, accountable, and sustained actions to end inequity, injustice, and bias in our community.

Midland residents Juwairiya Iqbal, left, and Trinity Thomas, right, lie down in the middle of Saginaw Road Sunday, June 7, 2020 alongside approximately 1,200 other protesters for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd of Minneapolis was pinned to the ground under the knee of the white police officer now charged with Floyd's murder. (Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

Midland residents Juwairiya Iqbal, left, and Trinity Thomas, right, lie down in the middle of Saginaw Road Sunday, June 7, 2020 alongside approximately 1,200 other protesters for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the length of time George Floyd of Minneapolis was pinned to the ground under the knee of the white police officer now charged with Floyd’s murder. (Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

(Katy Kildee/kkildee@mdn.net)

Brief look back at what led to the formation of We Hear You

Brown Wilhelm, Ford and Mayor Maureen Donker issued a public statement on June 4, 2020 to condemn the murder of Floyd.

“Hollow words, followed by inaction, will only serve to deepen the pain being shown across the country and which exists right here in our community, too,” reads a line of a June 2020 statement, signed by Ford, Donker and Brown Wilhelm. “We can and must do better, and we will.”

During summer protests of 2020, an estimated 1,200 people demonstrated at the Ashman Circle in Midland to protest George Floyd’s murder in addition to the murder of Breonna Taylor by Louisville police March 13, 2020, and the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, an African-American man, while he was jogging in Glynn County, Georgia, February 23, 2020. Speakers at the Midland rally shared their own experiences with racism, condemned institutional oppression, and demanded justice.

On July 13, 2020, the Midland City Council voted unanimously to support this initiative, and on October 20, 2020 the Midland County Board of Commissioners similarly passed a resolution supporting this work.

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