The Peoria City Council and Peoria County Board unanimously approved the formation of a new Commission on Racial Justice during a special joint meeting of both bodies on Thursday.
Talks began among key community stakeholders the day after George Floyd's killing. That includes officials from both local governments, as well as higher education institutions, major companies, and representatives from the local healthcare system.
The goal is to spark a dialogue which bolsters and accelerates racial justice and equity initiatives throughout the city and county.
At-Large Peoria City Councilwoman Rita Ali said racial and gender inequities were identified as major community concerns by a recent Heart of Illinois United Way survey.
County Board member Kate Pastucha said she grew up in an integrated Peoria neighborhood, and is grateful she attended an integrated school as a child. But she says that's changing - and not for the better.
"As I've stayed here in the city I grew up in, I've seen the city becoming more segregated," Pastucha said. "And I think we need to address the reasons why."
County Administrator Scott Sorrel gave an example of two single-family dwellings in the city of Peoria. A house in South Peoria, which has a majority Black population, was worth $16,000, while a similar home exactly 11 miles north in a predominately white area had an estimated value of $459,000 on the market.
Pastucha said it's no coincidence the poorest areas of the community also have the highest minority populations - and big, strategic solutions are needed.
The Commission is composed of eight committees focusing on various policy areas. At least 50 percent of the membership must be non-white. Residents of Peoria County wishing to join can find an application form on the county's website.
"I think that it's great that we're involving the community in this commission," said County Board member Brandy Bryant. "We can hear the voices of the community, and it'll make it much stronger, and make a change for years to come with this commission."
At-Large City Councilman Sid Ruckriegel praised the co-governmental nature of the effort to tackle racial inequity.
"Those things that a community values should be those things which we can collaboratively work together. I think, the county and the city, by being able to join efforts to form this commission, really does show that it is a value and a priority that we hold dear," he said.
During public comment, some called the commission a "waste of time." Peoria Mayor Jim Ardis pushed back with a suggestion.
"We would ask everyone to work really hard to acknowledge that we're moving this forward because it's important," Ardis said. "And for the people who might think that this is unnecessary, or that it's not relevant, I would say you should be involved, as well."
Pastucha said the community needs to attack racial disparities from all sides and angles.
"Some of the comments that came in through the public, I was disappointed in hearing that some people think this is going to be a waste of time," she said. "Because I think this will not only affect individuals, this will affect our entire community. So if you think helping one person isn't worth it, hopefully you think helping our entire community is worth it."
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