In August 2020, Benicia City Council passed Resolution 20, allowing the city of Benicia to hire an Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Manager.
After an extensive interview process, the town of Benicia hired Dr. Maliika Chambers. Dr. Chambers is taking the lead in evaluating Benicia systems, analyzing data, addressing equity, and making the necessary recommendations to support all Benicia residents.
Equity work is more than addressing situations about race. Equity work is also about perspective, gender, age, socioeconomics, and much more. Engaging in discussions and learning from our individual experiences provides an opportunity for growth. Communities and organizational structures that are proactive in equity work and believe all members matter, benefit from higher-level sustainable outcomes. Forming collaborative partnerships enables constituents to create multi-layered solutions together. “It is about closing those gaps that are barriers to entry, whether it is race, age, gender, language proficiency… All of these things become barriers to entry and become predictors of one’s success, and we don’t think about it, but we know it,” stated Dr. Chambers. Dr. Chambers also stated, “My definition of equity is closing those gaps and, wherever possible, eliminating them that become predictors to people’s success. Because equity, true equity is beneficial to everyone and we all thrive in an equitable community.”
Ideally, normalizing conversations about equity takes away the mystery and false speculations.
When we fail to engage in equity work, we put ourselves in a mindset of creating false narratives and making assumptions that further divide. Dr. Chambers stated, “One of the important things is that for any work like this, you have to be open to listening to the community, both positive and negative. Part of the conversation is, to be able to have it, you have to be able to articulate in ways that make sense, what the experience of being in Benicia is like. If you truly want to be successful in this work, you have to be willing to listen to the hard truth and not feel like no matter what’s happened before, we are starting from today, and I want to have that conversation.” In building such partnerships, the city of Benicia will join the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). GARE is a national network of government officials working towards the goal of racial equity.
The city of Benicia will also participate in the National League of Cities, which equips city leadership in improving the lives of current and future community constituents and building equitable infrastructures. Benicia community leaders will have an opportunity to engage in work around gender and racial disparities and ways to find solutions under the League of Cities is the Race, Equity, Leadership Council (REAL). “Elected officials will connect on how to build equitable communities, so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, here in Benicia,” stated Dr. Chambers. Dr. Chambers goes on to state, “It’s really about tapping into the work that is already being done in this area and providing that framework.” The city of Benicia will also participate in Cities of Opportunity. Dr. Chambers stated, “Cities of Opportunities initiatives focus on equity and resilience in building capacity.” Dr. Chambers went on to state, “This initiative allows people to see how it’s done, and we have a blueprint of a framework that also provides training and funding resources to staff.”
At one point in time in our American history, it was legal to discriminate based on race and gender and exclude specific community members from attending the same schools, voting, buying property, and living in particular communities. While many of those laws are no longer in place, some of the old ideology lingers and can potentially impact decision-making. It is not an excuse, but a reality that plays out differently within our various systems, and while it is not our fault, it is our responsibility to address it. “Equity work is not a Benicia problem, it is a national crisis of opportunity, and we want to be proactive, which is one of the reasons why I took this role,” stated Dr. Chambers. Dr. Chambers went on to share, “I took this role because nothing has happened to the scale that would require someone come in and do this work by force; however, what we see in the news and in our community are symptoms and outcomes of the historical systemic and legislative inequities that have happened, and we want, to the extent possible, to be able to start to address that so that we don’t have to learn the difficult lesson that other cities have.”
Dr. Chambers will use data that pertains specifically to the city of Benicia.
Dr. Chambers stated, “For this work, we must focus on the data demographics and patterns and trends in Benicia, so that’s a different take on data specifics. We will not be comparing Benicia to Fairfield or Vacaville, we will compare Benicia vs. Benicia and any assessment indicators and studies will be limited to the past, present and future of the city of Benicia.”
Dr. Chamber’s prefers the acronym V.I.B.E. to describe her work. “The reason I use VIBE, which stands for values, inclusion, belonging and equity, is because it applies to the work that we are doing,” stated Dr. Chambers. Dr. Chamber’s goes on to state, “A community is a place where individuals are valued and are included and they belong equally and a place where individuals live, learn and work successfully. We want Benicia to be a VIBE as in we want it to be a vibrant community, a place where people feel that and they belong, so that’s why I thought that acronym is beneficial.”