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BLM Community Leader Stands By Call For Lansing Mayor To Resign, Demands More Transparency

Angela Waters Austin address a crowd during a protest
Zach Whaley
/
Angela Waters Austin leads the organization, One Love Global.

Many government and business leaders pledged to increase diversity and accountability following the police killing of George Floyd. WKAR's Sophia Saliby spoke with Angela Waters Austin about her work to promote racial equity and what she believes still needs to change in the city of Lansing.
The police killing of George Floyd in May of last year brought weeks of protests and a wave of new commitments by government and business leaders towards increased diversity and accountability.

President Joe Biden has pledged racial equity will be at the heart of his administration.

Locally, cities like East Lansing have hired social workers to serve as part of its police department. In Lansing, there is now a Racial Justice and Equity Alliance.

But it’s not clear yet how effective some of these new policies will be to changing deep infrastructural racism.

WKAR’s Sophia Saliby spoke with Angela Waters Austin, the founder and CEO of One Love Global. It’s a leadership development organization that centers youth organizing and racial equity.

Interview Highlights

On Why She Called For Lansing Mayor Andy Schor To Resign In June

He still came to the table with so little understanding about what racial equity really means. and more importantly, what it actually means to listen to Black voices to have Black and brown people at the table, and to prioritize the voices of the people who are the most directly impacted. So, the voices that actually called him to accountability and relationship have been excluded from the Racial Equity Alliance. That's not what racial equity looks like. That's how you perpetuate white supremacy.

On What Changes She Wants To See In The City

I would need to see a transparent process that doesn't select elite leaders in the community who are viewed as being supportive or favorable to the Mayor's position. And not to say that everyone on that alliance is operating in that way, but the simple fact is that I don't know, and unless you are in that process, you have no idea what is being done. So, I can't critique a process that I really know nothing about.

On What Her Organization Is Doing To Mobilize and Promote Racial Justice

What that has led us to do is to create an inclusive and public process called the Lansing People's Assembly, which we are modeling after Jackson, Mississippi, where the community actually comes together in a co-governance model. It is creating the People's City Council, and we decide together what our priorities are, what we're going to fight for, who we're going to hold accountable and the vision for what Lansing is. And for us, that means we want to see a people's budget, and we want to see a Lansing BREATHE Act. And it's the community that's actually doing the work together to make that happen.

Interview Transcript

Sophia Saliby: This is All Things Considered on WKAR. I’m Sophia Saliby.

The police killing of George Floyd in May of last year brought weeks of protests and a wave of new commitments by government and business leaders towards increased diversity and accountability.

President Biden has pledged racial equity will be at the heart of his administration. Locally, cities like East Lansing have hired social workers to serve as part of its police department. In Lansing, there is now a Racial Justice and Equity Alliance.

But it’s not clear yet how effective some of these new policies will be to changing deep infrastructural racism.

Angela Waters Austin is the founder and CEO of One Love Global, a leadership development organization that centers youth organizing and racial equity. She joins me now. Thanks for being here.

Angela Waters Austin: Thank you so much for having me, Sophia.

Saliby: Last summer, you called for Lansing Mayor Andy Schor's resignation during those protests. Can you explain why you thought he was unfit to lead the city at the time?

Protestors outside Lansing City Hall
Credit Zach Whaley
/
Protestors rallied for days in downtown Lansing during the summer of 2020.

Austin: Well, I'll be honest, walking into the Call To Action, I didn't have that understanding or belief. And it wasn't the first time that I and my colleagues have been confronted with differences, and clearly understanding that Andy Schor came into the mayor's office with a very different understanding about what diversity means, and the difference between diversity, inclusion and racial equity.

And early on in his administration, we had conversations. He asked for data to support the position that My Brother's Keeper and Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation and One Love Global, and many of the institutions in our community have been working on for almost a decade before he took office. So, we came into the conversation with humility, and with the intent to meet him where he was.

A year later, Andy Schor became involved in Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation. He came to events. He had made sure that the city was represented, and we actually had to sit down with him and discussed what it would look like to make a deep investment in racial equity, inside of the city of Lansing [and] across all departments.

When we invited Andy and Ingham County Health Department's health director, to the table, to the Call To Action, it was because when we went to Andy Schor a year before, about declaring racism a public health pandemic, he said, "absolutely, but we need the county behind it." That was the nature of the Call To Action.

I had no idea that he was going to really present himself as having been a champion [and] that he still came to the table with so little understanding about what racial equity really means, and more importantly, what it actually means to listen to Black voices, to have Black and brown people at the table, and to prioritize the voices of the people who are the most directly impacted.

That's not what racial equity looks like. That's how you perpetuate white supremacy.

So, the voices that actually called him to accountability and relationship have been excluded from the Racial Equity Alliance. That's not what racial equity looks like. That's how you perpetuate white supremacy.

Saliby: I talked to him last month about his reflections on 2020, and he did say he regretted that meeting. Do you still think he should step down?

Austin: Absolutely. He has shown no indication since that time that he really wants to work with and hear from and build a racially equitable community with the people who actually invited him into the process.

And it seems like his actions have been to silence us, and to actually undermine our credibility in this work instead of actually embracing the opportunity to be uncomfortable and to be humble and to be willing to learn.

Saliby: The city has done things like ending traffic stops for minor offenses and hiring its first Diversity officer. Do you think these changes are progress?

Austin: I think it depends on how you define progress. From a public relations standpoint, it looks like progress, but in terms of the impact on people's actual lives, absolutely not, especially if you still fail to acknowledge that racial profiling happens.

Why actually change minor traffic stops if you are going to stand your ground that your data shows year after year, that there is no racial profiling? So, it's a solution that doesn't actually match what the narrative is, in that systemic racism doesn't actually exist.

Protestors In Lansing
Credit Zach Whaley
/
Protestors called for the resignation of Mayor Andy Schor and the defunding of the city's police department among other demands.

Saliby: What would you need to see in the city to say it's headed in the right direction towards ensuring equity and justice?

Austin: I would need to see a transparent process that doesn't select elite leaders in the community who are viewed as being supportive or favorable to the Mayor's position. And not to say that everyone on that alliance is operating in that way, but the simple fact is that I don't know, and unless you are in that process, you have no idea what is being done.

So, I can't critique a process that I really know nothing about, where the people who have been doing this work are not at the table. And we created our own table because of that.

Saliby: Turning to your organization and the projects you work on, has anything changed in this a little bit more than six months since the death of George Floyd about how you educate, how you organize and how you're working to make change?

Austin: What it really underscored for us is that there are times that you are at the table with positional leaders, and One Love Global is unique in that it does work in grassroots community, but we also organize in systems in that we work with institutional partners across the board. So, from our health department, to our educational systems, to our higher ed, and including law enforcement. We have a deep working relationship with the Ingham County's prosecutor which we actually held up as a model for what the city of Lansing could do by making that kind of deep commitment.

We want to see a people's budget, and we want to see a Lansing BREATHE Act.

What that has led us to do is to create an inclusive and public process called the Lansing People's Assembly, which we are modeling after Jackson, Mississippi, where the community actually comes together in a co-governance model. It is creating the People's City Council, and we decide together what our priorities are, what we're going to fight for, who we're going to hold accountable and the vision for what Lansing is. And for us, that means we want to see a people's budget, and we want to see a Lansing BREATHE Act. And it's the community that's actually doing the work together to make that happen.

Saliby: Today is the first day of Black History Month, how are you commemorating this month? Or is there anything that your organization is doing?

Austin: We will be educating. We will be celebrating [and] making sure that any organization and individual that actually wants to get involved in this work finds the place to fit.

If you're an individual, get involved with Black Lives Matter, get involved with building political power with other people and bring your issues, bring your experience to the table and build power.

We want our Indigenous and our white and our brown allies to be in this with us because we know that if we solve for those who actually are impacted the most that we're going to actually improve systems for everyone.

For organizations, we have built Lansing for Black Lives, so that any Black-led organization, any Black founder, who maybe is retired now and actually wants to bring that elder wisdom and experience to this process, we desperately need to make those connections between past, present and future. And we really thrive on an intergenerational model that reaches out to our allies.

We want our Indigenous and our white and our brown allies to be in this with us because we know that if we solve for those who actually are impacted the most that we're going to actually improve systems for everyone.

Saliby: Angela Waters Austin leads the organization One Love Global. Thank you for joining me.

Austin: Thank you, Sophia. This is a great conversation. I appreciate it.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and conciseness.

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