The City of Blue Springs, with an assist from the U.S. Department of Justice, plans to take on racial problems that surfaced there earlier this year.
Blue Springs and its Human Relations Commission want to invite city and school district administrators, along with civic and business leaders, to participate in a DOJ-led listening and work session later in the year.
City leaders expect to hear from all aspects of the community about any racial incidents and problems, said Kynette Campbell, who chairs the Human Relations Commission. Blue Springs Mayor Carson Ross and City Administrator Eric Johnson were not available for comment Friday.
Kim Nakahodo, spokeswoman for the city, said Blue Springs officials are set to meet with the DOJ next week on how the program would work.
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“We are just in the exploratory conversation stages,” Nakahodo said.
She said city officials are not opposed to the idea of getting DOJ help.
“There is always room for improvement,” Nakahodo said. “How do we get better? The very first step is to talk about it.”
Campbell said the Human Relations Commission is ready to get to work.
“We as a city have overlooked that there are some things going on in our community that we have not been aware of,” Campbell said. “We need to be more proactive to protect our citizens.”
Racially motivated incidents in Blue Springs were among those cited in an NAACP advisory issued last week warning people of color to be on guard as they travel in Missouri.
Once the racial problems have been aired, Campbell said, citizens would be engaged in developing a plan for solving them.
“We feel like this is the best way for us to go with the DOJ leading this effort,” Campbell said. “In the end we want something that we can measure. Something we can look to three or four months down the road and know how we are doing. We don’t want to just talk about it and have nothing ever get done.”
The Blue Springs Human Relations Commission called on the Community Relations Service (CRS), an agency within the U.S. Department of Justice, to help collect information on race discrimination throughout the city and to assess how to develop a citywide improvement plan.
CRS, established by Title X of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, is authorized to work with communities to help them develop the capacity to prevent and respond more effectively to hate crimes committed on the basis of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion or disability.
Specifically mentioned in the NAACP travel advisory was a May case in which Blue Springs barber, James Price, found his shop windows stained with racial slurs. The same two words appeared on three separate windows in black paint: “Die (N-word).”
The vandalism occurred the same day a Blue Springs South High School student found the N-word in all capital letters scrawled across the front of an assignment paper she had left in an unlocked drawer of her physics classroom.
When the city’s Human Relations Commission members began meeting with residents about those incidents, they learned about many more instances where residents and students had been made to feel discriminated against because of race.
For example, black students at Blue Springs South said the area in the building where they gathered to socialize was being called “Africa” by white students.
Residents at the time vowed to change race relations in Blue Springs.
“We are not sweeping this under the rug. We are not going to let this go on,” longtime resident Brady Watson said in May.
On Friday, Price, who owns the vandalized barbershop, said he was glad to hear the city is serious about doing something to improve race relations in Blue Springs.
“I think this is needed,” Price said. “In the schools, the kids are setting up meetings this year for the kids to address it. If the kids are smart enough to do something about it, then the adults should be, too.
“I’m game to do anything I can to help. I don’t want to be the poster child for racial problems in Blue Springs, but if it will help change this, I’m in.”