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‘This entire hour, I’ve been cringing:’ Geneva residents engage in conversation on diversity

Geneva resident Brian Nord sat listening in on a community conversation about diversity with concern.

“Where are the black voices in this conversation?” he asked.

Acknowledging more than once that Geneva doesn’t give the appearance of a diverse community, members of the city’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee invited the public to participate in a conversation about diversity to recognize African-American History Month.

Thursday’s program consisted of a short video presentation and a panel discussion with Aurora University history professor Dr. Gerald Butters and Geneva History Museum Executive Director Terry Emma.

“We’re starting a conversation, and we do hope it will be the first of many,” said Elizabeth Clements, chairwoman of the city’s Strategic Plan Advisory Committee. “In order to move forward as a community as a welcoming place for all, we must first understand our past.”

Nord said he thinks the dialogue was arranged improperly from the inception.

“This entire hour, I’ve been cringing,” Nord said. “This is deeply upsetting.”

Nord said the problem with the community conversation is there are no black voices involved in it.

Mayor Kevin Burns acknowledged that sentiment.

“This is not the perfect representation of the diversity to have this discussion, but we’re trying,” he said. “I’m proud that we’re trying.”

Fox Valley Presbyterian Church pastor Stephanie Anthony, who identifies as Caucasian, said she feels the community has work to do, but Thursday’s program is a good start.

She said it’s important “to be honest about who we are and how we’ve shaped the community.”

The issue with diversity is nothing new to the city.

About two years ago, residents mounted opposition to plans to put apartments in the historic Campana building on the border of Geneva and Batavia. Around that time, housing diversity was a topic of contention.

Since then, the city has adopted a new strategic plan, which the City Council approved last fall. Provisions of the strategic plan outline, among other things, quality of life and how diversity and inclusion play a role.

As part of its strategic plan, the city’s next step is to form a diversity task force.

Clements said staff intends to conduct research, talk to officials with other municipalities, and find out how task forces are organized in and around the area, and across the nation.

That body will later present a set of recommendations to the City Council for consideration.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” Clements said.

Geneva resident Winnie Frankel said the community needs to take steps to make the city more of a welcoming and inclusive place.

“It is our fight, as well,” she said. “We have to take interest and make it ours.”