By Daren Miller
The coronavirus pandemic and rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus has forced all of us to rethink our daily lives. Schools are closed, restaurants and eateries are providing limited services, and people have been ordered to “shelter-in-place” by the governor, the mayor and other officials of authority. Our economic way of life is being challenged in ways no one expected.
On April 22, Mayor Lee Brand and the Fresno City Council provided Fresnans with a ray of hope. They
announced the creation of the Mayor’s Fresno Recovery Committee (FRC). The FRC is described in a statement released on the Fresno City Web site as “an advisory panel to discuss best practices to kick-start the Fresno economy and get the people of Fresno back to work.” The statement went on to express that the six critical indicators laid out by Governor Gavin Newsom would be used as a guide and reference.
This seems like a significant step in the right direction until you review the panel’s membership and the communities they represent. The committee, chaired by Brand and with Mayor-Elect Jerry Dyer as the vice chair, includes members from city and county government, public health, medical centers, colleges, business, restaurants, developers and banking. There are 16 men and six women. All of Fresno’s vast ethnic and social communities are represented except for three: African Americans, Hmong and Sikhs.
African Americans have been a participatory part of Fresno and the Central Valley since the 1930s–1940s, when they began migrating to the West from the South looking for a better way of life. They have been a constant part of Fresno’s political structure since the early 1970s when they began seeking further inclusion by running for political offices and being appointed to urban commissions and committees.
Fresno’s Hmong community is fast growing and is the largest collection of their Southeast Asian culture in California. Their communal contributions are enormous and reach far beyond farm laboring. Since 1999, Fresno’s Hmong New Year Celebration has blossomed into the nation’s largest annual celebration of Hmong culture and history.
Both the Fresno and Central unified school districts house schools named for influential Hmong members of our community. Most recently, numerous Hmong citizens have been elected to political offices and developed important community-serving organizations.
The Sikh community, although relatively new to Fresno, has also become a valuable ethnic group in the county. Their tremendous houses of worship, businesses and eateries can be found all over the area. Numerous parks and landmarks in the Central Valley have been named in honor of the Sikh community’s contributions in the valley. The Sikh community also has realized great recent political success electing city and school officials in Fresno and the surrounding area.
In Mayor Brand’s first State of the City address, he announced his 10-Year Path to Prosperity plan. He used the theme of “collaboration and teamwork” to achieve his plan. The County of Fresno Web site lists “respecting diversity” as one of its tenets saying, “Respecting and embracing ethnic and cultural diversity.”
Mayor-Elect Dyer’s winning platform was “One Fresno.” The first line of his candidate statement says, “I am running for Mayor to bring people together to make Fresno safer, cleaner, and more prosperous.” Based on the formation of the Fresno Recovery Advisory Committee, I guess African Americans, Hmongs, and Sikhs are not part of their equation for bettering Fresno and its citizens.
The ethnic population for both the city and county of Fresno exceeds 70% representing about 700,000 people in the county and 370,000 in the city. It is way past time for elected leaders in Fresno to fully embrace all ethnic communities in building the great city we all desire to live in.
The only way to achieve a better city for all is to fully include participation from all in decision making. Ethnic, cultural and civic leaders all over the city call on Mayor Brand, Mayor-Elect Dyer, the Fresno City Council and the Fresno County supervisors to actively seek and fully include all ethnic and cultural communities in future decisions impacting our city and county.
Fresno City Council Member Esmeralda Soria was the only respondent to a group e-mail questioning the absence of African Americans and Hmongs on the committee. She replied, “I agree, that was my first question.” Unfortunately, her sentiments were not reflective in those forming the original Fresno Recovery Committee.
At the time of publication, Tara Lynn Gray, CEO of the Fresno Metro Black Chamber of Commerce, and Pao Yang, CEO of the Fresno Center had been added to the committee. Additional suggestions for committee membership: Naindeep Singh, executive director of the Jakara Movement–Fresno and trustee of the Central Unified School District; Gregory Barfield, director of transportation for the City of Fresno; former Fresno City Council Member Blong Xiong; and Koua Lee, founder and CEO of Hmong TV Network.
Daren Miller, Ph.D., is a recent doctoral graduate from the Educational Leadership Program at Fresno State and a middle school counselor in the Madera Unified School District. He also serves as an elected official on the Fresno County Board of Education, Trustee Area 3, and is a member of numerous community organizations.