ARLINGTON, Texas — The City of Arlington wants to unify the city, and one of the ways it plans to do so is with a new Unity Council.
Earlier this summer, the Arlington City Council formed the Unity Council as a way to identify disparities in the city. Tasked with quantifying inequalities among minority and economic groups and finding a way to address them and solve them, the group is charged with creating a report and presenting it to the city council in February.
Jason Shelton is the chair of the Unity Council. He’s an associate professor of sociology at the University of Texas Arlington and the director of the Center of African American Studies. The city council tapped him to be the head of the new Unity Council.
“It’s an amazing honor, no question about it,” he said. “I’ve lived here in this city for 12 years. Our daughters are native Texans. We love the city, and we want the city to do for other people what it has done for us.”
The council consists of 29 people, a diverse group of Arlington citizens, and the members are split into five different subcommittees based on topics they will examine: health, education, economic disparities, housing, and policing. For the first few months, the committee will be gathering information and wading through data and statistics. After that, the members will go into the community to speak to community members and experts who can give them more insight into specific disparities and help the council come up with ways to combat them.
“We’re going to be strategic about who we interview,” Shelton said. “We’re going to do focus groups. We’re going to do a number of different things. I’m a professor who analyzes data … you combine all that together and that’s the report we will submit to the city council.”
The idea for the Unity Council was conceived long before the racial protests sparked by George Floyd’s murder started. Dr. Barbara Wesley-Odom, a member of the Arlington City Council, attended a convention for the National League of Cities, where a subgroup for racial equity and leadership was highlighting ways for cities to address and combat their racial and economic disparities. Wesley-Odom said the council was already considering a resolution to address COVID-19 and how the pandemic disproportionately affects Black and brown communities, but she also wanted a second resolution to create the Unity Council.
“That was the first step for the city council, to declare our intent,” she said. “We really want to be the dream city for everybody, not just the few.”
The next step was finding who would chair the council, which is when they tapped Shelton. Together, he and Wesley-Odom discussed the topics on which the subcommittees would focus.
Wesley-Odom said when the report comes to council in February, the council and all the departments in the City of Arlington are committed to taking action based on the recommendations in the report.
“Our council is committed to action. This is not going to be just another another report that’s going to gather dust,” she said. “We think we’re going to get good things out of this council.”