Peoria City-County Commission To Address Racial Inequity Through Community Engagement
Peoria Mayor Rita Ali led the launch of the Peoria City-County Joint Commission on Racial Justice and Equity Thursday evening.
About 150 commission members attended the launch, all having been appointed by a committee of representatives from the City of Peoria and Peoria County. It marks the official beginning of a plan devised by city leaders after the murder of George Floyd in May of last year.
Ali said that local unrest following Floyd’s killing inspired then-Mayor Jim Ardis to bring together “key stakeholders” in Peoria to identify opportunities to address racial inequity in the area. The group of stakeholders, including Ali, worked to determine both short- and long-term improvements that could be pursued in the community. It was then that the Joint Commission was named as a viable opportunity for change.
“This commission was identified as the long-term solution for addressing issues on racial disparities within Peoria,” said Ali.
A particular success of the initial group came in the form of financial aid for minority students at Illinois Central College. Following a grant from the state of Illinois, ICC was able to provide financial assistance to 150 students.
“Funds were provided by Gov. Pritzker to do whatever the college wanted to do with the funds as long as it served an equity initiative,” said Ali, adding that “150 students were served with free tuition, and books, and wraparound support and services.”
Now, the commission has been divided into a steering committee plus eight other committees: the justice system, economic development and jobs, child and youth development, quality housing, health and human services, transportation and mobility, information technology, and environment and climate change.
Co-chair of the Health and Human Services Committee and retired Bradley University nursing faculty member Francesca Armmer is looking forward to the change the commission can bring to the Peoria area, and emphasized their strategies will be based on measurable data.
“We’re going to start with data collection...and in identifying the problems, we’ll be able to look at what are the needs, what are our goals, and what are our priorities,” said Armmer. “We’re going to energize the community (and) we’re going to go side-by-side to make things better.”
Ali pointed out the commission's goal is to focus specifically on racial disparities in the community while remaining aware of other issues still left to take on.
“That’s what we can’t lose focus on in this whole effort, that this is to focus on racial justice and equity,” said Ali. “Even though we know there’s other aspects of inequity within other areas...I just don’t want us to lose our focus and to keep that always at the forefront.”
As a whole, Ali is confident the commission can bring positive change to the region and work to eliminate systemic racism in local government.
“Do you believe it’s possible to make progress?” Ali asked. “I know you do because you wouldn’t be here if you didn’t.”