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In Decatur and Beyond, It All Starts with a Conversation

Author: 
Co-authored by Linda Harris, Jon Abercrombie, Renae Madison and Sandra Rodriguez

Addressing diversity issues in your community can be difficult and complex.  Many look to Decatur, Georgia as an example of inclusion, diversity & citizen engagement.  The city routinely  engages many different sectors of the community in addressing challenges, ranging from affordable housing to race equity issues to community police relations – going beyond the traditional public comment or public hearing to true and ongoing dialogue with many different sectors of the community.  It all started with a conversation – a conversation that has economic, racial, age, gender and religiously diverse representation, and that is reflective of the composition of the community itself. 
Better Together Advisory Board
The model for these conversations came from the Dialogue to Change work of Everyday Democracy -- a “study circle” back in the mid-1990s, when there was community conflict regarding affordable housing and the building of a parking deck in an historic neighborhood, and there were controversial School Board issues.  Everyday Democracy and Decatur, Georgia’s relationship began when Jon Abercrombie, now a Senior Associate for Everyday Democracy attended a “study circle” orientation which resulted in the rollout of the Decatur Round Tables that was aligned with the City’s 10-year strategic plan. He now refers to the Better Together Advisory Board in Decatur as having “the same DNA” as Everyday Democracy efforts.  “We all recognize the need to keep dialogues active, inclusive, racially and economically diverse,” he said, “and driven toward action and progressive change.”

In 2001, the City Schools in Decatur used this process to address a serious funding and sustainability issue.   In 2010, when it was time for the City of Decatur’s next 10-year strategic plan, the city benefitted from the Decatur Round Tables visioning process, and in 2015, Decatur rolled out the Better Together initiative, an advisory board and a missional partnership formed in alignment with the city’s new 10-year strategic plan.  Since then the city has had well over 1,000 of its residents engaged in tackling the city’s challenges.  

In the past two years, Better TDecatur GAogether has been working on increasing the city’s active volunteers; improving affordable housing; and building trusting relationships while addressing racial equity with police that includes open dialogue with the police department and Creating Community 4 Decatur, (the local Black Lives Matter group).  The initiative is also working on a plan to remove a confederate memorial on their public square. The results of the Better Together planning has now been added to the City’s overall plan endorsed by the Decatur City Commission.

Earlier in 2017, more than 250 people attended a five-hour community conversation to connect more community members with the Better Together plan. The event generated 625 action ideas that were distilled into 60 items for the final plan. The city of Decatur also identified 35 people from 50 different organizations as partners in their collaboration.

Linda Harris, chief of civic engagement, education & communication for the city of Decatur, Georgia and former project manager for the Better Together Initiative, Everyday Democracy Senior Associate, Jon Abercrombie and Renae Madison contributed to this story.

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January 2, 2018

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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and we believe that our tools, advice, and resources will help foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.