By David R. Shorey, East County Program Manager, Institute for Public Strategies
February 10, 2023 (San Diego) -- When President Ronald Reagan said “There are no constraints on the human mind, no walls around the human spirit, no barriers to our progress except those we ourselves erect,” he was speaking to a joint session of Congress in a February, 1985 State of the Union Address. He could have been addressing the citizens and city leaders of Santee in 2020. That’s when the City Council passed a resolution recognizing that as a community, they had to actively work to be anti-racist. That included continuing to learn about, reflect on and incorporate anti-racist policies into City government and strengthen a future incompatible with hatred or racism in the Santee community and nation.
Santee is a city known for its great weather, family friendly atmosphere, and sense of community. Unfortunately, Santee is also perceived as being unwelcoming and sometimes hostile to those who are not of the majority White, straight, cisgender population.
The recent YMCA controversary regarding a transgender woman using the women’s locker room is the latest in a series of events that have garnered the city the monikers of “Klantee” and “Santucky.” In 2020, two high visibility incidents involved shoppers in a local grocery store. One man wore a KKK hood and the other wore a COVID mask with a Nazi swastika. Both episodes were covered in the national news and on social media. Both helped thrust Santee’s negative identity into the public spotlight. This occurred at the height of civil unrest over the deaths of Black and Brown people in police custody and spurious perception of government overreach because of COVID-19.
Before incorporation of the city, the Santee area was used as a gathering spot for KKK and other racist organizations. In 1998, 21-year-old Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos Colbert was attacked and savagely beaten at a party in Santee. His attackers yelled racial slurs and “White power” while they kicked and punched him. The beating left Colbert with a broken neck and paralyzed for life.
Something Must Be Done
These incidents underpin a belief that there needs to be something done to address racism, hate, and bigotry among Santee’s residents. As detailed in a public workshop, a survey conducted by the city in 2021 revealed that upwards of 40% of residents who responded believed that biased acts, discrimination and racist behaviors are an issue in the community.
IPS’s work focuses on changing community conditions that contribute to substance use and misuse. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination create environments where addiction blossoms. Stress, depression, and fear seem temporarily numbed by substance use. Folks might self-medicate to make the pain go away. For members of our society who are at the bullseye of racist, sexist, and homophobic actions, the addiction can overtake self-medication and the problem is compounded. This one aspect demonstrates the need to address racism, sexism, homophobia, and discrimination at its core and hold the whole community accountable for its actions.
This is exactly what the City of Santee has endeavored to do since 2020. I am happy to share some of the details of the work some of your fellow community members and I have been engaged in. The Santee City Council passed a resolution affirming its commitment to promoting tolerance while denouncing hate speech and racism. As a member of the City’s Community Oriented Policing Committee (COMPOC), we formed a sub-committee dedicated to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. About two-and-a-half years later, we submitted our recommendation to the City Council that it adopt our Community Values Statement.
Community members who visit, live, work and play in Santee share the mutual belief that valuing every individual makes our community healthier, stronger, safer, and thriving. The core values are grounded in Santee’s resolution which underscores why they are important. Santee joins other cities, counties and states across the country in affirming its commitment to the safety and well-being of all community members. This includes the Black community and all people of color, all faiths and other groups, while combating hate crimes.
Community Values Statement
We have identified accountability, respect and community-mindedness as foundational to the practice of valuing every individual in Santee. Accountability is being responsible for one’s own actions and outcomes to safeguard equity, inclusion, dignity and a positive, thriving environment for all. Respect is honoring the rights, differences and dignity of others through our words and actions. Being community-minded means taking appropriate action to advance the health, safety and quality of life for all members of our community.
When adopting the Community Values Statement that we forwarded to the City Council, we added authenticity to diversity, equity and inclusion. We defined diversity as acknowledging that individuals have different and varied identities including national origin, skin color, gender, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, individuals with disabilities, etc. Equity is defined as providing fair and just treatment, access, opportunity, and advancement for all people, while at the same time striving to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented the full participation of some community members. Inclusion is the practice of welcoming and integrating diverse people and groups, especially those who have been historically or traditionally excluded or marginalized. And authenticity is honestly representing one’s true nature or beliefs, acknowledging the uncomfortable and taking responsibility for one’s mistakes.
How it Began
We started by collecting and reporting what the city and Sheriff’s Department had been doing around DEI.
“We sought input from residents on their impressions of quality of life in Santee, community values and diversity, resident experiences with discrimination, and existing city programs and services,” Committee Member Steve Stelman said. “Racism and discrimination were areas of concern of the city residents of Santee.”
It should be noted that in order to fully weave these values in the fabric of our community, we affirm that we each bear the responsibility for their authentic practice in our actions and words. We also recognize that these values represent Santee’s emerging journey of identity and are aspirational and ongoing. We also believe that advancing them creates a healthier community and benefits all who visit, live, work, and play in Santee.
Santee is Evolving
“This is an organic process. This is an ongoing journey. Our identity as a city will evolve,” Committee Member Linda Roach said. “We want to encourage voices. We want individuals to feel comfortable in sharing their experiences. We want individuals to feel comfortable and safe asking the questions, to know there will not be retaliation. There will not be judgment.”
In order to make this effective, we want Santee to integrate the DEI framework and Community Core Values into city policies, procedures, protocols and designate funds to support the continuation of this work. We want an independent committee or staffer to be designated to carry out these responsibilities. It took a lot of work to get here. I would like to thank my fellow committee members Dr. Mark Foreman, Linda Roach and Steve Stelman, and former committee members Nadia Moshirian Binderup and Meredith Riffel. We had a lot of help from City Manager Marlene Best and city staff support from Anne Morrison, Bree Humphrey and Vanessa Tang.
“We’re going to make sure everybody is safe and everybody is valued in our community because that’s the most important thing,” Mayor John Minto said at a January 25, 2023 Santee City Council meeting. “We don’t know what that looks like yet, but we’re going to get there.”
IPS works alongside communities to build power, challenge systems of inequity, protect health and improve quality of life. IPS has a vision for safe, secure, vibrant and healthy communities where everyone can thrive. To find out more about IPS East County, follow us on our social media platforms: IPS East County Facebook, IPS East County Twitter, and East County Youth Coalition Instagram. Our website is at IPSEast.org.