When a community's complexion changes, demographers aren't the only ones who have to do some adjusting.
Leaders must evaluate their own practices and work to ensure that all residents receive fair treatment, regardless of race, income or any other factor.
Twinsburg's schools and city government are grappling with just such changes today, as the community draws increasing numbers of minority residents. Some have complained about a lack of diversity in safety forces and other city staff, while others worry that discipline is not applied objectively within district schools. Regardless of whether such issues reflect racism or a basic perception gap, they require citizens' attention.
Plain Dealer reporter April McClellan-Copeland's examination of both city and education services found plenty of concerned minority residents, many of whom declined to be named because of fears that they or their families would be targeted. This fear itself is troubling, as is the presence of just one member of a racial minority group, an Asian, among the 80-member police force.
Just as striking are the schools' disciplinary statistics. The percentage of suspensions of black students - at both the middle and high schools - far outstrips those students' representation among the student body. Superintendent James Jones attributed the disparity to larger proportions of poor and single-parent families among black students, insisting that the application of discipline is unbiased.
Even so, Jones wisely added that staff would examine the issue if concerns exist. Similarly, Mayor Katherine Procop says she is committed to diverse hiring, and she cites efforts to recruit minorities at job fairs.
Such sentiments mark an important first step, but will accomplish little without actions to match. The statistics are stark; until they start to change, skepticism will continue. To encourage a sense of community in this rapidly changing suburb, leaders must engage critics and start to address their concerns.
© 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.