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New commission focuses on diversity, inclusion

Superior is working to become a more inclusive community.

The Superior City Council on Tuesday endorsed a proposal to create the Mayor's Commission on Community of Color and appoint its first board members.

The new board includes Kym Young, Stephan Witherspoon, Jerel Benton and Natasha Lancour, who will identify barriers to opportunity and full participation for people of color in Superior.

The commission's goal is to research, discuss and propose policy solutions to address systemic problems within the city.

"I want to come to share my enthusiasm and excitement for the creation of the Communities of Color commission and the proposed appointees," said Shawnu Ksicinski of Billings Park, a member of the Police and Fire Commission. She said she's had the opportunity to work with members of the newly created commission, and she has seen first-hand the dedication of its members.

"This moment in Superior is kind of momentous," Ksicinski said. "It proves the dedication our city has to making sure that we are inclusive, that the diversity of our community is represented at decision-making tables and is dedicated to finding equitable solutions to the barriers people face."

Witherspoon, a member of the Police and Fire Commission and Billings Park resident, said the creation of the commission is long overdue.

"I stand here as a man, born in Duluth, live in Superior," Witherspoon said. "My father was a World War II veteran. He loved Duluth-Superior. He preached in both places ... we need to make Superior more equitable for everybody."

And it's a place that many people of color have a hard time calling home, according to Young, a community advocate and founder of the Superior African Heritage Community.

"This is so long overdue considering the fact that in the turn of the 20th century, the Superior community is estimated to have about 1,000 people of color — that's people of African heritage ... living in the community," Young said. "In 2012, our Census revealed that number had dwindled to 374. It's been transient for a long period of time ... Our children didn't feel at home."

Young said Superior has the potential to be a "global leader" for diversity and inclusion.

Councilors embraced the idea of creating the commission.

"We can be proud of the university for their stand on diversity," Councilor Warren Bender said. "We can also be proud of all the diversity there is in the Superior Public Schools."

Councilor Jenny Van Sickle thanked the appointees for their willingness to serve and make Superior a stronger, more inclusive city.

"I have to say there is something very inspiring when your seats feel more important than ours," Van Sickle said.

"There's a lot of times we just take things for granted and there's the education we have sitting in these seats will only go as far as we're sitting," Council President Dan Olson said. "This is a great start."

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