Placeholder Image February encuentro at the Healdsburg Community Center
photo credit: Noah Abrams/KRCB

Community members and city officials gathered once again this month for the latest Healdsburg encuentro. They're series of meetings that seeks to understand the experience of residents from various socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds. 

Around 40 residents took part in the February encuentro focused on the African American experience in Healdsburg.

A two-man panel included newly elected council member Ron Edwards, who is Black.

"One of the jokes was diversity ends where the rainbow begins, and that's, uh, the old Robin Williams tunnel," Edwards said.

Edwards, 63, has lived in Healdsburg for 30 years.

"Reaching out to people who have different views to me is extremely important because it helps me understand," Edwards. "And this campaign really helped me define a little bit more of who I am because by defining myself as I am, it gets my foot in the door. It gets the conversation started as opposed to somebody looking at me having a preconceived notion."

On the topic of policing, Edwards said Healdsburg’s small size makes a difference in the interaction between residents, city leadership, and the police.

"Age makes a difference," Edwards said. "When I was younger, I had more issues with police than older. I was pulled over and accused of hitting a lady over the head and stealing her purse. Healdsburg, because we have our own police department, we can set the culture of the police. Someone asked me on the campaign, why don't we bring the sheriff in so we could have a bigger police, but then we lose control of what we want our police department to focus on."

Edwards said he has observed similarities shared by African American residents in the city including age, education, and socioeconomic status.

"African American couples I have met in town are generally interracial," Edwards said. "I did not meet in my campaign, a non interracial family. And so I think that meeting my wife brought me here. I ran into the same thing in Mendocino County, is that I would meet an African American and they were in interracial relationship because 'How do you know about this place?'"

Among the attendees to the encuentro: former Healdsburg council member Skylaer Palacios, who shared her perspective.

"The reason we are here today is mainly because of me," Palacios said. "I don't know if you guys knew that or not, but the DEI programming was something that I pushed during my time on council."

She said the community needs to take a serious look at its actions.

"I'm grateful that everyone is here cause I do believe that we all do want to make a change in our community," Palacios said.

Palacios especially called out local leaders in government and nonprofits.

"The Sonoma County brand of white supremacy attempts to pit people of color against each other and prevent unification," Palacios said. "The Sonoma County brand of white supremacy is an encyclopedic example of white savior hood. White people helping communities of color and gaining career boosting, widespread praise, and recognition."

One active encuentro participant: Healdsburg Elementary librarian Greta Mesics, referring to Palacios' statements.

"What happened tonight was difficult and necessary," Mesics said. "We live in a world where we make decisions about who people are and right doing and wrongdoing very, very quickly. For a young woman of her ethnicity, her talent and her ability to have to come into a room like this and read something like that to us, tells us something really important about what we're not doing right."

Mesics said challenging conversations are all part of Healdsburg’s efforts to turn the mirror on itself on the issue of diversity.

"We can congratulate ourselves all we want about diversity, equity, and inclusion," Mesics said. "And we are trying, I mean this, Healdsburg really is trying and really is doing a great job, but we just got a really remarkable reminder about judging people and about not knowing people and about forgetting people who have done a lot for us because they've made us uncomfortable. I think human beings actually learn best when we're a little uncomfortable."

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