Washtenaw County’s first racial equity officer says the community should expect ample opportunities to collaborate with her.
"My door is open as a conduit into the county process," Alize Asberry Payne says. "I want people to reach out and know that I’m ready to support the work that’s already in progress and will make sure that we’re working collectively to address racism in the lives of county residents."
Asberry Payne's hiring is the latest step in the county's ongoing racial equity initiative. Having been officially on the job for just under two weeks, Asberry Payne expects that her next 90 days will be centered around meetings and getting a clearer understanding of the overall landscape.
She notes that there are a lot of people already engaged in racial equity efforts, not just in the county government but also in the community and in the supporting nonprofit and service sectors. She’s determined to be supportive of those existing initiatives.
"Sometimes people make the mistake of jumping in and saying they want to roll out new things without realizing that other folks are already doing some of that work," she says. "I believe in collaborative work and am envisioning long-term sustainability. I want to avoid creating a single champion who leaves and then all the work stops."
Due to that commitment, she's hesitant to say at this time what she’ll be focusing on, long-term or short-term.
Asberry Payne is certain, however, that she’ll use metrics to look at education disparity, health disparity, housing, and employment opportunities. She’s interested in using metrics as a baseline and to show measurable improvements. "It’s great if people say they feel better, but what really needs to happen is that folks' lives are actually better," she says.
Asberry Payne’s professional background includes community and institutional organizing as well as policy analysis and development. The breadth of her experience colors her view of the task at hand.
"I think that the county is uniquely positioned," she says. "There is institutional support, community support, non-profit (non-governmental organization) support, and that almost never happens. So I feel like the stars have aligned in the amount of support behind the work."
Jaishree Drepaul-Bruder is a freelance writer and editor currently based in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.