After last year’s marches, where thousands of people across the country protested over the police killings of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, one Southern Indiana community is working to create a more inclusive local government.
President of the Floyd County Commissioners Shawn Carruthers said he and his wife, community organizer Ann Carruthers, wanted to translate the sentiment of the demonstrations into action. Their solution? A new education initiative for county employees that will focus on implicit bias.
“It would be easy to close our eyes and say we don’t have that problem here,” Shawn Carruthers said. “But we all agree that we want to examine ourselves and see when we can do better. What can we change to make our community even better than what it is today?”
The new initiative has the backing of the board, the county’s executive and legislative body. All three commissioners are Republican.
Earlier this year, the board adopted a new vision statement they sum up with the acronym THRIVE — teamwork, high standards, respect, integrity, value-added customer service and equity. They created the training program after.
The sessions will be optional, but Carruthers said many of his colleagues have already expressed interest.
“We want to be known for our service to the community, so that’s what THRIVE is all about,” he said. “Just in response to the George Floyd marches from last year, we want to start with the implicit bias to make sure that we’re doing our job as a county government to put policies in place and procedures that reflect our entire community and make everybody feel welcome.”
A four-person board crafted the implicit bias training session. It includes Floyd County Judge Maria Granger, Floyd County human resources director Michelle Portman, Indiana University Southeast professor Jennifer Ortiz and Ann Carruthers, who serves as director of Clark/Floyd System of Care and Prevent Child Abuse.
Ann Carruthers said the session will focus on racism’s role in interpersonal communication. She estimated that there are nearly 400 government officials and employees in the county, and that sessions will be broken down into groups of about 20.
“We want our community to work together, and then we foster that environment,” she said. “There’s so many theories of equity versus equality and things like that, but at the end of the day, people want to be treated with respect.”
Granger said that in order for the training to be productive, the team must first create a safe space to openly discuss racism. She expects the program to grow and evolve, with more training sessions in the future.
“The first step is being able to get through that and really appreciating how diversity and inclusion helps us serve better [and] respect others,” she said. “We’re better at our jobs. We were really focused on public trust. It matters, and we’re not taking it for granted.”
The first training session is expected to happen at the end of the month. It’s open to all elected officials and government employees in Floyd County.