Tensions mount, calm over International Advisory Committee

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by Eric Ginsburg

The Greensboro Human Relations Commission votes to nullify a proposed new leadership structure for the city’s International Advisory Committee, relieving significant tension after “very consistent outcry.”

The meeting, by any standard, was overwhelmingly bureaucratic and confusing, so much so that even the people running it required constant clarification about the decisions being made and the process employed. But by the end of the Greensboro Human Relations Commission meeting last week, the board reached a decision that appeared to satisfy all parties involved.

Some of the details of how changes to the International Advisory Committee came about vary based on who is telling the story, underscoring the fact that the process was unclear to many of the people involved.

Some elements of what unfolded are agreed upon: Human Relations Commission Chair Kevin Williams recommended a slate of new leadership for the international committee, which he said was based directly on the outgoing committee chair’s advice. The list put forward led to widespread frustration among the city’s international community because several of the people on the list had no involvement with the committee and, leaders said, are service providers rather than community members.

After making their case at a special Oct. 23 meeting on the issue, international-community leaders made their case again at the Nov. 6 Human Relations Commission meeting last week, arguing that the reorganization process thus far had been unfair and lacked transparency.

“We have to admit that there was a mistake made,” said Adamou Mohamed, an American Friends Service Committee employee and Niger community member, at the Nov. 6 meeting. “The process was not right. It was not transparent. We have to admit our mistakes so we can move on with the International Advisory Committee.”

Andrew Young also expressed concerns about the proposed leadership slate.
Andrew Young, right, also expressed concerns about the proposed leadership slate.

Other audience members echoed his sentiment, including Narayan Khadka with the Triad Nepalese Community Center.

“The process going on bothers me, too,” he told the commission, adding that the International Advisory Committee should be made up of immigrants and refugees rather than service providers.

While emphasizing that they didn’t take issue with any of the people nominated personally, international-community members made it clear that white service providers from FaithAction International House, American Friends Service Committee and Church World Services who were nominated could not adequately represent them on the committee, arguing that their voices should be heard directly.

David Fraccaro of FaithAction International House, Lori Khamala of American Friends Service Committee and Sarah Ivory of Church World Services were among the nominees, as well as Maha Elobeid, the director of programs for the Center for New North Carolinians, Human Relations Director Love Crossling said.

Nobody on the human relations commission disagreed with that point during the Nov. 6 meeting, but still the conversation dragged through tedious procedural discussions and a cumbersome decision-making process.

Even after a 9-0 vote to approve a working group — a subcommittee of the human relations commission incorporating international community leaders with the aim of reconstituting the leadership of the International Advisory Committee — several questions lingered in the audience and on the commission about what exactly had been approved.

Michael Picarelli, the commission’s vice chair, clarified that the unanimous vote nullified the proposed leadership structure that included several service providers, and Mohamed had to confirm that he had indeed been approved as a liaison to international-community members who want to participate in the subcommittee.

The International Advisory Committee originally formed in 2008, but participation dropped off. When Marikay Abuzuaiter, who served as the committee’s chair, was elected to city council, the committee started to fall apart, she said.

People felt their concerns weren’t being heard, didn’t see themselves as part of the decision-making process and felt like nothing was being done, Mohamed said. In May, attempts to revitalize the International Advisory Committee began, and Mohamed joined in with the hope that it could return to its original aim of providing a forum for international community and to address issues that the communities face, he said.

“We were taken by surprise by the way the leadership, or supposed leadership, team was put in place,” he said. “As one of the members that had attended previous meetings of the IAC, I was not even aware that a nomination of folks was being considered or that this process was going on. The IAC is supposed to be the voice of the international community, but when you have service providers representing the international community then something is wrong.”

Feedback at the Oct. 23 special meeting and since the initial leadership list was proposed even rose to the level of “very consistent outcry,” Crossling said at Nov. 6 commission meeting.

Mohamed and others agreed that the human relations commission vote last week helped rectify the problem. He hopes people learned a lesson and that the subcommittee will mark a new beginning for the international committee.

Abuzuaiter, who attended part of the Nov. 6 meeting and is the city council liaison to the International Advisory Committee, said afterwards that she is glad the human relations committee heeded international community leaders’ concerns.

“I think there were a lot of good people with good intentions,” she said. “I think there was some miscommunication that kind of muddied the waters and that once everybody came and started talking about it and the human relations commission had a special meeting on October 23, a lot of the comments were taken to heart.”

Williams, the commission chair, made a similar remark at the opening of the meeting last week.

“Your input, your honesty really took hold to this commission,” he told the audience.