People in impoverished communities and those of color fear and mistrust county decision makers, community leaders told the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The board heard a report from members of a task force helping the county form an Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice. Tuesday was the first time community leaders brought back recommendations for the board since it unanimously approved the office’s formation last November.

A symbol of oppression? The Contra Costa County seal incites fear in some communities of color, according to a member of the county’s task force on racial equity and social justice.

“At times, even though it’s not a symbol of law enforcement, your county symbol, for many community members, it creates a lot of fear,” said Donte Blue, the chief program officer for East Bay advocacy group Rubicon Programs. “Our community is afraid of you — I don’t know how else to say that, and our community is afraid of what you represent.”

The racial equity and social justice office’s main task will be coordinating, strengthening and expanding the county’s existing work on equity and inclusion, partnering with various county community organizations and leaders.

Supervisors will have direct oversight of the office, the goal of which is guiding county policy and funding decisions supporting racial justice and inclusion.

The first step in the office’s formation was forming a “host table” of organizers to facilitate a listening campaign with various communities over the past few months and come back with some initial recommendations. Supervisors John Gioia and Federal Glover were part of that outreach.

Glover said the process has been slow, but necessary.

“It’s difficult — The only way that we will be able to deal with those issues is to understand them,” Glover said.

Changing the narrative

Members of the host table said they have conducted 34 listening sessions around the county since February, engaging more than 400 residents and starting a website.

“The more we listen, the more we need to listen,” said host table member Isabel Lara. “Our residents want and need the county leaders to listen. There’s a lot of pain and distress that our communities feel and hold.”

Lara said the sessions showed that many in Contra Costa’s communities of color fear deportation and losing housing. They fear for their health and being overcharged for things like water and trash service. They fear losing education opportunities and of being targeted.

“There is a fear of retribution for speaking out,” Lara said. “We need more time to ensure we are connecting broadly and deeply. We have residents who are hopeful, many who are doubtful. All are looking to you, supervisors. Our county leaders, to change this narrative.”

“Our community is afraid of you — I don’t know how else to say that, and our community is afraid of what you represent.”

Donte Blue, task force member

Host table members recommended Tuesday that each supervisor host a listening session in their district, with necessary language interpretations and land and labor acknowledgements.

They also recommended the county establish a task force to study reparations to the county’s African American community and research models and approaches in other jurisdictions.

Members also asked supervisors and their staffs to research the racial impact of areas and work the county oversees. That includes health systems, criminal and legal matters, law enforcement, child welfare, social services, behavioral health, early childhood education, elections, planning and land use, and transportation.

The host table aims to have final recommendations for the county’s Office of Racial Equity and Social Justice in February 2022.