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Paso Robles mayor launches cultural diversity panel

The logo for the new panel.

As the Black Lives Matter movement continues nationwide and locally, the mayor of Paso Robles has launched a diversity panel to address issues with racism.

Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin said when protests broke out after Geroge Floyd's death, he realized he had to do something to address racism—both real and perceived—within his city.

“Any subject that creates as much conversation as this has cannot be an imaginary one," Martin said. "If we have protestors and counter-protesters, I think where there's smoke there is fire, and we need to take that seriously.”

Martin brought together 13 people to form the panel. The group includes the chief of police, the president of the SLO County NAACP chapter, local diversity activists and the superintendent for Paso Robles public schools, Curt Dubost.

“I’m not coming from the perspective that there is systemic, pervasive racism in our schools or in our community," Dubost said. "But it would be incredibly naive to think that there aren’t issues that do need to be addressed.”

Dubost said while there are few incidences of racism-related bullying in north county schools, he said they do happen, with students using derogatory terms and saying culturally-incentive remarks.

“It doesn’t happen frequently," Dubost said. "But the idea that it happens at all is of grave concern to me.”

The diversity panel aims to hold cultural events, provide educational materials for the public and within the public schools, and to create a forum where people can safely address their concerns.

"The Diversity Panel is committed to improving trust and transparency in our schools and law enforcement agencies and to crafting a more empathetic town," according to the panel's website. "Our goal is to create an environment that broadens our understanding and appreciation of each other and works towards a just society for all.

Unlike other cities that have started similar coalitions, Martin says the effort will not cost taxpayers.

“As of right now, the money set aside is zero," Martin said. "This is a mayor's diversity panel, it's not something that's authorized by the city council, although I believe the council is supportive of the concept.”

With recent widespread calls for substantial reform of police departments, Dubost said one goal is to bring groups together to make changes.

“I would hope we can come out with people realizing you can be both for Black Lives Matter and support your police department," Dubost said. "They are not exclusive and they need not divide us like so many other issues.”

The diversity panel's first meeting is set for September.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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