Austin chair speaks at Owatonna human rights meeting

Published 10:38 am Friday, September 11, 2015

Richard Lemons, chair of the Austin Human Rights Commission, presents to the Owatonna Human Rights Commission on Tuesday. -- Photo by Kim Hyatt/People’s Press

Richard Lemons, chair of the Austin Human Rights Commission, presents to the Owatonna Human Rights Commission on Tuesday. — Photo by Kim Hyatt/People’s Press

By Kim Hyatt

Owatonna People’s Press

OWATONNA — Presenting at the Owatonna Human Rights Commission was the chair of Austin’s commission on Tuesday evening to give advice and create some synergy between the cities.

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At the regular monthly meeting for the HRC in Owatonna, chair from Austin’s HRC, Richard Lemons, gave a PowerPoint presentation of how his eight-member commission operates.

Beginning with the mission statement, Lemons said he wanted Austin’s to be something all commissioners could easily recite to a community member on the street.

Whereas Austin’s mission is “to cultivate a just and inclusive community where diversity is value and human rights are respected,” Owatonna’s is more drawn-out:

“The purpose of the Owatonna Human Rights Commission is to promote the acceptance of cultural diversity in Owatonna; to promote the elimination of hate, prejudice, and discrimination against persons or groups based on race, gender, religion, or other status of the person or group; to educate the community on issues of discrimination and cultural diversity; to advice the City Council and Administration on human rights issues; and to promote goals and objectives of the Minnesota Human Rights Act.”

Lemons also stressed the importance of having a presence on social media, which currently the HRC in Owatonna lacks.

More traffic comes from the Austin HRC Facebook page than website, but Lemon said the website is a great tool for connecting people with other resources available.

Vice-chair Fred Ventura asked Lemons how they approached their city council about budget inquires, such increasing the commissions’ allocation.

Owatonna HRC was approved an annual budget of $2,700. The Austin HRC has a budget of $4,500.

Lemons said the council increased the HRC’s budget in Austin “because of the activities with a focus on results.”

Of course Lemon noted the Hormel Foundation is a major financial supporter of the commission and they apply for grants and partnerships expand dollars. The city budget alone is not enough to put on all the programming they do in a year, he said.

Lemons encouraged the commission to consider hosting other events, such as a film festival or essay contest. This past year, Austin started showing movies, some on the topics of human trafficking and immigration, and the essay contest has been done for several years through an ongoing partnership with the school district.

Another suggestion was to host community conversations, or open forums, with representation from various ethnic groups. Chair Mark Krug said they put on similar events at the library, but turnout was low.

Currently, the Owatonna HRC is trying to implement the Tapestry Program, which is up and running in Mankato. The program offers seven weeks of classes on housing, parenting, health and safety for refugees.

The commission is waiting to hear if it was awarded a grant to bring the program to Owatonna.