Human Rights Commission to develop diversity report; Group wants to build on past success of being a welcoming community

Published 10:44 am Friday, January 6, 2017

Diversity among citizens, said Austin Human Rights Commission head Jason Baskin, speaks a lot about a community.

Austin has been a welcoming community to all walks, he said, and that culture “has been a net positive for Austin, as our population has actually grown by 4 percent since the year 2000, making us the shining star in Greater Minnesota where many peer communities are losing population,” he told the Austin City Council on Tuesday.

To build on that success, he said the commission will be assembling a “Welcoming Report” that will identify barriers that prevent Austin from gaining more ground as a welcoming community, and offering a set of recommendations that will serve as a guide to city government, local businesses and community organizations.

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Baskin, along with volunteers who serve on the commission, asked the commission be allowed to bring the results of that report back to the council after its completion in the spring.

He said in 1990, Austin’s non-white population was 2 percent. Today, that number is 23 percent. At Austin High School, 46 languages are spoken; the current kindergarten class at Woodson Kindergarten Center is over 50 percent non-white.

“Austin has a tremendous opportunity in front of us over the next 10-20 years as the vast majority of our diversity is age 40 and younger,” Baskin read from a prepared statement.

Mayor Tom Stiehm applauded the efforts by the commission. He said the divisive nature of the recent national election has had impact everywhere.

“We want to make sure some of that election cycle doesn’t seep down to our community,” he said, adding the work done by the commission “has a lot to do with that.”

Many stakeholders will be contacted for input into the report, and the council will be asked for its thoughts, Baskin said.

“If we can build a community that makes all residents feel welcome and included, it will go a long way towards retaining talent, building our local economy and maximizing our potential as a community,” Baskin said.