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Commission to address structural racism in Rochester, Monroe County

James Brown

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests locally, leaders from Monroe County and the City of Rochester announced a new commission Thursday to address structural racism on a government level.

County Executive Adam Bello and Mayor Lovely Warren said they’ve been in constant contact since the COVID-19 pandemic began. After the death of George Floyd, they say their conversations shifted to creating the Commission on Racial and Structural Equity (RASE). 

The commission's goal is to identify and recommend ways to eliminate structural racism in government services. Warren and Bello pointed to inequalities in education and access to jobs as examples of structural racism and said the commission also will meet Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mandate to review police departments statewide.

Warren said the commission is the first of its kind locally. 

“This commission will allow us to go beyond simply policing our community and will be endowed with the scope to render change, among health care, education, business and governmental sectors within our region,” said Warren. “We must seize on this moment to restructure our governmental focus on uplifting people, specifically our black and brown residents.”

Bello said participating in the commission is necessary to move forward. He said his goal is to turn the 

county into an “an actively anti-racist government.”

“Racism and the institutions that perpetuate it do not know geographic boundaries. Therefore, our response cannot know geographic boundaries,” said Bello. “While we don’t have the power to change state and federal law, we do have the power to set our house in order.”

The 21-person joint commission will be led by former Rochester Mayor Bill Johnson and Nazereth College professor Muhammad Shafiq. Shafiq is also the executive director of the Hickey Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue. Deputy County Executive Corinda Crossdale and city Chief Equity Officer Cephas Archie will provide support for the commission.

The commission is expected to present recommendations to Warren and Bello on policies, protocols and even law changes to create a more equitable county and city in 120 days.

"We are doing all this and more for one simple reason -- to change the course of history for groups of people who have been deliberately left behind," said Warren. 

More information on the commission is expected next week, along with an opportunity for community members to participate. Interested community members are asked to submit their resumes to by July i10.

James Brown is a reporter with WXXI News. James previously spent a decade in marketing communications, while freelance writing for CITY Newspaper. While at CITY, his reporting focused primarily on arts and entertainment.