Amber Sims lives in what was once a freedmen's town, built by people who were born into slavery and then emancipated. But very few remnants of the area's history are left today, she said.
Correcting racial inequities in Dallas starts with addressing that history, said Sims, the director of regional impact for the nonprofit Leadership for Educational Equity.
Sims was one of four speakers Thursday during a virtual panel discussion on racial equity, justice and resilience hosted by the city of Dallas' Office of Equity and the Dallas Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation initiative.
Black people built Dallas' economy, Sims said, and the city was planned started under racism's influence. People need to acknowledge that it was intentional.
"There's very little acknowledgment in this city, of what it was and who was here," Sims said. "We have to acknowledge what has happened in this city to move past it."
Sims said people are advocating for telling of Dallas' complete history by doing community work, sitting at the feet of elders, supporting the Dallas African American Museum and immortalizing their stories.
Lindsey Wilson, interim equity officer with the city's Office of Equity, said equity is everyone's work.
"In order for this transformational change to actually happen, everyone within the city has to be dedicated to it and it has to show up in the ways in which they are engaged in their daily practices and service delivery," Wilson said.
Wilson said her office wants to normalize the use of data. She said that data is one their strongest tools. However, Sims said there is inequity even in the collection of data.
"When we think about COVID-19 and the disproportionate impact it has had on communities of color, particularly Black people, it makes us want to dig into this history a little deeper," Sims said. "I would be remiss to not remind us that we don't even have the full data about the impact of COVID-19 on the Black community because the data was not completely collected by race. So, in some ways, we can't even talk about what we need to talk about because the data is incomplete."
Rolando Blackman, a community advocate and former Dallas Maverick, said plenty of highways toward success exist for people of color, but they need to know how to use them.
"We have to make sure that, as we make these decisions, we're looking at what the implications are," Blackman said. "The implications are overturning a racially systematic, white supremacist structure by implementing policy changes that will benefit people in Black and brown communities to not only have tools to get them out of poverty but to reduce crime in the city of Dallas."
Blackman also said that people in power still are not doing enough to address inequity, so these communities must vote to make their own change.
"People in power, legislators, are quiet," he said. "Our power is in our vote [and] the opportunity to make changes through the people who represent us."
Viewers submitted questions throughout the discussion. One viewer asked Blackman if he was advocating for assimilation or racial equity.
"You have to have a semblance of what the norms are to be included in the streams and the path forward," Blackman responded.
Local activist Pamela Grayson chimed in as well.
"As someone that has been out in the community fighting injustices, why was no one that is out here fighting regularly included in this process?" Grayson said. "How are you engaging what is going on within the south side and Oak Cliff when you don't seem to have a presence here?"
The panelists didn't answer the question.
Thursday's discussion was the first of a three-part conversation series on racial equity. The second is scheduled for July 2.