Dunwoody Mayor Lynn Deutsch pledged to hold a “dialogue” on making the city more inclusive and blasted “systemic racism” in healthcare at a June 11 multi-faith prayer event related to the nationwide protests about racism and police brutality.

Speaking to about 60 attendees at the “Restore: Pausing Our Protest to Pray” event at Brook Run Park, Deutsch spoke of her “personal rage” about racial disparity in healthcare and said the community needs love and good role models to be more inclusive.

Mayor Lynn Deutsch speaks about inclusion at the “Restore: Pausing Our Protest to Pray” event June 11 at Brook Run Park. (Phil Mosier)

“But more than that, we need to reach out to each other and welcome people into our social circles, into our places of worship, into our schools, into our organizations, into our clubs. And frankly, into the leadership of the city of Dunwoody,” she said.

The event was organized by Lydia Wells, who has arranged protests related to the police-involved killing of George Floyd, including one in Dunwoody June 2 that Deutsch attended. “I grew up in Dunwoody, and I still see challenges in our community that we need to respond to,” said Wells at the Brook Run Park event.

Event organizer Lydia Wells speaks to the attendees. (Phil Mosier)

The event included prayers and comments by Rev. Robert Comeaux, a pastor at Dunwoody Baptist Church; Rabbi Brian Glusman of Dunwoody’s Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta; and Imam Hafiz Rifat Zamam of Masjid Uthman, a mosque in Dunwoody. An eight-minute period of silent prayer was observed for Floyd.

Deutsch did not detail what she meant by holding a dialogue, but Wells previously said on social media that she talked with the mayor and Police Chief Billy Grogan about possibly becoming a type of official community liaison.

Some of the socially distanced audience members listen to Rev. Robert Comeaux speak. (Phil Mosier)

In her comments, Deutsch spotlighted higher COVID-19 pandemic death rates for African American people, including in Dunwoody ZIP codes, as a source of “my frustration and my personal rage” about racism.

“We have underlying issues in this country, systematic racism in our healthcare system, that has allowed what is happening now to happen. And that should make us furious,” said Deutsch. “We have to talk about it. We have to address it. And we have to make it a priority.”

Rabbi Brian Glusman of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta is joined in song by son Nathan and, not pictured, Drew Cohen. (Phil Mosier)

Deutsch said she is focusing “now on what comes next, after the protests, so to speak, where do we go from here, as a city and as a community?” Part of that, she said, is her intention to make the city’s boards and commissions more diverse, because she is “very cognizant for years they didn’t reflect the community that we are.”

For the community in general, Deutsch essentially spoke from the perspective that straight, white couples are the Dunwoody norm that must be more welcoming to those who are not.

Imam Hafiz Rifat Zamam of Masjid Uthman speaks to the audience. (Phil Mosier)

“But we must build community that feels inclusive and not exclusive,” she said. “We have to step out of our own comfort zone and reach out to those that are not similar, whether it is a religious difference or a racial difference, ethnic difference or even a language difference; whether it’s the single mother or the single father, or the gay couple that’s moved to your neighborhood…”

“I’m going to reach out to our entire city and let them share their thoughts with us as we begin a dialogue and I look forward to programming that answers questions from our residents,” she said.

Rev. Robert Comeaux of Dunwoody Baptist Church speaks to the audience while Lydia Wells listens. (Phil Mosier)

“This is just the beginning…,” Deutsch said. “I am committed to making Dunwoody as inclusive and as loving a place as I know it can be. And how I really do think everyone wants it to be. I don’t think we all know how to do the work.” So the process will include someone who can teach people “how to be an ally and how to be a person who takes the first step forward.”

After the event, Muhammad Luqman, center, joins in conversation with, from left, Rachel Colon, daughter Vega Colon and the Colons’ friend Sondra Vetrano. (Phil Mosier)

In the neighboring city of Sandy Springs, Mayor Rusty Paul has called for a citywide dialogue on racism and is working with a company called Civic Dinners to help operate it.

–Phil Mosier contributed

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.