The 10-member Sandy Springs Diversity & Inclusion Task Force began work in its first meeting on March 9 by planning committees to address nearly every major topic in the city, from housing and transportation to education and law enforcement.

“We know that these are bigger than many of us thought, that we would have this opportunity to talk about our community and things that we could do to make life better,” said James Bostic, the task force chair. And so we’re gonna get a chance to go try and tackle these.” 

The 10 members of the new Sandy Springs Diversity & Inclusion Task Force met virtually for the first time on March 9 with a visit from Mayor Rusty Paul, who explained his goals for the group.

He is a 31-year Georgia Pacific employee and a member of the board for KIPP Metro Atlanta Schools, a network of 10 public charter schools and one partnership school located in the city of Atlanta and East Point. 

His proposal to research issues and come up with recommendations that promote inclusion through committees was accepted by fellow members. The committee topics include housing and transportation, recreation, education, city activities, economic development and law enforcement.

The task force continues the city’s process of having a community-wide dialogue to bring a diverse group of people to the table, Mayor Rusty Paul told the task force. It grew out of suggestions made in a series of virtual meetings on diversity and inclusion hosted by the city last summer.

The Housing and Transportation Committee should look at what should be done about rental properties that are renovated, Bostic said.

“And frankly, the price is too high for them to go back there, and that is a serious issue, and one that I think we ought to attack and look at and see if there are recommendations we can make to the mayor about this important issue,” he said.

He also suggested looking for ways to have more low- and middle-income housing in the community. The committee also needs to look at how people in the city of 110,000 residents move around.

“I can remember coming here in the early ’90s and this was a neat little town, but now it’s gotten to be a really, really big town,” Bostic said.

He picked Olivia Rocamora, the Spanish Department chair and Spanish Immersion program coordinator at The Weber School, to chair the committee. Nicole Morris, a professor at Emory University School of Law, and Rev. Bill Murray, rector of Holy Innocents’ Episcopal Church, were asked to join her on the Housing and Transportation Committee.

Desmond Curry, a professional specializing in legal research who serves as a billing specialist with Rubin Lublin in Peachtree Corners, was picked to chair the Recreation Committee. Also serving on the committee are Sgt. Salvador Ortega, public information officer for the Sandy Springs Police Department; Clarissa Sparks, founder and brand strategist for Sparks + Company; and Rabbi Joshua Heller of Congregation B’nai Torah.

Ortega, who is from Mexico, said he understands firsthand the importance of education and the challenges faced by parents who are not familiar with the education system and do not know how applying for college works. 

Bostic, who said he was the fifth African American student to attend Clemson University, said he plans to meet with Fulton County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney as part of the task force’s efforts with education.

“And so, I would propose that I would go see him and that at one of our future meetings that we would have him come and talk to us about some of the education issues that you all talked to me about. They are important issues that affect the lives of all of the people in Sandy Springs,” Bostic said.

Other committees will include economic development and city activities. He said they would “take the opportunity to look at economic development and look at unemployment opportunities in this community, simply because that is really important for the welfare of families and children in our community.”

Task force members suggested adding law enforcement officers to the committees.

“I do think it would be important to include law enforcement whether that is its own committee or if it’s part of a larger committee I don’t know, but I do think it would go far,” Rocamora said.

Morris offered her support to the idea.

“I would sort of second Olivia’s suggestion that we have some community discussion around law enforcement and policing Sandy Springs. I don’t believe we have any systemic issue, but honestly, I don’t know. I have not had any bad encounters with our police department,” she said.

Osorio said enabling law enforcement to engage in positive activities helps the community understand them.

“All of these committees, I think will definitely make a big impact as far as connecting the committee members to the government or to any resources that become available to them,” he said.

Bob Pepalis covers Sandy Springs for Rough Draft Atlanta and Reporter Newspapers.