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'It's about time': 2 newly appointed Black council members share their attachment to East Lansing, talk about plans

August 11, 2020
<p>East Lansing City Hall pictured on Sept. 12, 2017, on Linden Street. Here, the City Council meets to discuss residents&#x27; concerns.</p>

East Lansing City Hall pictured on Sept. 12, 2017, on Linden Street. Here, the City Council meets to discuss residents' concerns.

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

During the interview process for a position on East Lansing City Council, Ron Bacon was unaware that the city hadn't appointed a Black council member since 1973.

Over a decade-long resident of the city, Bacon said it probably would have made him very nervous with the gravity and weight of the fact, had he known it before. It was after he was appointed that he found out, and he felt honored.

"It really makes you want to do a really good job and make sure that I open doors and make it a common thing for any culture, any race of people to feel comfortable running and participate in the process,” Bacon said.

With the appointment of two new Black council members Saturday, Aug. 1, East Lansing City Council made history by creating the first council with people of color in the majority. The existing council members unanimously appointed Dana Watson and Bacon to the two vacant seats.

"It's amazing, and it's about time,” Watson said. “We've been a part of this community for a while, and I'm excited to serve and I'm excited for people to see me, to see someone that has their same color and knows that we can do this."  

After graduating from Michigan State University, Watson returned to East Lansing in 2007. She said she likes being part of the college town and enjoys walking or driving around on the game days.  

“I like what the community has to offer,” Watson said. “I'm from south Chicago suburbs, and it's more expensive and things are further away. I love the festivals that we have been able to have.”

As a mother of three, she always wanted her children to go to an East Lansing school. Watson said she also loves the East Lansing Art Festival and hopes to be able to keep that going with the City Council.

Therapeutic area manager for Genentech Roche and a Michigan State fan, Bacon was also drawn to the area for the educational opportunities in the school systems for his daughter. He said he particularly liked East Lansing schools and parks.

“I love just everything about the community, and it's just a great place to raise a family,” Bacon said. “The farmers market is probably my go-to. I do that every weekend and get something.”

As a newly appointed council member, Bacon said the focus is on public health and safety at the moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The first priority is to ensure the council provides a great deal of guidance for the rules, laws and everything that is needed to accomplish public safety for everyone.

“I think it's just important to remember that we're all kind of in this together, and ultimately our top priority will be through the lens of public health and safety and making sure we keep people safe," Bacon said. "My kids live here, new (Council Member) Dana Watson's children live here. We're all parents so just first and foremost keeping everyone safe.”

A public health educator for Ingham County Health Department, Watson was already serving on the East Lansing Planning Commission when she was appointed as a council member. Prior to that, she served on the Human Rights Commission and has been involved with equity work for the city.

“There's a familiarity that I have (as) I've participated in the community COVID testing,” Watson said. “With the students coming back, it's something that I believe I can bring to the table and also help with connections and conversations.”

Because of her contributions to the community, Watson said she had been encouraged to apply to become a council member prior to the global pandemic and nationwide protests calling in support of Black Lives Matter. As things changed in the city, people were encouraging her more.

“The second big issue is obviously, without a doubt, right now around fairness and equity," Bacon said. "The independent police commission is a big priority — to get that up and running in the area. … A lot can be run through the independent police commission and the new commitment to diversity and inclusion. ... Hopefully, that's a starting point for new dialogue."

Watson also emphasized the importance of equity from streets to schools and everywhere else in the city. She said she has talked about affordability before and wanting to see a community where people making different amounts of money can all afford to live and thrive.

Bacon also intends to focus on the budget and the impact of COVID-19 on local businesses. Bacon wants to make sure these businesses are still supported and figure out creative solutions for them to do well in a safe environment.

"Lastly, the public trust," Bacon said. "Just making sure we have established and reestablish that public trust around the process around us as individuals in that type of thing."

Both Watson and Bacon said they are looking forward to serving the community as new council members.

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