Mayor de Blasio names Anusha Venkataraman as head of nation’s first Racial Justice Commission

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Anusha Venkataraman. Photo: LinkedIn

Mayor Bill de Blasio named a senior official in his office to head the newly formed, first-in-country Racial Justice Commission March 23, 2021.

An urban planner by training, Anusha Venkataram, New York City’s Chief Service Officer, known for her community organizing and advocacy for equity, was named by de Blasio, to head the RJC.

The Commission is tasked with targeting and dismantling structural and institutional racism across the City, and also simultaneously serve as a charter revision commission, a press release from the Mayor’s office said.

“I am honored to serve as Executive Director for this historic Commission. We have a critical opportunity to identify the systems and structures that uphold racism and injustice, begin to dismantle them, and write a more equitable future for all New Yorkers,” Venkataraman is quoted saying in the press release.

“The pandemic has brought to the fore longstanding inequities, and with the energy behind the local and national movements for racial justice, there is no better time than now for public dialogue about our collective future, she added.

The Commission fulfills the Mayor’s pledge in the State of the City to convene a Charter Revision Commission that focuses on racial justice and equity, the Mayor’s office said. He has called upon the Commission to produce a formal report and recommendations by December 2021, and to produce a ‘rigorous’ community-informed guide toward a more fair, equitable, and just New York City.

“Our mission is to root out systemic racism across New York City. The Racial Justice Commission has the power to put forth permanent, transformative ideas for our government and our city. This moment demands nothing less,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio.

The Commission is primarily tasked with reviewing the City’s Charter and delivering proposals for charter revisions, but may also recommend policy and programmatic changes that don’t require charter revision, or changes to advocate for on a state or federal level.

It is expected to focus on significant structural changes to the powers, structures, and processes of New York City government that underlie sources of inequity, rather than narrow procedural changes or superficial policy fixes, the press release said.

Apart from Venkataraman, the 11 other members of the  commission will include:

  • Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO and Executive Director, FPWA, Chair
  • Henry Garrido, Executive Director, DC 37 AFSCME, Vice Chair
  • K. Bain, Founder and Executive Director, Community Capacity Development
  • Ana M. Bermúdez Esq, Commissioner, Department of Probation
  • Rev. Fred Davie, Executive Vice President, Union Theological Seminary and Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB)
  • Lurie Daniel Favors, Esq., Interim Executive Director at the Center for Law and Social Justice at Medgar Evers College
  • Darrick Hamilton, Founding Director, Institute on Race and Political Economy at The New School and Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy
  • Chris Kui, former Executive Director, Asian Americans for Equality
  • Yesenia Mata, Executive Director, La Colmena
  • Phil Thompson, Deputy Mayor for Strategic Policy Initiatives
  • Jo-Ann Yoo, Executive Director, Asian American Federation

“While the history of systemic racism has especially impacted Black New Yorkers, it has also powerfully shaped injustices and inequities that impact other people of color, immigrants, and other marginalized communities,” the press release said.

“At the intersection of the Black Lives Matter movement, Anti-Immigrant-and-Asian Violence struggles and equitable COVID 19 Recovery, we have a historic opportunity to reexamine, rectify and reconfigure NYC’s Charter, policies, and government operations to meet the needs of its multiracial and multicultural population,” said Chris Kui, former Executive Director, Asian Americans for Equality.

Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director, Asian American Federation, described it as an opportunity to imagine a “truly equitable city.

According to her profile on LinkedIn, Venkataraman has served in the Mayor’s Office and as NYC Chief Service Officer for more than three years. Prior to that she was the senior advisor for land use and housing in the NYC Office of the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Economic Development, and in several other capacities in city government.

A graduate of Brown University with a Masters degree in in City and Regional Planning from the Pratt Institute, Venkataraman has served as director of Green Light District in Brooklyn for many years, managing 35 projects for the community-based neighborhood sustainability initiative.

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