In the troubling days following the violent and deadly demonstrations in Charlottesville in August 2017, more than 325 mayors signed a Mayors’ Compact to Combat Hate, Extremism and Bigotry, a 10-point pledge to work toward inclusive and compassionate cities drafted by the Conference in conjunction with the Anti-Defamation League.
It was the mayors’ immediate and compelling call for action that quickly led the United States Conference of Mayors to commit to the establishment of a Center that would support mayors’ efforts to make cities across the nation more equitable, more inclusive, and more compassionate. Conference of Mayors President Steve Benjamin, Mayor of Columbia (SC), announced plans to establish the Center (originally titled the Center for Inclusive and Compassionate Cities) in his inaugural address in Columbia on May 7, 2018 and again on June 9 in his President’s Address at the organization’s 86th annual meeting in Boston. The Center was formally launched by Mayor Benjamin in Montgomery (AL) in a November 13-14 Conference of Mayors event that included a discussion session with Bryan Stevenson, the founder and Executive Director of the Equal Justice Initiative. (The event was documented for the nation’s mayors by Conference CEO and Executive Director Tom Cochran and reported in the Montgomery Advertiser on 11/14/2018 and 11/15/2018.)
Early support from Walmart, followed by the Coca-Cola Company and Comcast, was critical to the establishment of the Center and signaled both city leaders and business leaders that companies such as these recognized the importance of taking direct action to confront bias and hate with compassion and inclusion. More recently, Target has partnered with the Center on its grant program to support police reform and racial justice. The Conference recognizes that the leadership of the business community continues to be key to the success of both individual mayors’ efforts and the Center itself.