ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Having conversations about race can be complicated and often uncomfortable for all parties involved. Over the years, Abilene has made strides in matters of diversity, specifically when it comes to public officials.
“I think it’s important that our leaders represent our community,” says Abilene Fire Chief Cande Flores.
Chief Flores says he is proud of the progress Abilene has made in recent years, but he knows there is a lot more work to be done.
“For a long time we haven’t seen a great representation, and I think that’s changing, and I think it’s really having an impact on how those people in the community feel towards leadership,” said Chief Flores.
Mayor Anthony Williams says representation of different cultures in local government and community leadership roles is a key part to making sure everyone in Abilene feels included.
“It’s important, especially for our children to be able to look and identify people who are in leadership, or people that are successful that look like them,” said Mayor Williams.
“You want people to feel comfortable accessing those services. You want them to feel like they have a voice in the process, and you want them to be around the decision table, when those decisions are made, that can impact them,” said City Manger Robert Hanna.
In 2017, Abilene elected Mayor Anthony Williams, making him the first ever African American Mayor in the history of Abilene.
In 2018, Chief Cande Flores was hired as Fire Chief in Abilene, making him the first Hispanic Fire Chief Abilene has ever had.
Starting in January of 2021, Chief Marcus Dudley Jr. will become Abilene’s first African American Police Chief.
“Make sure that we’re training in a way that respects human life, so that we’re not dehumanizing people. I think in policing we’ve also learned that we can’t be fearful of reassessing how we do things,” said Chief Dudley.
According to the Abilene Police Department, only 15% of people who work for the APD are minorities.
When asked about what we can learn from George Floyd’s death, Chief Dudley said it has the potential to impact policing moving forward.
“When we respect the sanctity of life, you end up having a situation where other officers will compel their fellow officers to act in a way that’s in accordance with the way we expect,” said Chief Dudley.
Chief Flores says he hopes the success he has had in his career inspires people of color in Abilene. He also took the time to stress the importance of creating more opportunities for younger generations.
“Kids at a young age don’t realize what’s available to them, and if you never give them that information, you never show them those opportunities, then they’re stuck in their same pathways, and they never veer from that,” said Chief Flores.
Mayor Williams says as an elected official and a person of color, talking about diversity is not always the easiest thing for him to do.
“I want to be judged as an effective mayor in the City of Abilene. Not the black mayor in Abilene,” said Mayor Williams.
Having said that, Mayor Williams knows the color of his skin, his culture, and where he comes from are major parts to who he is as a person.
“I’m a proud Texan and I’m also a proud African American, and I embrace both, but that doesn’t just define me. It’s a part of who I am. I think in that context, I think that’s a healthy way to look at those who add diversity and leadership in our community, and in our country,” said Mayor Williams.
Mayor Williams, Chief Flores, Chief Dudley, and City Manager Hanna say it is important to have these difficult conversations about race, because they can help bridge the gap between our differences.