Lansing’s NAACP criticizes East Lansing mayor pro tem appointment

Decision to bypass Black member for post was 'privilege and bias'


WEDNESDAY, Jan. 17 — The Lansing Branch NAACP criticized the East Lansing City Council’s Nov. 14 decision to appoint new member Kerry Ebersole Singh, who is white, as mayor pro tem over incumbent Dana Watson, who is Black.

Ebersole Singh’s appointment passed on a 3-2 vote after Council members Mark Meadows and Erik Altmann voted for her and Ebersole Singh voted for herself. Mayor George Brookover nominated Watson, but their votes were not enough. All but Watson are white.

The decision, NAACP President Harold Pope said in a letter to the Council, was “an exercise, at its finest, of some people using their privilege and bias, plain and simple.”

Pope criticized the Council for “voting for a less qualified white female candidate with no experience serving in any capacity for the city,” over Watson, whose “experience as a public servant is unquestionable.”

“The people of East Lansing deserve better,” he wrote.

The letter was distributed at last night’s City Council meeting. Pope did not attend, but he was represented during public comment by James McCurtis, the Lansing Branch NAACP communications chair.

“We feel like it was an injustice and a disservice for the Council not to appoint Miss Watson,” McCurtis said. “The Council’s decision to ignore Miss Watson’s resume screams that its commitment to diversity and inclusion only matters when it suits you. This experience illustrates how some people use a governmental exercise of privilege regardless of a person of color’s expertise, commitment and service.”

McCurtis thanked residents who spoke out against the appointment after the Nov. 14 vote and in subsequent meetings, adding that the NAACP stands with them to “oppose the injustice the Council has perpetrated by their actions.”

“East Lansing is supposed to be a community of diversity, fairness, equity and inclusion. It was moving in that direction, but that recent act put a halt to it, in our opinion,” he added. “We are demanding that future Council elections have a process in place that will honor and embrace equity and inclusion.”

Following public comment, Watson used her own time to address the matter.

“It’s been a difficult time with this Council. The very first day, their action was cited as being racist, and I was the recipient of that,” Watson said.

She touched on her role as a Black woman representing Generation X, and as a feminist, and how she’d long reflected on the relationships between those identities. She also spoke about her own experiences with racism, both in East Lansing and in general, and on the historic relationship the city has had with people of color.

“We like to say that you all have had 400 years to arrive where you are. When were we even allowed to own a home in the city of East Lansing, let alone sit here and be elected as Council members? We never asked to take your pie, we asked you and the community to stop being clueless that you have more pie — and that it’s inequitable,” she said.

“We, again, like to say and be about a diverse, welcoming community, and that will pave the way for better ideas. But when you have a homogenous group of people, they’re going to make the best decisions for themselves and that homogenous group of people,” she added.

Watson thanked Brookover, members of the community and the city staff who reached out to her, as well as others who spoke publicly against the decision and “saw what this Council didn’t.”

“Racism can be covert, and it can be overt. And antiracism is an action of yours that grows from your thoughts and shows from your decision making,” Watson said. “My resilience is real, and my voice and perception is here to stay. I just hope as we go forward that together, you all can show the community your anti-racist stances on things.”

Ebersole Singh was the only other Councilmember to address the letter or appointment at last night’s meeting.

“I want to recognize both colleagues and Mr. McCurtis’ comments as it relates to the vote after the election,” Ebersole Singh said following Watson’s comments. “I just want to say that my door is going to continue to be open. I think we’ve known each other in a different life. I’d be happy to have dialogue and conversation, so that you can maybe get to know more of what I’ve been involved in across my career,” Ebersole Singh said.

She added that she appreciates and listens to every public comment and leaves each meeting “with a lot to reflect on.”

“My colleagues up here know I have a door open to work on a variety of issues,” Ebersole Singh added.


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