top of page

NYC Community Boards Struggle with Diversity

REBEKAH ROBINSON, EMILY SCHUTZ, HOSTS: Next week is the deadline to apply to join one of Manhattan’s Community Boards. Members advise elected officials on everything from budgets to zoning. But Historically these volunteers have trended whiter and more male than the communities they’re meant to represent. Now the city is making an effort to diversify its community boards. But as Uptown Radio’s Eliot Schiaparelli reports critics say recruiting diverse members isn’t enough.

ELIOT SCHIAPARELLI, BYLINE: Tanya Bonner has been on her local Washington Heights community board for a couple of years. And the year before Bonner was appointed, the city gave the borough president’s office a mission: to seek out persons of diverse backgrounds, like her,. Bonner, a Black, woman thinks the city is doing a good job of that, but she says more needs to be done.

TANYA BONNER: But once these people are here, there's like, it's like, we're forgotten. It's like all of that push. It's like, it's almost like okay, we're going to get these people here, but we're not going to do anything to retain them.”

SCHIAPARELLI: Mark Hanis is with Inclusive America. A non profit that advocates for diversifying government positions. He says recruitment is only step one

MARK HANIS: “Sometimes people over emphasize the recruitment, and not enough about the retention and the promotion. And so when we look at diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, it's not just that first phase, it's about that retention.”

SCHIAPARELLI: The city has three main ways it’s working to recruit more diverse community board members. The first is how Bonner was appointed - Outreach. An aide from the borough president’s office reached out to Bonner and encouraged her to apply. The next major change - creating Term limits making room for new voices.. And the final change, collecting and making public demographic data. The demographic difference of boards is drastic in the Bronx - where one neighborhood had a community board with nearly three times more white people on it than live in the area. Hanis says to have an inclusive workplace boards should employ proven strategies from the private sector.

HANIS: Easy ones, like not allowing, you know, disparaging comment anti semitic racist, these are all things that people are familiar with that are not allowed in the private sector. We need to be as aggressive and successful about that in the public sector.

SCHIAPARELLI: Community board members have the ear of elected officials. Those officials rely on them to relay the needs of their neighbors. They don’t always take the recommendations but they often do. It wasn’t until 2020 that demographic data for board members was available and Bonner says more work is needed. Demographics don’t automatically qualify someone for public service.

BONNER: That doesn't mean that they're going to be advocates for that community? Even if they check a box saying there have that community? Do they actually care about that community?”


SCHIAPARELLI: For those that do, the deadline to apply is March 1.

Eliot Schiaparelli, Columbia Radio News


bottom of page