Burroughs Indians Armenian Redux?

I had something completely different in mind for this week until a friend said, just last night, why dont you do an article about this weeks topic. At first I reacted with significant aversion. But now, I feel compelled to thank her profusely. As I was considering how to present this matter, it occurred to me that the Armenian community in Burbank is now in an analogous situation to the one Native Americans were in a few years ago. The issue was the mascot/name of John Burroughs High Schools teams, the Indians. They found it offensive. When a friend, an Armenian, asked me why we should be supportive, or, more fundamentally, why this nomenclature was a problem, I was not able to give a good response. Now, I can point to whats going on and say, This is why. In Burbank, an unpleasant situation has arisen. For the fourth year, the Armenian Relief Society has applied for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money to operate a social service program in Burbank. In a time when every year sees a shrinking pot of this money coming in from the federal government, breaking into the circle of regular recipients of these funds is not easy. The ARS received zero funding on its first attempt, $2500 on the second, $7500 on its third (the current year), and has received a $5000 recommendation for next year. This proposed amount is a first step in the process, and comes from the Community Development Goals Committee (CDGC) that makes recommendations to the City Council. The Citys executive staff also makes its recommendations. Council ultimately decides how the funds are allocated. Heres where the problem starts. Ever since the ARSs first appearance, there has been a vocal minority that believes its inappropriate to fund the ARS, or any other organization rising from a national community thats immigrated to the U.S. Why? Because a fear exists that such organizations dont serve everyone, theyre too narrow, not anyone can walk in and get help. Apart from the illegality of such lack of service, its simply not true. But religious based organizations, some anyway (YMCA, Salvation Army), do get funded, while others (Catholic Charities) face ARS-like obstacles. There is also the consideration that any subgroup is likely to get better service from an organization with which it is more familiar. Many new immigran’s are unlikely to know of, much less go to, a public agency that provides equivalent services, leaving such subgroups underserved. So far, all this is falls within the realm of reasonable minds can disagree. Unfortunately, at least one member of the recommending committee joked about removing the word Armenian from the ARS name to get funded. As word spread among the Armenian community, many people were hurt, if not outraged. On Tuesday, April 3, several community members spoke at the Burbank City Council meeting, requesting redress of this wrong. It roiled the waters. Four of the council members were very supportive and asked staff to look into the matter while apologizing for such commen’s. The fifth explained his reasons, roughly as above, for objecting to funding the ARS but still agreed that any inappropriate commen’s should be addressed. Meanwhile, the staff person assigned to work with the CDGC had been working on setting up a sensitivity training. But, on the night after the City Council meeting, before such training could be held, the CDGC met. The commen’s made to City Council had raised hackles. Letters were drafted and reconsidered. The maker of the comment admitted doing so, but saw no problem in it or the giggling that followed. Some are calling this racist. Im not sure Im prepared to go that far yet, but its certainly a serious problem that needs to be corrected, as soon as possible to maintain good neighborly relations among everyone living in Burbank. One complicating factor is the reasonable discussions mentioned above. Unfortunately, coming from the City Council, they can easily create the sense that other, unacceptable approaches to the issue are tolerable. They are not. No one should have to deal with this kind of degradation. So now its up to us, the Armenian community, with the City of Burbanks help, to sensitize our neighbors to what may not seem offensive but actually is quite hurtful. Please get involved in this kind of issue, be that in Burbank or anywhere else.

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