“I’m ready to go.”
It’s her mantra or mission statement; call it what you will, but when Loma Nevels says it, she most definitely means it.
A resident of Wheeling Island and a retired employee who worked for 31 years for the city of Wheeling, Nevels is the newest member of the Friendly City’s Human Rights Commission. Mayor Andy McKenzie appointed her in early June and the commissioner was sworn in during the Commission’s regular meeting this past Tuesday.
“I accepted the appointment because I believe I can help because, first of all, I am a people person, and second, while I’m sure I could have been on any other committee or commission, to me, the Human Rights Commission is the most important,” Nevels said. “I feel that way because human rights and having to deal with discrimination is just wrong, and I want to work on helping those people who are subjected to it.
“Plus, with the LGBT issue right now, the commission is working on giving even more members of our community the voice that they need,” she continued. “Some people cannot get to where they need to get because of discrimination, and when that happens, those people need the Human Rights Commission to work on their behalf.”
The Wheeling Human Rights Commission is the only adjudicating municipal human rights commission in the state of West Virginia, and all other city government administrations must advise citizens to file complaints with the state commission headquartered in Charleston. The chairman is Wheeling resident the Rev. Dr. Darrell Cummings, the pastor of the Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Northern Wheeling.
In the Friendly City, however, Wheeling residents can file complaints after they believe they have been discriminated against in ways that concern equal opportunity in the areas of employment, housing, and places of public accommodation for reasons that are contrary to the principles of a free society.
“No matter how much awareness has been raised about human rights, discrimination is still taking place,” Nevels said. “As a black woman, I’ve encountered it several times, and that’s because it’s not going away. It’s how you deal with it that is the most important part.
“I’m 67 years ago, and that means I have run into discrimination since I was 6 years old, but I never experienced a real problem because of the way I chose to deal with it,” she said. “I made the decision not to treat the other party like they were treating me, and I moved on without blaming anyone.”
With her own two eyes, she has seen it.
While working with the Wheeling Water Department, Nevels interacted with thousands of customers through the years, and she has witnessed discrimination against all sorts of people, including members of the city’s LGBT community. The members of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission have been discussing the development of a resolution to send to Wheeling Council as a recommendation to create an ordinance to establish LGBT standards in the Friendly City.
“While I worked at the water department, I saw discrimination taking place, and I was subjected to it myself,” she reported. “And I saw discrimination take place against the LGBT community here in Wheeling, and it’s not right. I know I treated those folks the same way as I treated everyone, and that was with respect. Everyone deserves that respect. People are people.
“As we move forward, I believe the Human Rights Commission needs to approve the resolution concerning LGBT standards, and then we should forward it to the new council,” she said. “It is an issue we have to deal with sooner or later, so why not sooner rather than later. That’s my opinion.”
During her first meeting serving as a commissioner, Nevels used the chance to offer remarks at the appropriate time during the monthly agenda
In her mind, permitting all American citizens to live in a constitutional fashion makes sense to Nevels, a native of Texas who moved to the Upper Ohio Valley nearly four decades ago.
“Equal rights are something everyone should enjoy. Equal rights aren’t just for particular people. They are for everyone under the law,” Nevels insisted. “Until Christ comes back, things are going to continue to change because people change. Styles of life change, and there’s nothing you can do about that.
“Just because people change and they are different from others does not mean they shouldn’t be protected under the law,” she said. “We do have the right to believe what we believe, but we do not have the right to push those beliefs onto other people. That right does not exist.”
A new mayor, five new council representatives, and one incumbent will be sworn in at the Capitol Theatre on July 1. The ceremony begins at 11:30 a.m., and an outdoor reception is scheduled to follow. Once under oath, Mayor-elect Glenn Elliott and the council members will meet with the city’s human rights commissioners for a work session concerning the development of the LGBT resolution.
“I am looking forward to those sessions with the new council because it’s an issue that needs to be addressed right now,” Nevels said. “This is not an issue that should ever be tabled, and it should not be drawn out. We’re in a position to get it done, so that’s what we need to do.
“I am sure the LGBT community is sitting back and watching us during this process,” she continued. “I’m sure they want to see if our walk is going to match our talk.”
Her Mission is Fairness
The members of the Wheeling Human Rights Commission often attend fair- housing and equal-opportunity training sessions that pertain to the protected classes of citizens, and when complaints are filed, the commission chair selects two members to join the city solicitor in presiding over the adjudication process. Citizens wishing to file discrimination complaints can do so Monday through Friday at the Human Rights Commission Office that is located on the third floor of the City-County Building at 1500 Chapline St. in downtown Wheeling.
Wheeling residents also can pose any questions to the commission administrator, Melissa Thompson, by calling 304-234-3609. For a listing of the commission members, local citizens can review the commission’s web page.
“I am very much looking forward to it, especially after experiencing my first meeting after being sworn in by City Solicitor Rosemary Humway-Warmuth,” Nevels said. “And I plan to make myself available to do everything that I need to do so I can be the most effective commissioner I can be. This is very important to me.
“I don’t want to be on the Human Rights Commission and just sit there. I plan to be an active member so I can do everything I can do to make Wheeling a better place to live and work,” she continued. “I’m dedicated to doing the work that is necessary to accomplish that goal.”
Nevels ran to represent Wheeling’s Ward 2 earlier this year but finished second by four votes (236-232) to incumbent Ken Imer. She launched her campaign soon after her retirement because when she was a city employee, Nevels was not legally permitted to run for elected office per state code.
Despite the defeat, she remained hopeful her telephone would ring and an invitation would be offered to be appointed to one of nine boards or commissions by Wheeling’s mayor. And then …
“I have always wanted to serve the people in this city and after I lost the election, I decided not to stop. I knew there had to be another position in which I could help my city and the people who live in it,” Nevels said. “After I got the phone call about joining the Human Rights Commission, I knew I had to do it. And I am very happy that the call came from this commission.
“I do not mean to degrade any other committee or commission. They all do wonderful things,” she continued. “But this commission is my mission, and I plan to work very hard to get things done and to help people who need it. Nothing gets any better than that.”
(Cover photo by Steve Novotney)