NETWORK FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE

Educate, Engage, Activate

Addressing Racism in our Suburban Community

Recently, we have been gathering input from people who live, work or worship in Winchester about what Black Lives Matter (BLM) means to them. In this final article in our series we explore what support for BLM might look like, what antiracism practices a diverse group of community members would like to see, and what local organizations are doing to address racism and promote equity.

Learning and Education

A leading theme that emerged was around education. Respondents want to learn more about systemic racism and its history in our country, and they want other people, particularly White people, to have the opportunity to learn as well. 

Both students in our sample, as well as several adults, noted the need for revised, thorough antiracism curriculum in all levels of our school system.  Salma Abounadi, a North African/Moroccan woman, stressed the importance of self-reflection in the learning process. “Without true facts and with the misrepresentation of African Americans, it is hard not to develop negative stereotypes about Black communities.” She has committed to continue learning “about BLM issues and undo any biases I developed throughout the years about Black communities.”    

Learning about race theory and the history of systemic racism, as well as examining ourselves and our biases, can be enhanced through programming, and many respondents expressed a desire for ongoing community conversations, particularly with diverse groups. Accordingly, a range of educational initiatives have sprung up throughout Winchester: 

  • Multiple faith communities are sponsoring discussion groups around books with antiracism themes (e.g. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson and How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi)
  • Winchester Public Schools has offered many antiracism professional development opportunities for teachers, including several from Teaching Tolerance that support curriculum development and teachers’ efforts to apply antiracist principles and practices to their classrooms.
  • The Winchester Foundation for Educational Excellence has funded several projects, including the opportunity for educators to participate in a national conference focused on dismantling the structures and norms that uphold racial inequity.

Institutional Practices

Our group of interviewees stressed that, in addition to learning about systemic racism throughout our history, we need to look at present day access and embedded institutional practices that perpetuate racist impacts. Town Manager Lisa Wong described a racial equity audit the town is undertaking, led by an outside firm, that will “evaluate policies, procedures, norms, bylaws and laws which either directly address issues of racial justice and equity or indirectly have a racial justice and equity effect.”

The Select Board has taken a step toward promoting racial equity by incorporating a Land Acknowledgement to be read at the first meeting of every month, which notes that we are on the ancestral homeland of the Massachusett people.   

A key institutional practice mentioned by several people and organizations is to diversify the workforce in town and school departments. School Committee Vice-Chair Karen Maruyama Bolognese, a Japanese American woman, said, “I hope that in hiring practices around town and when recruiting new voices for leadership, we seek diversity of candidates and encourage people of color to take active roles in our schools, local businesses, and community government.”

Within the police force, Chief Peter MacDonnell instituted a change in how dispatchers respond to “suspicious” person calls.  Dispatchers must now determine what specific behaviors a person is engaged in that led the community member to decide they were suspicious; a cruiser is not sent if no suspicious behavior is identified. 

Explicit Statements of Support

People in our survey group frequently noted the value of explicit statements and visual displays of support. Last spring, many individuals endorsed the Joint Statement on police brutality crafted by the Network, Town Manager, Superintendent of Schools, Select Board and School Committee.

Since 2018, the Winchester Unitarian Society has been flying the BLM flag, and this summer the town raised a BLM flag on the Town Common. Many people have displayed personal Black Lives Matter lawn signs and the youth at Crawford Memorial Methodist Church have been helping to replace those that were damaged or taken. Heba Abu noted that explicit support “will help to hold the community members accountable to work collectively” toward systemic change.

Advocacy

ABC Resident Directors Tachera and Kenny Roberts stated that, “An advocate fights for you when you’re not in the room—or, one better, pulls up a chair to the tables where you’re not allowed to sit and creates space for you to advocate for yourself.” School Committee member Zeina Marchant concurred: “We need to work on how to bring the perspective of those who are marginalized to the policy makers.”

One critical area for advocacy is in diversifying our housing stock.  Select Board member Mariano Goluboff, a White, Latino man, stressed that “the community needs to take an active role to encourage the development of affordable housing. While direct racist policies such as redlining are no longer in place, predominantly white communities such as Winchester keep themselves segregated through zoning that discourages multi-family and affordable housing.” The Winchester Housing Partnership Board works to promote affordable housing units and is planning educational programming on zoning practices and their racist impact.

Our town is one of many engaged in thinking through, and acting towards, becoming an antiracist community. Reflecting upon the thoughtful answers we received from community members and many Winchester organizations and Town Departments, we are reminded of a commitment we have made to “adopt both/and thinking,” holding more than one reality at the same time. In other words, there is a lot we are currently doing to support BLM and promote antiracist policies and practices, AND there is so much more we need to do moving forward.

We are very grateful to all who provided their thoughts and perspectives for this series. Your input will guide the planning of future Network antiracism initiatives.  Previous articles in this series can be found here

For brief summaries of the antiracism activities of organizations in Winchester (town departments, communities of faith, and nonprofit organizations), click here.  If you would like to share information about what your organization is doing, email responseandadvocacy@nfsj.org.

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