In addressing Tuesday night’s Tri-Town Against Racism virtual Town Hall Meeting, Jason Chisholm told Zoom attendees, “We’re very aware of those individuals who are against what we’re trying to do. We’re also aware of those who stand beside us. … I want to focus energy on the group in the middle, not with us and not against us, standing on the sideline and contemplating where they’re going to land.”
For nearly two years, the grassroots organization has been on a mission to affect change via diplomatic policies such as “meet people where they are” and “educate,” and the journey has not always been smooth.
The incident of vandalism last month in Mattapoisett, where the Little Free Diverse Library at Ned’s Point was heavily damaged and its contents destroyed became an occasion symbolic of the question many have been asked over the past two years as to where they stand.
In expanding upon his statement about focus, Chisholm, the group’s executive director, alluded to author Brene Brown’s analogy differentiating between empathy and allyship. Empathy, he relayed, is where a person seeing someone stuck in the hole says, “I feel bad that you’re in that hole.” Allyship, seeing someone stuck in the hole, climbs into the hole with them and says, “Hey, we’re going to figure out how to get out together.”
Alison Noyce, the vice president of Tri-Town Against Racism, said the organization believes in allyship for all. “We want to make all people feel like they’re included and they belong,” she said.
Noyce was one of the ground-floor parents who, amidst sharing her stories with other parents on social media, was compelled to help organize as a group and seek solutions in a group setting with the emotional and intellectual benefit of like-minded support.
“At that point we didn’t all know each other, but we all knew we had to do something,” said member Jenn Hunter, who serves as treasurer.
The Town Hall fielded approximately 10 pre-submitted questions, different members compelled to speak to them.
In addressing a question about the vandalism at the Little Free Diverse Library, Tri-Town Against Racism President Tangi Thomas found a silver lining. “We found out how much people care about our Little Diverse Library,” she said, talking about how much she enjoys going to the post office and seeing the new book arrivals that are earmarked for the Little Free Diverse Library.
Rhonda Baptiste, one of the organization’s many directors who originally was involved by supporting her son Kelcey Robertson’s effort to supply school libraries with books reflecting racial diversity, fielded the question, “How can parents talk to their kids about racism?”
“Racism is treating people unfairly or unkindly. An ally is a friend who stands up for a friend if they’re being treated unfairly or unkindly,” said Baptiste, who believes the key to teaching empathy is to teach children to look outside of themselves. “Stories are one of the best ways. When we read, what we do is we put ourselves in the shoes of the person in the story.”
Baptiste encouraged listeners to create a culture in their house and family of kindness and compassion and to take steps to acknowledge and reward such behavior “because, if it’s a priority for you, it’ll be priority for them. … Let your kids see that you care because if you care, they’re going to care.”
Several other questions were tackled, and Noyce was excited to discuss local partnerships with the Marion Art Center, Mattapoisett Museum and Sippican Lands Trust.
More activities are planned for 2022, and members hope some of them can be held in person. It was noted by Noyce that the emergence of Tri-Town Against Racism and its ongoing work have been accomplished entirely during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a standing invitation, please spread the word,” said Chisholm in concluding the meeting.
He invited interested people to learn more about Tri-Town Against Racism on the organization’s Facebook and Instagram pages.
By Mick Colageo