Tritown Against Racism made a spirited introduction to the Rochester Board of Selectmen during the latter’s August 3 public meeting.
“Our mission is to intentionally create an anti-racism atmosphere,” explained Tritown Against Racism member Alison Noyce to the selectmen. “Our philosophy is to start where you live. There is a huge racism problem in our country. It’s hard, it’s confusing, but let’s start where we live… we’re willing to do that work to make changes.”
Noyce, who participated via Zoom, was joined by fellow Tritown Against Racism members Barbara Sullivan and Tangi Thomas.
Noyce, a white Rochester resident and mother and grandmother to children who live in Rochester, told the board that she has two sons who are black, a 2020 graduate of Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School and a junior at Old Rochester Regional High School.
“We call it ‘calling in’ rather than ‘calling out’ … We want people to come to us wherever they are in their journey,” said Noyce, alluding to a growing awareness across the nation in the wake of the 2020 killings of Breanna Taylor and George Floyd by police officers. “We’re ready to meet people where they are.”
Although Rochester has a small minority population, once a platform existed, people of color quickly opened up to share stories about racism in the town’s public schools, including adults.
“It’s been kept a little bit secret or underground so to speak,” said Noyce, who brought incidents targeting her sons to the attention of school administrators. “I didn’t feel like I was one of a lot of people who were having this issue… Once we started Tritown Against Racism, I found out I wasn’t alone.”
Thomas, a Marion resident whose son age 6 and daughter age 13 have grown up in Marion since the second grade, told the selectmen about the group’s book drive aimed at diversity that as of Saturday had reached a total of 295 books. Thomas and her kids spent an evening on Amazon.com and made a “long list of books that were diverse, that were going to cater to everybody.”
The frequent volunteer at Sippican School “wanted to find a book that my son could relate to.”
Rochester resident Kelcey Robertson, age 10, became the book drive’s biggest donor several weeks ago when he sold lettuce from his family’s garden resulting in the addition of 57 books for the Rochester Memorial School library. Robertson, as Thomas explained, chose books based on his experience with other children commenting on his hair or asking why his father is a black man. Robertson was recently awarded The Wanderer’s Keel Award for his outstanding contributions to his community.
“We were so thankful to everybody who donated to the book drive,” said Thomas, who said Tritown Against Racism will continue to collect volumes at the end of every school year. “We still have our wish list up if anyone wants to take a look at it.” (facebook.com/Tritown-Against-Racism-111302157253133)
Asked by the board if the group is happy with the response its members have received from Superintendent of Schools Mike Nelson and Rochester’s three school principals, Noyce indicated that it is a work in progress.
“Junior high was particularly difficult for my sons. I feel like I got an OK response at that time, but it was more like putting out a fire. But systemic racism was not addressed,” she said. “We weren’t sure if we were going to be heard, but Mike Nelson’s commitment (for ORR) to become an anti-racism school… I have a lot of faith right now in Mike Nelson… If our schools change, then everything will change.”
Last month, Sullivan addressed the ORR Joint School Committee, and members of Tritown Against Racism came away encouraged by the encounter.
“We felt very supported by Mike Nelson and by school committee members,” said Noyce, who indicated talks are ongoing with Old Colony Regional Vocational-Technical High School Principal Aaron Polansky as well. “We’re here for the community, just like you guys are.”
“I hope you will keep us informed as to your progress, because this problem is unacceptable,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Paul Ciaburri.
In her Town Administrator’s Report, Suzanne Szyndlar told the board that June 19 is now officially a state holiday in recognition of the end of slavery in the United States.
Szyndlar relayed notice from the Department of Revenue that FY21 funding for unrestricted general government aid (UGGA) and Chapter 70 education funding has been level-funded at FY20 amounts. In Rochester’s case, the UGGA amount is approximately $451,000. Chapter 70 funding is approximately $2,057,000. Szyndlar called it “good news for the municipalities in Massachusetts.”
Plymouth County mosquito control spray was scheduled for Tuesday, August 4, in the evening, but was under consideration to be pushed back to Wednesday with Isaias coming up the east coast.
In her Green Communities update, Szyndlar reported that Andrew Daniel has ordered lights and fixtures with insulation in the library and its attic completed and the police station in progress. Skylights for the school has been ordered.
Szyndlar participated in a team walk-through of all municipal buildings with the public health agent and others to evaluate and installed air purifiers in all locations.
Work is being done on the intercom system at Town Hall to keep people from entering the building all at once.
Rochester’s new website went live on Friday and continues to receive updating.
The Council on Aging program “Coffee and Conversation” is now in its third week held from 9:00 am to 11:00 am on Monday, Wednesday and Friday outside the Senior Center on Dexter Lane.
COA Director Cheryl Randall accessed the Board of Selectmen meeting via Zoom and requested permission to reopen the Senior Center building for small-group activities limited to 15 people in the large conference room.
“We still have to remind people on occasion not to get too close because people really miss each other,” she said of the back-patio gatherings.
Vice Chairman Brad Morse made a motion to let the COA open the building on a case-by-case basis while following state-government guidelines. The board approved. “Hopefully it won’t be that much, but it’s a good backup,” said Randall.
Due to COVID-related restrictions, the Senior Center will not be used as an emergency shelter.
In other business, the board signed the Seaboard Solar Easement off Old Middleboro Road that had been approved by Town Meeting. Monday, November 16, was established as a special Town Meeting date subject to the Planning Board and other applicable parties. The possibility of a $100,000 feasibility study was discussed in regards to a new public-safety building that could house police and fire departments. There are no funds established to pay for it, and Town Meeting approval would be needed.
The Board of Selectmen met for the third straight time in the Town Hall with Szyndlar also at the U-shaped table and Town Counsel Blair Bailey managing the technical aspects while participating in the meeting as needed. After the first two hybrid attempts had met with substantial audio difficulties deciphering the voices in the room via Zoom, the audio was noticeably improved for the August 3 meeting.
The board broke into executive session to discuss the potential purchase of land and returned but only to adjourn. The next meeting of the Rochester Board of Selectmen is scheduled for Monday, August 17, at 6:00 pm.
Rochester Board of Selectmen
By Mick Colageo