Council hears residents’ call for office of inclusion and diversity
The City Council will vote whether to launch an office of inclusion and diversity at City Hall after hearing several residents speak out in favor of the proposal at Monday night’s meeting. The Council’s vote will be at the Sept. 21 meeting which has been pushed up one week due to the Yom Kippur holiday on Sept. 28.
Councillors Leo Robinson and Calvin Brown had originally made the official order that city officials and community members “develop plans to address unconscious bias and systemic racism” and also to discuss the possibility of creating an office of inclusion and diversity in the city.
Chelsea Black Community President Joan Cromwell, a lifelong Chelsea resident, was the first to take the podium and state her strong support for the funding and opening of an office of inclusion and diversity.
“Our calling here today is a telltale sign that the conversations on racial bias and systemic inequities are necessary for our city to truly reflect as an All-American city,” said Cromwell. “It is quite disheartening that residents have to come here, not so much as to tell that racism exists in our community, yet more so that we are here to advocate, solicit, and rally for your vote on creating an office for diversity and inclusion in city government.”
Cromwell reflected on a Chelsea Young Adult Alliance June 7 rally at City Hall during which “we stood in solidarity condemning the inequity and injustice long endured for generations in our nation by Black and Brown people and their families.
“I end with asking you to unanimously vote yes for the office for diversity and inclusion,” said Cromwell. “This is not a Black issue, not a White issue, not a Brown issue, it’s not an Asian issue – it’s all of our issue in this community and that’s what we stand for.”
Kenneth Umemba, husband of Joan Cromwell, spoke forcefully about the issue, recalling the years before Chelsea went into state receivership when some key positions in the city were filled through nepotism.
“The City Manager [Tom Ambrosino] is not asking for much,” said Umemba. “He said this office should engage employees, take a second look at practices, policies, and budgetary.”
Jayde Umemba and Kyle Umemba, leaders of the Chelsea Young Adult Alliance and their efforts responsible for the incredible attendance of 1,000 residents at the June 7 rally, also addressed the Council. Kyle quoted the great civil rights leader and brilliant orator, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in his remarks during the course of delivering his own spirited message to the Council.
“You posted, you’ve spoken about this, you’ve had meetings, you were outside with us, you guys walked with us – you walked, you talked, now it is time to act on that,” concluded Kyle.
Sharon Caulfield, who has been an extraordinary liaison for Bunker Hill Community College to the Chelsea community, said an office of inclusion and diversity “would help everybody in the City of Chelsea.”
Caulfield also praised City Manager Tom Ambrosino, stating he and City Attorney Cheryl Watson Fisher should be involved in the selection process for the positions in the office of inclusion and diversity. “We have a good city manager and I hope we can continue to have a good city manager like we have now,” said Caulfield.
Maria Belen Power, associate executive director of GreenRoots, said, “I am here to stand in solidarity and to be in support of the Chelsea Young Adult Alliance and their demands which include the hiring of a diversity, equity, and inclusion officer. Hiring a DEI officer or creating an office is a very concrete way in which this city, our community, and this City Council can put our commitments to racial equity into practice.”
Former councillor-at-large Roseann Bongiovanni, executive director of GreenRoots said the Council has an opportunity to do something very memorable for the city.
“This is what you have in front of you tonight – you have the opportunity to make a lasting difference in this city,” said Bongiovanni, sponsor of the city’s sanctuary resolution. “This is not a controversial vote. This is something that is powerful, that is long overdue. You have the opportunity to be a model city. We have been a sanctuary city, an All-America city, we have been a Robert Wood Johnson Culture of Health Award-winning city. Now you need the city that votes yes and accepts this, adopts it with pride and with joy and with enthusiasm.”
Darren Cromwell, who lived in Chelsea for 30 years, recalled his days as a youth growing up in the 1970s when he witnessed racist interactions with officials in law enforcement.
He also questioned the manner in which American History is taught in the schools, stating that “it doesn’t tell the real story.”
“We need change now otherwise you’re going to continue to raise these boys and girls, African-American, Hispanic, Latinos feeling less than and we’re going to have bigger problems. Now is the time to act on them for the office of diversity and inclusion,” said Cromwell.
School Committee member Henry Wilson said he was the first president of the Chelsea Black Community in 2013. “I keep on fighting. This [office] is something we need in our community. We need to work together, to make sure that what needs to be done for all residents of the city is taken care of the right way. What happened in the past is the past. Now it’s time to do the future.”
Larry Elgart expressed his support for the office of diversity and inclusion. “I wonder, how can it not be a unanimous vote? If literally, there’s anybody sitting there right now thinking about not funding this office – I challenge you to challenge yourself, ask yourself, ‘Why is that? Is that a conscious bias? Is that a subconscious bias? Is that a lens that you see the world through? For me, that’s paradigm paralysis. Remember, people are watching. This is only a small portion of Chelsea residents. This goes way beyond this. It’s 2020, it’s not 1960. It’s today. If you don’t challenge your assumptions and stay in that paradigm paralysis, then you’ll always be exactly who you are and everybody will see that.”
Elgart’s superbly delivered and passionate speech received one of the most enthusiastic ovations of the evening, setting the stage for an historic vote by the City Council on Sept. 21.