The City Council voted Monday night by an 11-0 margin to create a diversity, equity, and inclusion office at City Hall.
Councillor-at-Large Leo Robinson and District 8 Councillor Calvin Brown originally proposed the order to launch and fund ($252,000 for two years) a diversity and inclusion office. Brown amended the motion to include “equity” in its title. Importantly City Manager Tom Ambrosino strongly supported the proposal and once again drew significant praise from speakers for his leadership and accessibility on the issue.
Prior to the Council’s historic vote, Chelsea Black Community President Joan Cromwell led a group of Chelsea residents who again enthusiastically voiced their support for an office of diversity and inclusion. Many speakers stressed the importance that the vote be unanimously.
Kenneth Umemba was again brilliant and powerful at the microphone in his impassioned speech. Beverly Martin-Ross and the Rev. Dr. Sandrsa Whitley delivered remarks that were well-received remarks from the audience. Jennifer Hassell, who cited her multi-ethnic background, expressed her love for the city over the decades of residency here. Her daughter, 23-year-old Jaylen Hassell, was also very effective in delivering her message of hope and optimism.
Robinson, dean of Chelsea city government, asked to address the Council before the vote.
“I like to thank my colleagues who have been in this since June and finally we’re to the point where we’re able to vote on this measure tonight,” began Robinson.
The long-time community leader then gave a brief summary of the credentials that the city’s first-ever diversion and inclusion officer should possess.
“We’re looking for a dynamic leader to help drive organizational change around diversity, equality, and inclusion,” said Robinson. “That person will design and implement organizational-wide efforts and helped shape healthy and inclusive culture whete everyone can grow and thrive.”
While some have suggested that the new diversion and inclusion officer be a Chelsea resident, Robinson said the candidate search should be wide “and we want the best qualified person with experience in the field of diversity, equity, and inclusion.”
Councillor Brown said it was important to him to add the “equity” designation alongside diversity and inclusion.
“It seemed like everyone I spoke to said, yes, that’s good, that’s what the office is going to be,’’’ said Brown. “I looked up ‘equity’ and it is defined by Webster as ‘justice according to natural law or right, specifically freedom from bias or favoritism. This office will create a more sustainable Chelsea where people from all walks of life will be able to come and realize that we are participating in a fair and just city.”
Councillor Giovanni Recupero said, “I believe this office is a great office and this will serve the purpose. I know first-hand what racism and prejudice can do because I raised 13 children of biracial, so I always believed this office could be something that was always needed. I hope that this office serves all of us and makes it equal for all of us.”
Recupero added that he believes the new diversity and inclusion officer should be a resident of Chelsea.
Councillor-at-Large Damali Vidot then asked City Manager Tom Ambrosino, “How would this office affect change in the police, fire, and school department where we see the most issues in diversity?”
Ambrosino replied, “This office will not be able to affect any change in the school department because I have no authority within the school department. This person will have the ability to affect change within all the other departments under my purview and those do include the police and the fire.”
Vidot thanked several youths in the city for their activism in supporting the important issue before the City Council.
Councillor Todd Taylor said, “I don’t think that this was such a controversial thing. I think that listening to all the stories last week was beneficial and it’s one of the reasons why in the subcommittee I didn’t want to hear a lot of talk about theoretical stuff because when you’re talking about something that is this important, you want to hear the first-hand experiences of people. I’m happy that you brought those because if you want real change, you have to have a real conversation and you have to connect with people.”
Taylor said there were conversations within the community that not everyone was supportive of the measure.
“I want people to actually call and talk to me,” said Taylor. “There may have been a lot of things that may be said by other people who might not have my best interests at heart.”
Taylor then gave out his cell phone number to the community. “If anyone ever has a question or want to talk about any issue, you call me.”
Councillor Judith Garcia thanked her colleagues for their support of the measure and the residents who spoke at the Council meetings.
“It takes tremendous courage to share something as personal as you all did,” said Garcia. “You came here with that courage and with that conviction of making sure that you really pushed for what’s right in this community and it’s our opportunity as leaders to rise to the occasion and do what’s right and really represent our community and ensure that we’re being as inclusive, as welcoming as we really can and the first step to really dismantle that systemic racism that our city has been experiencing.”
Council President Roy Avellaneda said he supported the measure from the outset, relating some of his personal observations from his own experiences. Avellaneda’s speech was thoughtful and delivered with the eloquence that residents have come to expect from the council leader.
The vote proceeded. It was 11-0. CBC President Joan Cromwell and others in the audience responded with a standing ovation.