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I am urging my fellow Town Meeting members to support the creation of the Director of Equity and Social Justice to be housed at the Library.
This recommendation was made by the Select Board Ad Hoc Committee for Human Rights, which was created the evening the Select Board was visited by holocaust survivor and author Dr. Anna Ornstein. At the time, we were reeling from a spate of anti-semitic and racist graffiti. Dr. Ornstein urged us to be ever vigilant against hate and stand up to it.
I was one of two Select Board members tasked with recruiting and convening the Ad Hoc Committee. Every person I spoke with in this effort asked the same question: “What is it that we are supposed to create?” My answer: “Our job is to figure it out.” There was no pre-conceived outcome or direction. While I did not get the chance to see this through to the end, others worked diligently for over a year to recommend this solution before us.
Reading has a proud history of taking decisive action when crises emerge. When rising property taxes threatened the ability of low-income seniors to stay in their homes, we created Senior Tax Relief- only the third town in Massachusetts to do so. When the opioid epidemic took the lives of our young people at an alarming rate, we created RCASA, which is now a national model.
In both instances, we didn’t have all the answers on how it would work or what it would look like. We only knew we needed to act. We trusted our elected officials and fellow townspeople and squarely got behind those efforts. That same trust is needed here. I have spoken to dozens of town meeting members who have asked legitimate questions about how this will be implemented. My answer is simple. If we knew how to collectively respond to hate and proactively build bridges, we would have done so already. I trust my neighbors to create a response appropriate for Reading.
From my time on the Board, I heard from far too many residents who felt discrimination, hostility, harassment, and fear. For every incident reported, there are probably many more that go unreported out of fear of recrimination. I reject the notion that Reading is a racist town. I similarly reject that we have no problems and are immune from the proliferation of hate and divisiveness plaguing the rest of the country. We can all agree what we have in place now is not adequate to begin to have the difficult conversations.
I urge you work to make this a success- not just by lobbying Town Meeting members for their vote but to engage in the activities created by this new entity and participate in the challenges of making Reading a truly inclusive community.
Town Meeting Precinct 4
Former member of Reading Select Board.