‘We have to be better’
By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Northborough – A Black person walking into a Northborough town department would likely see nobody “like herself,” Northborough selectmen said, June 22.
That’s a problem worth addressing, they added.
In a move spearheaded by Board Member Tim Kaelin, Town Moderator Fred George and Rev. Valeria Schmidt, pastor of the Trinity Church of Northborough, gathered at their meeting, endorsed a statement condemning racism and announced steps to improve diversity in town government.
“Northborough is a wonderful community full of good people,” Kaelin said in a prepared statement. “But we have to be better. Northborough will be better.”
Kaelin said the town will soon convene a diversity inclusion committee of town employees, elected officials and private citizens alike.
That group, selectmen expect, will be operational by Oct. 1 and will provide guidance on improving diversity in municipal hiring. More so, it will also develop programming to educate residents on diversity and inclusion.
Branching off of that, Kaelin said the town will also mandate diversity training in future professional development programs with the goal of creating a more accepting social climate.
“We’re all in this together,” Kaelin said. “It will not be easy. But change is necessary.”
Towns and cities across the country have faced increasing pressure in recent weeks to both condemn and take steps to fight racism.
Northborough, like neighboring Shrewsbury, is one of the first communities in the region, to not only make a statement, but to also take this kind of action to fight racism that many residents say is pervasive here in the suburbs.
Fred George, one of the region’s few Black elected officials, said he’s proud of his community’s response.
“Many municipalities come out with these great statements; they read them once; everybody feels good about it; then they put that statement away and nothing happens,” he said. “I’m pleased that there are some action items attached to this.”
Sarah Saeed, however, a youth organizer who gathered roughly 400 demonstrators downtown for a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this month said she is wary.
“[The Board of Selectmen] have a lot left to prove before I can truly feel comfortable giving them credit,” she wrote in response to emailed questions. “I have seen a lot of issues lose momentum and slowly fade away in this town, and I want to be sure the same does not happen this time.”
Saeed, who attends Algonquin Regional High School as a rising senior, said she’s been made to feel like an outsider in her own community through overt racism as well as a pileup of microaggressions.
As Northborough has tried incremental changes to fight such racism, Saeed said she’s felt like leaders have simply “checked off boxes.”
“It is very easy to include minority perspectives in a tokenized way,” she said.
Fred George and Kaelin do, in fact, share some of Saeed’s concerns, with Kaelin noting in his statement that “The Northborough BOS supports all the peaceful protesters involved in the Black Lives Matter movement.”
As officials may soon circulate a statement, however, its words will not exactly match the ones Kaelin used June 22.
Kaelin’s original comments orbited one central anecdote from a local Black woman who lamented that, when she visits town hall or the police station, she sees “no one like her.”
After he finished speaking, however, Kaelin’s Board of Selectmen colleagues Jason Perrault and Leslie Rutan suggested the group only approve the statement on the condition that Kaelin edit out mention of the police.
“Considering the tension that has arisen with police departments, I would not want people to misread the statement,” Perrault said, arguing that lack of diversity is a problem spanning all town departments. “I’m not trying to weaken the impact of the statement. I’m just trying to make the point with less focus on a particular department.”
After discussion, selectmen agreed to, indeed, endorse the statement with the understanding that Kaelin would “wordsmith” the section mentioning police before bringing a new draft back to the board on a later date.
Altogether, for people like Saeed, questions remain, and the response has not been perfect, but all this does feel like a start.
“There is a lot of change needed that can only happen with continuous action from the town politicians and other people in positions of power,” she said. “I would encourage them to reach out to young people across town who are willing to be persistent and see this change through.”