Shrewsbury BOS starts discussion on forming anti-racism task force

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By Melanie Petrucci, Senior Community Reporter

Shrewsbury – Selectman John Lebeaux was emphatic at the Board of Selectmen’s June 23 meeting that he “does not hold all the answers” but rather “has a whole lot of questions” as to how the town of Shrewsbury should go about looking at the issues of racism and discrimination.

“I am not suggesting that the Board lead and direct this work in a kind of micro-basis. I think our job is to do what we do well and I think we can organize a supporting structure that will allow this work to go forward but to let the task force do the work,” he said.

“Truthfully, granted we are the elected executive body of the town but let’s face it – we are five white people,” he noted. “We should be participating but not leading.”

At the June 9 Board meeting, Lebeaux made the request to put on an upcoming agenda a discussion relevant to discrimination and racism in the town.

Since then, he shared that some in town expressed their opinions that the Board shouldn’t do anything while others have criticized this approach.

“… I’m happy with trying to do something as right as we can than to do nothing,” he commented.

Referencing a letter that was sent to the Board from Bridgette L. Hylton and Sanam H. Zaer and signed by 198 residents requesting the establishment of an anti-racism committee, Lebeaux said, “I wanted to go broader and deeper than that…right to the name of it.”

He used the phrase “Shrewsbury Diversity, Discrimination and Racism Task Force” because he thought, he said, that the committee also needed to consider age, physical and mental challenges, ethnicity, gender and sexual orientation.

The make-up of the task force could be up to 30 people including a mix of some government officials as well as non-government; two co-chairs (government and non-government); and  a mix of residents with diverse backgrounds, demographics and ages.

The time commitment could be decided by the task force whose charge wouldn’t be overly prescriptive but would deal with global issues pertinent to Shrewsbury. Participation and feedback from the public would be sought and welcomed.

Lebeaux recommended swift action to form the committee; hopefully, by the Board’s July 14 meeting.

Selectman John Samia thanked Lebeaux for his time and initiative but he needed more time.

“I think the quicker we get going with the soft four corners the better the overall effort will be served,” Selectman Jim Kane said.

“I feel strongly that there needs to be student representation from the youth in our community front and center on this task force -those are the voices that are going to help guide us…,” added Beth Casavant, Board Chair.

The discussion will continue to the Board’s July 14 meeting when a charge will be fully developed.