Hudson to learn about racial equity in government with REACH program

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Hudson to learn about racial equity in government with REACH program
The REACH team from Hudson includes Superintendent Brian Reagan, Director of Public and Community Health Lauren Antonelli, Regional Youth Substance Use Prevention Program Assistant Julie Zieff, Regional Health Communications Specialist Thalita Campelo, Director of Planning and Community Development Kristina Johnson, Human Resource and Licensing Manager Fernanda Santos, Executive Assistant Thomas Gregory.

HUDSON – Hudson has joined communities like Acton, Framingham, Lowell, Natick and Salem in joining the REACH, or Racial Equity Advancement and Collaborative Hub, program.

REACH is a 10-month program that gives a team the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other towns to learn about and apply strategies for equity in municipal government.

According to a Feb. 21 memo from Executive Assistant Thomas Gregory, the REACH program is “a transformative initiative that aims to cultivate inclusive and equitable environments within Massachusetts municipalities.”

The memo also noted that the program is designed to be a platform for municipal teams to partake in dialogue and learning that emphasizes collaboration, knowledge exchange and support for racial equity in local government and the larger community.

The Director of Public and Community Health Lauren Antonelli said the program is run in partnership with MAPC, or the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. They have enlisted GARE, or the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, a national network that works to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all, according to its website.

MAPC and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston fund the program with Hudson paying $5,000 toward it. Antonelli noted that the Health Department will use grant money to cover that cost.

The team consists of Antonelli, Gregory, Superintendent Brian Reagan, Director of Planning and Community Development Kristina Johnson, Human Resource and Licensing Manager Fernanda Santos, Police Chief Richard DiPersio, Regional Youth Substance Use Prevention Program Assistant Julie Zieff, Regional Health Communications Specialist Thalita Campelo and Hudson resident and School Committee member Molly MacKenzie.

The team attends one session a month in Boston for a full day where the members collaborate with team members from the other communities and share best practices.
“It’s nice that it’s a somewhat diverse mix of communities,” said Antonelli.

She said, “We had to apply for the program back in the fall, and part of the application was putting forth some goals we hope to achieve.”

After learning about the program through MAPC mailings, Hudson began in February and will commence the program in November.

“We’re very interested in diversity, equity and inclusion work,” she said.

She believes that it is important for Hudson to participate in the REACH program for many reasons. At the larger municipal level, she said the town has not done a lot of strategic work in the area of diversity, equity and inclusion. Antonelli said some of the systemic issues can be attributed to the government, and as such it is significant to learn about the historical nature of the issues. With awareness, they can “make changes in the present” and be more inclusive.

She said, “The program is really giving us an opportunity to learn about these things.”
Reagan said he was pleased to partner with municipal leaders and has attended two sessions, one on the role of local government in advancing racial equity and another on the Affirm, Counter and Transform (ACT) model, which is designed to address and manage conflict, tension and push back.

“I was asked by Lauren if I would join the team to represent the School Department, and I was pleased to accept the invitation given our ongoing efforts to address racial equity in the schools,” said Reagan.

He added, “I hope to connect my learning from the program, which runs through November, to the work we are doing in the school department’s initiatives with townwide efforts to address equity.”

Johnson said of her participation, “As the director of planning and community development, it is important to me to understand how to better promote racial equity within municipal operations involving land-use decision making and long-range planning efforts with the community.”

In the health department, they have discussed health equity and social determinants of health, a work for which they have “a strong kind of interest and passion.”

Looking to the future, Antonelli said that as many people both live and work in Hudson “it’s especially important to us that we’re making a community as welcoming and inviting as possible.” She believed it was key to make sure that the people representing the town reflect the people who live there.

She said questions like how to hire a more diverse workforce will be explored. Overall, topics like advancing racial equity and the role of government and building inclusive communities will be covered.

Beyond the REACH program, Antonelli hoped the town would invest more time into diversity, whether that translates into staff training or an equity audit, with policies and procedures as its focus.

She said, “We’re just trying to build a foundation of being able to talk about and think about racial equity issues.”

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