Listening to high school students’ stories. Advocating with lawn signs. Expanding housing opportunities. Supporting legislation. Opposing offensive school team names and mascots. Learning more about police efforts to avoid profiling. Collaborating with local resources.
These were among the dozens of ideas presented in response to a call from the organization Bedford Embraces Diversity to define ways to keep issues of racial equality and justice prominent locally.
The group sponsored a virtual discussion on June 30, attended by more than 50 people, most of them women, and covering an age range from their early 20s to 90s. The participants included three Select Board members, leaders of the Bedford schools’ Parents Diversity Committee, service club leaders, and current college students and recent graduates.
Most of the steps suggested were options that could be addressed virtually, in light of the ongoing pandemic. There was no discussion of marches, demonstrations, or other activities that would necessitate large actual gatherings.
The program began with a detailed presentation of Bedford Embraces Diversity’s agenda. Those plans and proposals include:
- An opportunity for dialogue in small groups, planned for an evening in mid-July on Zoom. Retired high school teacher and resident Joseph Zellner will make an opening presentation on present events, how they evolved, and future opportunities. His remarks will be followed by activation of the Zoom breakout groups feature. Participants will reconvene to share thoughts and conclusions in smaller groups.
- Presentations by and discussions with young people on the effectiveness of protests and the priorities of their generation, planned for late July.
- A discussion with school principals or their representatives on educational approaches to these issues and any changes that are contemplated. Participants called for antiracism education.
- The role of the church (religious institutions?) and the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was recommended that clergy from the Black religious community be recruited for this presentation.
- The military’s equal opportunity legacy and experience, including active Air Force personnel and retirees who live in the community. Some participants added that the Veterans Administration would be an added resource.
- A presentation on the history of slavery in colonial Bedford, perhaps through the Bedford Historical Society. A participant mentioned that significant research has been conducted on this subject in Concord, and the Bedford town historian has begun a similar project that also includes the town’s Native American heritage.
- A series of opinion pieces in The Citizen, coordinated by Bedford Embraces Diversity. A participant suggested smaller informational messages presented in the news outlet.
A number of participants focused on the schools as a resource and on the impact of curriculum. “Do a listening tour of the high school and hear from students about what they are encountering,” suggested one participant. Students in the METCO program are another resource, another added. Also proposed was establishing chapters of Bedford Embraces Diversity in the high school and middle school.
Several suggestions addressed issues of personal growth and change – identifying and combating inherent biases and privileges, professional training on effective conversation, and understanding how to communicate with communities of color without microaggression. There was a call for more diversity among the professional staff in the schools and town government.