On Becoming an Inclusive Community: “Ask Who’s Missing; Make People Feel Invited, Help them to be Successful” ~ Priscilla Douglas

Priscilla Douglas, Ed.D, will speak at Bedford Embraces Diversity’s program honoring Black History Month ~ Courtesy image (c) all rights reserved

Priscilla Douglas lived on a pig farm in the 1950s near what is now Crosby Drive – a member of the only Black family in Bedford.

Today her resume is replete with achievements in academia, government, and business: an Ed.D. from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, secretary in a gubernatorial cabinet, 20 years as an executive coach, an advisor to major corporations, the author of two books, chair of the Boston Public Library Board of Trustees.

Douglas shared the lessons she learned and applied to her life during an interview on Zoom sponsored by Bedford Embraces Diversity to mark Black History Month.

Asked about ways to encourage local diversity, Douglas said, “When you talk about being more inclusive as a community, who’s missing? I would want to know for Bedford: who do you want to bring in? How are you making people feel invited? Once somebody is invited in, are you creating an environment for them to be successful? You don’t invite someone into your home and then not feed them.”

Douglas urged her audience to be curious and caring. “And listen to people –what are people’s dreams? Why are they coming to live in Bedford? What are their expectations? Are people making them feel welcome? Some people have lost the idea of being in a neighborhood, reaching out, and caring for people. In a town, you still have that capacity to reach out, and those conversations go a long, long way.”

Douglas related that her grandfather came to greater Boston from the West Indies; earlier he helped build the Panama Canal. An entrepreneur, he owned a farm on Waltham Street in Lexington. When he met resistance to his plans to raise pigs and chickens, he moved the farm to Bedford, near the Burlington line.

“There are events that leave an indelible impression – I call these pivot points,” Douglas observed. “What I can unequivocally say is that growing up on a farm in Bedford was the best preparation I could ever imagine for my life and my career.”

She continued, “When you are a kid and you are on a farm, you can’t have a better playground – I had 17 cats.” Besides “a deep connection with nature, early on I developed responsibility and accountability.” Growing up in Bedford, Douglas said, “I specialized in similarities. I knew the other kids’ values and ambitions.”

 

 

Douglas said her life story reflects the value of a diversified circle. “There was poverty in Bedford. There were people who didn’t have food,” she related. Douglas would accompany her mother delivering plates to residents in need, and “on Sundays, everybody was invited in our home. I thought Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of our family because my mother spoke so strongly about her.” She added that her mother also “had an affinity for the struggles of the Irish people.”

Douglas proclaimed what she said was a message for everyone: “If you are alive, you should be living.” Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, “people are seeing things that they didn’t see. No one would have known that essential workers were essential. It turned the world upside down as to who do we really value and what are their lives like.”

“This country is now forced to reckon with the fact that people have been underpaid,” she declared. “We are moving into an equity economy. Equity doesn’t mean ‘equal;’ it means ‘fair, accessible.’”

Douglas was the first African-American woman to serve in a Massachusetts gubernatorial cabinet, appointed secretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulations by Gov. William Weld in 1993. “When Gov. Weld appointed me, I said to him, ‘I am not the first person with the talent. I’m the first person that’s been given this opportunity.’ “

Her proudest accomplishments in the administration, she continued, were “creating the Governor’s Task Force on Domestic Violence and creating a process to track hate crimes. Imagine how people’s lives have been affected since I was in those roles.”

Dori Rhodes of the Bedford Embraces Diversity Board of Directors asked, “How do you navigate over the hurdles when you get discouraged?” Douglas replied, “I don’t have the leisure time to be discouraged and to give up. You have to find a way when it appears that there’s no way. It’s up to us to create the future that we want to see. We can’t wait for somebody else to do it.

“Sometimes I get discouraged, but I don’t get distracted. I stay the course,” she added. “You have to surround yourself with people that will lift you higher.”

Douglas’s most recent book is called “Woke Leadership: Profits, Prophets and Purpose.” The speaker said “woke leaders are the sentinels for the future. They act before there’s a demand for their action.”

Local resident Carole Charnow, President and CEO of the Boston Children’s Museum, told the Zoom meeting about “how absolutely critical Priscilla is to the thriving community in Boston, her leadership and her support of so many of us in the nonprofit sector and for-profit sector.” She said she is proud of Douglas’s Bedford roots, and asked, “How do you feel about your town and its ability to make people feel welcome and grow a diverse community?”

The existence of groups like Bedford Embraces Diversity “is an example of what needs to happen to keep the conversation going,” she stated. “The younger generation and what they’re doing gives me hope. The young people know that we live in a different world.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763


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Karen Hall
Karen Hall
6 months ago

Thanks for this article Mike, it is very timely in our community.

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