Valentina Rojas / Sagamore Staff
A meeting regarding racial equity in Brookline co-hosted by the Brookline for Racial Justice (BRJE) and the Boston Workmen’s Circle brought a group of around 50 town residents together at Temple Sinai on Nov. 30. The theme throughout the night was finding systemic solutions to systemic racism in Brookline.
BRJE is a group that formed through unified outrage at the acts of racism in Brookline according to Abby Erdmann, former School Within a School English teacher, a founding member of the group.
Steps to Success adviser and BRJE founding member Emy Takinami introduced the four assumptions BRJE presented to the group:
1)We understand that structural racism exists in Brookline
2)We are committed to working together for racial justice in Brookline
3)We define racism as a system of advantage based on race
4)We believe that because racism is systematic we need systemic solutions to address it
“In this scary national government we need to focus on local government,” Takinami said, “and put Brookline families of color first by changing the structure.”
BRJE members work to address issues of racism in Brookline through community involvement and engagement within municipal government. They believe introducing new candidates to run for positions in Brookline such as Board of Selectmen and School Committee is an important step in fighting racial inequality.
Boston Workmen’s circle proposed a way to change systematic racism by using The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE). According to GARE’s website, GARE is “a national network of government cohorts working to achieve racial equity and advance opportunities for all.” They “believe government’s proactive work on racial equity has the potential to leverage significant change, setting the stage for the achievement of racial equity in our communities.”
GARE, created by the HAAS institute for a fair and inclusive society and Center for Social inclusion at UC Berkeley, has been implemented in different cities across the country, including Boston.
Fair Housing Commission Deputy Director Janine Anzalota spoke about GARE and the benefits of implementing it in Brookline.
According to Anzalota, GARE offers tools and pathways for jurisdictions to do work on racial equality. GARE includes a coalition of various governments in the nation that offer their experiences and resources to each other to help combat systemic racism.
BRJE founding member Abigail Ortiz spoke of the benefits of GARE and used the city of Seattle as an example of a city adopting GARE and changing their policies to combat systemic racism.
According to Ortiz, Seattle adopted GARE and used their racial equity tools. In one example they reviewed the policies in the justice system pertaining to contacting minors for court dates. For example, a young person who had received a citation for possession of marijuana would typically go to court and pay a small fine; however, what Seattle saw was that there was a disparity between White kids making their court dates and Black and Brown kids not making them. Missed court dates led to heftier fines and punishments. Seattle analyzed these cases and came to the conclusion that communication methods were a potential contributing factor to the disparity. They eventually formed a focus group consisting of young people and asked them how the government could better contact them regarding their court dates. The focus group answered that texting was the best method of communication. Seattle implemented this style of communication and saw the gap close.
“And how did it work for the White kids? Better!” Ortiz said. “You design from that group and you correct some historical stuff. What they found in Seattle is that there’s all kinds of stuff that’s potentially creating more racial inequity. It’s bigger than one policy, but it is policy! I’m interested in changing policy at a large scale and passing multiple policies that reinforce each other and these tools will get you there, it’s a way of getting at really long term historical stuff and it corrects what’s happening.”
“There’s a long history of government doing wrong,” Anzalota said, “and it’s government’s responsibility to do right by it’s citizens, this is the premise of GARE.”
According to GARE’s website, “Government’s proactive work on racial equity has the potential to leverage significant change, setting the stage for the achievement of racial equity in our communities.”
The downside to GARE is the cost of being an affiliate, according to Anzalota there are different levels that one can affiliate with GARE, and they offer a sliding cost scale. According to Boston Workmen’s Circle Executive Director Jen Kiok, it would cost the town of Brookline a rough estimate of $3,000 annually.
Anzalota listed some examples of policies that she said should be rewritten. These include policies such as: disqualification for employment for people who have been arrested or convicted, certain unrelated qualifications for job applicants that lock people out as well as decreased affordable housing availability.
“This is an opportunity to hold your leadership accountable,” Anzalota said. “We understand how scared folks are and we need an inside-outside policy to get GARE implemented. The community needs to organize and say “we want GARE” and push and write a warrant article to present to Town Meeting.”