Community members rally for change in first meeting of Brookline’s Summit for Racial Equity



Maria Lazu, organizer and founder of The Urban Labs, a firm that aids corporations and institutions be more effective in their diversity and inclusion efforts, sets expectations at the beginning of the Summit.

Graham Krewinghaus, Staff Writer

People of all different ages and racial identities sit in a small room and share around the circle, each member giving their name, affiliation and the reason they are here. The group is one of seven, each a part of the first meeting of Brookline’s new Summit for Racial Equity, which took place on Feb. 10 at the Ohabei Shalom Temple on Beacon Street and Kent Street.

This meeting was specialized for fighting racist housing policies, with a stated goal to “increase quality and number of low and moderate-income housing in Brookline,” according to the mission guidelines in the packet given out at the beginning of the conference. The other groups, scattered throughout the temple, tackled issues like education, policing and employment, and how each relates to race in the town.

These discussions are an integral part of the Summit for Racial Equity, organized by Deborah Brown, Joanna Baker, Joan Lancourt and others. With the summit, Brown and the rest of the Coalition to Eliminate Racism in Brookline aim to engage town residents in a meaningful discussion that leads to real, tangible change.

This summit was one of several upcoming meetings in which Brookline residents will come together to work on ending systematic racism in the town. Brown, a prominent Brookline activist, well known for initially requesting the name change of the former Edward Devotion Elementary School (now the Coolidge Corner School) because of Devotion’s status as a slave owner, began the Summit with a few opening remarks on race in Brookline.

“We need to establish that Brookline has a problem with race,” Brown said. “Why is this so important? Racism kills people. Whether we’re talking about heart disease, asthma, diabetes, PTSD, depression, racism leaves a mark on people, and sometimes, you don’t even know it’s there until the disaster hits.”

Brookline residents Chobee Hoy, Lindsey Toomey, Sean Leckey and Brendon Saunders engage in a discussion surrounding race relations in Brookline. GRAHAM KREWINGHAUS / SAGAMORE STAFF

Brown then told the crowd what needed to happen for the day to be effective.

“We need to look into our compassionate, loving and pragmatic souls,” Brown said. “Yes, we have a pragmatic soul. And in that pragmatism, I’m asking that as we work on these issues, we work on them in a specific, attainable and relevant manner.”

After dividing into small groups for each of the seven objectives, the discussions began. Each group established clear goals, plans to achieve them and assets they could use.

The determination to see change was discernible in many groups, and all of them had a thorough timeline for future meetings and other important events. Raul Fernandez, Town Council member and candidate for Select Board, shared some goals the policing group came up with near the end.

“The community should get to set the standard for how they want police to interact with them,” Fernandez said. “These standards should be made public, and it should be the public that holds the police accountable to them.”

Specific goals like these were set in each category, from educational equity to diverse business ownership to representation on boards and commissions. The small group format allowed individuals to thrive and created a space where everyone could get their ideas shared.

Brendon Saunders, a longtime resident of Brookline, shared his thoughts on the town’s future during his group’s conversation, outlining the importance of low-income housing.

“We need to ask ourselves if we’re headed to a Brookline where everyone can live, work and play,” Saunders said. “If you look at the demographics of this town, of Boston in general, you see very diverse and robust people. We have a critical mass of people coming from all over the country to live here. And what does that mean for a small town like Brookline? It means we need to make adjustments. Adjustments to accommodate not only the people who already live here, but the people that would like to live here, and the people who were educated here, who want health care here and who work here.”