Belmont Against Racism Honored By State Teachers Association

Photo: (from left) Louise Gaskins, the eponymous educator of the award for her leadership on issues of women and people of color in education, with current and former BAR Board members, Meg Anderson, Bev Freeman, Charlene O’Connor, Kathryn Bonfiglio, John Robotham, and Mike Collins.

Belmont Against Racism will be in the spotlight on Friday, June 15, as the group is presented with the 2018 Louise Gaskins Lifetime Civil Rights Award from the Massachusetts Teachers Association at its 36th annual Human and Civil Rights Awards dinner held in Westborough.

Belmont Education Association members Carla Hawkins and Karen Duff nominated the group for this year’s award.

Duff, a Chenery Middle School librarian, said she has reached out to the group many times, including for help with funding, “to invite local authors of color and authors from the LGBTQ community to come in and provide writing workshops.”

Hawkins, a Chenery school counselor, said, “As is the sad and disturbing truth everywhere in America, Belmont has its share of racial, homophobic, religious intolerance and other incidents of hate and intolerance. BAR is the leader in the community that, in a timely and mindful way, organizes the community by providing a space and forum to address the issue and open a dialogue. Belmont is becoming a safer and more accepting community as a result of BAR’s existence.”

Belmont Against Racism is an all-volunteer organization started 26 years ago after the Rodney King verdict with an emphasis on anti-racism work.  In 2001 it broadened its mission to address all forms of prejudice and bias. With its partner programs, The LBGTQ Alliance, and The Stand-Up Campaign, BAR’s stated mission is to strive “to build a diverse, inviting community-based on fairness and mutual respect.”

BAR organizes and co-sponsors programs and films related to social justice issues, race relations, and identity. BAR also funds grants to the schools and community, including support for after-school transportation for Belmont High School METCO students.  BAR started and continues to fund the annual Belmont Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast.   BAR is the sole fundraiser for the METCO Support Fund that provides after-school transportation for Belmont High School METCO students who participate in after-school activities, for activities sponsored by the Boston Belmont Friends Group, and for programs across the schools. 

Examples of programming supported by BAR in  the Belmont Public Schools this past year include a Thanksgiving luncheon for English Language Learners and their families at Winn Brook School, funding for Belmont teachers to attend an IDEAS Educator Conference that explored the impact of race, culture, and equity on student engagement, learning and achievement, support for diverse authors at the Chenery Middle School, bringing award winning slam poet, Regie Gibson to Belmont High School for presentations and writer’s workshops and funding for Belmont High School students to see the play, “Unveiled.” 

Community support by BAR has included funding for Story Starters, a program for children and their parents that uses literature to talk about race and racism, co-sponsorship with the Belmont Public Library to bring Gish Gen to speak about her book The Girl at the Baggage Claim: Explaining the East-West Culture Gap and funding for Teen Empowerment to do a diversity workshop with Boy Scout Troop #304.  BAR also distributes lawn signs that read “No matter where you are from, we’re glad you’re our neighbor.”

“We try in our small way to make a difference in our community, with a particular emphasis on supporting efforts to make our METCO students feel welcome and appreciated in our town,” BAR’s President Kathryn Bonfiglio told the MTA audience. Bonfiglio said that while it has been a discouraging few years given the increase in bias incidents, the rise of student activism country-wide has been inspiring. Bonfiglio commended local youth groups including Black in Belmont students, Muslim students who spoke at a recent Iftar dinner at Beth El Temple Center, and Belmont High Students who marched in the Boston Pride Parade as examples. 

Future programs for BAR include a forum on Nov. 15 on “Bringing Restorative Justice to Belmont” with speakers, Middlesex District Attorney Marion Ryan, State Sen. Will Brownsberger, Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin, Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan, and members of Communities for Restorative Justice. 

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