Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance Marks 20 years of Activism At June 10 BAR Meeting

Photo: Belmont Pride Parade 2020

On Thursday, June 10 at 7:30 pm, Belmont Against Racism’s monthly meeting will focus on 20 years of Belmont LGBTQ+ Alliance activism in Belmont by hosting a panel of speakers that includes Janson Wu, director of LGBTQ+ Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD); Grace Stowell, director of The Boston Alliance of LGBTQ+ Youth (BAGLY); and Debra Fowler, co-founder and executive director of History UnErased.

In the past 20 years, the Alliance has brought educational programs and events to Belmont, giving visibility to the LGBTQ+ community and their concerns. From plays to films to speakers’ panels and a performance by the Boston Gay Men’s Chorus, the Alliance has highlighted issues of relevance to the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals, celebrated the arts, and held community social events. In 2004, when same-sex couples in Massachusetts won the right to marry, the Alliance held its first Freedom to Marry Ice Cream Social followed by a decade of this celebration. The Alliance holds an Annual Fall Potluck and marches in the Pride Parade in Boston annually. As the Boston Pride Parade was canceled last year, the Alliance held its own Belmont Pride Parade, attended by more than 100 marchers. 

This year the Alliance will hold its 2nd Belmont Pride Parade on Saturday, June 12 at 1 p.m., starting at the Wellington Station Town Green on Concord Avenue. All members of the community are invited to join this festive event.

To join the June 10 event, go to: https://bit.ly/33XSxcb

For more information about any of these events and future Alliance events, go to http://belmontagainstracism.org/ or email belmontagainstracism@gmail.com.

Forum This Thursday To Discuss How Belmont Can Reach Goals Of Equitable, Affordable Housing

Photo: A road towards more equitable housing in Belmont

Belmont Against RacismThe Belmont Housing TrustThe Belmont Media Center, and the Belmont Human Rights Commission are hosting an informational public forum titled “Belmont’s Road to Housing Equity this Thursday, April 29 at 6:55 p.m. via Zoom or live on Belmont Media Center.

It will be an evening to explore historical and present day housing issues an how Belmont can reach its goals of equitable and affordable housing.

Zoom link at https://bit.ly/Belmonthousing

https://www.belmontmedia.org/watch/infotv or Channel 96 (Comcast) or Channel 30 (Verizon)

  • How can Belmont reach its goals of equitable and affordable housing? 
  • What’s the historical background and how does it relate to fair housing law?
  • Who shapes local housing and zoning decisions?
  • What does new zoning legislation mean for Belmont?
  • Where is Belmont today on meeting its housing goals?
  • How does Belmont fit into the wider transportation picture, with its new zoning rules and tools as well as its financial incentives for the Town?

Learn from a panel of experts as we explore these questions. There will be a Q & A opportunity.

  • State Rep. Dave Rogers(24th Middlesex District), 
  • Robert Terrell (Fair Housing, Equity and Inclusion Officer at the Boston Housing Authority and previously Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston); 
  • Katherine Einstein (Assistant Director of Policy at Boston University’s Center for Antiracist Research); 
  • Jarred Johnson (Executive Director of TransitMatters); and
  • Judie Feins and Betsy Lipson of the Belmont Housing Trust.
  • Moderated by Rachel Heller (Co-Chair of the Belmont Housing Trust and Chief Executive Director of CHAPA.

Boston Globe’s Renee Graham To Speak Virtual At Belmont’s Annual MLK Breakfast

Photo: Martin Luther King Breakfast

Belmont’s annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Breakfast will be held virtually on Monday, Jan. 18, at 9 a.m. through the Belmont Media Center.

The featured speaker, Renee Graham, Boston Globe associate editor and Op Ed columnist, will address the question: Rejecting ‘Normal’, Embracing Radical Change: Can we build a democracy that finally lives up to its ideals?

Graham reflects articulately and powerfully in her column on many contemporary issues – from voter suppression, to institutional racism, to LGBTQ issues, to politics, and to other social justice issues.

The event is co-sponsored by the Belmont Human Rights Commission, Belmont Against Racism, and Belmont Media Center.

To register, go to Eventbrite at: bit.ly/Register-2021MLK  For more information, contact Belmont Human Rights Commission or by email to Belmont.hrc@gmail.com or call 617-993-2795.

The event is free of charge but donations to the Belmont METCO Support Fund are greatly appreciated. Contributions may be made by cash or check to Belmont Against Racism, re:METCO Support Fund, PO Box 649, Belmont 02478 or on line at belmontagainstracism.org at the “donate” button.

Letter To The Editor: Hate Towards Police Is Counterproductive To Encouraging Change – BAR

Photo: Belmont Against Racism

Letter to the Editor:

Belmont Against Racism (BAR) condemns the verbal abuse of Belmont Police officers by members of the public as reported in the Belmontian on September 14. http://belmontonian.com/featured/belmont-police-officers-increasingly-targeted-with-verbal-abuse-from-the-public/ As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Hate begets hate, violence begets violence…”

We support the Belmont Police Department and have confidence in the leadership under Chief James MacIsaac, who has embraced the 21st Century Policing Principles and police reforms. The Department’s policies had already aligned with the 8 Can’t Wait https://8cantwait.org/  policies encouraged in the wake of George Floyd’s killing In addition, the BPD has partnered with Communities for Restorative Justice to provide, when parties agree, a restorative justice alternative to court proceedings. We are not Kenosha, or Minneapolis, or Louisville. The BPD has been engaged in conversations with BAR over the past decade and regularly attend the Human Rights Commission meetings. We have all learned from these conversations and have established respect for one another. We appreciate that service that the Department provides for Belmont and are saddened to learn of the negative treatment that the Belmont officers have faced. 

To be clear, BAR strongly condemns police brutality as we have witnessed in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and so many others, and we believe officers who commit murder should be swiftly brought to justice. We believe Black lives matter. We support police reform and are hopeful that the Massachusetts legislature will soon send the police reform bill to the governor to be signed.  

But wanting reform is never equal to hating an individual or assuming they oppose reforms. There is no reason for hateful treatment of any individual and this behavior is counterproductive to encouraging change. Hate speech will do nothing to encourage institutional change in housing, health, education, and the environment. Hate speech will not encourage any redirection of investments into alternative community resources, or further the cause of any demands for police reform. 

There should be no place for racism in Belmont and there should be no place for hate either. We urge respectful treatment of police officers in our community as we work together to make Belmont a welcoming community for all. 

Kathryn Bonfiglio

President and the Board of Belmont Against Racism

Letter To The Editor: Belmont Against Racism Asks ‘Why And How We Can Accept This?’

Photo: A vigil at First Church Belmont

To the editor:

The Board of Belmont Against Racism is saddened, anguished and, yes, angry at the taking of Black lives in our country by law enforcement officers over these past several weeks, culminating in the death of George Floyd. The COVID-19 pandemic will be overcome by our scientists, medical leaders and public officials. We ask why this same focus and determination has not and still will not be applied to eradicating racial hatreds, injustice and violence. 

Belmont Against Racism was begun 28 years ago as a sad, anguished and angry response to the police brutality directed at Rodney King on another spring day in Los Angeles. And many of us in 1992 recalled too well the events of the 1960s and the Kerner Commission report which declared that “our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white—separate and unequal.” So very little has changed and so it is time that we ask each other and our civic and community leaders why and how we can accept this and call ourselves a civil society whose laws and structures protect everyone, not just those whose skin tone happens to be white.

Stephen Carter, a Yale Law Professor and former clerk of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, stated in an interview on NPR this week that this hatred, injustice and violence will continue until our country can forsake our belief in the inherent superiority of white people and inherent inferiority of black people. We believe he is right. In “These Truths,” her history of the country, Jill Lepore observes the many ways we have failed to ever really be faithful to the words from the Declaration of Independence in each generation as nativism, nationalism and white supremacy have too often contradicted the aspirations that neither the founders nor we have ever lived up to. She quotes Abraham Lincoln, who said in 1862, “We must disenthrall ourselves and, and then we shall save the country.” More than 150 years later, it seems we have barely begun to do this.

Some will be tempted to focus on the protests, riots and burning. While we too regret that so many small businesses and communities are ravaged as well by the rages that are swirling, this is not the core problem now, nor was it in 1992, nor in the 1960s. It is too easy to let our sympathy and support for those who are the rage’s victims become “the story” and not the underlying cause of racism. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes this point in his op-ed piece in today’s Los Angeles Times. He quotes Langston Hughes’ poem “Harlem:” 

What happens to a dream deferred?

…Maybe it sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

We are fortunate in Belmont to have leadership in our Town’s Police Department who have embraced The 21st Century Policing Principles and are demonstrating their commitment to anti-racist policing in our town.  Some in BAR can recall times and incidents when such principles were not adhered to as well. But, we have made progress in our community. Belmont is not Minneapolis, LA, St. Louis or any of the larger cities where police violence against blacks are too common and until the age of the smartphone often unseen, unless you happened to be the black victims. 

But, if we can make progress in our small town, we must retain some hope that it can be done elsewhere. However, focusing just on law enforcement is also a mistake. We who are white must continue the work to become disenthralled. It is done in small and large ways. We must pick ourselves up from these ashes and recommit to creating a country that someday will see beyond the color of our skins.

Michael Collins

BAR Board Member

Virtual Candlelight Vigil On Thursday, June 4 In Response To George Floyd’s Death

Photo: The poster of Thursday’s remote vigil

In response to the murder of George Floyd and the resulting nationwide unrest, Belmont Against Racism, the Belmont Religious Council, and the Belmont Human Rights Commission are sponsoring a virtual candlelight vigil on Thursday, June 4 at 7 p.m. to be aired on Belmont Media.

Members of the clergy, Belmont Police Chief James MacIsaac, State Rep. Dave Rogers, State Sen. Will Brownsberger and others will be giving short words of comfort/comments which will be followed by asking listeners to light a candle or flashlight on their front porches. 

Immigration Highlights Keynote Address At Belmont’s Annual MLK Breakfast, Jan. 20

Photo: Ragini Shah, founder and director of Suffolk University’s Immigration Clinic will be the keynote speaker at the annual MLK Community Breakfast.

The bond linking civil rights leader Martin Luther King and the struggle immigrants experience in today’s adverse environment will be the focus of this year’s keynote address at the 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Community Breakfast.

The event sponsored by the town’s Human Rights Commission and Belmont Against Racism will be held Jan. 20, 2020 from 8:45 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Belmont High School cafeteria.

Ragini Shah, clinical professor of law at Suffolk Law School and founder of Suffolk’s Immigration Clinic will talk on “Uplifting the Human Personality: Martin Luther King and Immigrants’ Rights Today.”

Music will fill out the program

There will be pastries, fruit, juice and coffee as well as supervised activity for children under 12.

Tickets: $5 for individuals; $10 per family. Pay at door or with eventbrite (tinyurl.com/BelmontMLK2020)

All proceeds and donations will be go to support the Belmont School’s METCO Support Fund which funds late transportation for METCO high school students who participate in after-school activities at Belmont High School and across all Belmont schools for programs that bring our Boston and Belmont students together.

Donations to the METCO Support Fund can be made by cash or check to: Belmont Against Racism, P.O. Box 649, Belmont, MA 02478

For info on the community breakfast, contact the Human Rights Commission at 617-993-2795 or belmont.hrc@gmail.com.

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. 

Stand Up to Bullying: Bystander Intervention Workshop This Saturday

Photo: Poster

Witnessing a person – particularly a stranger – being harassed can be an uncomfortable or confusing experience for many people. Without having a strategy to safely de-escalate a situation or to support the person being attacked, many people choose to not intervene.

To provide people with the appropriate tools in this scenario, The Stand Up Campaign and the Belmont Council on Aging will co-sponsor an interactive workshop, Bystander Invention WorkshopWhat You Can Do When Witnessing Harassment on Saturday, March 18 from 2 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Beech Street Center, 266 Beech St.

The Stand Up Campaign, a program partner of Belmont Against Racism, promotes kindness, respect, and civil communication.

The workshop content will be led by experienced actors from an Arlington-based theater group, True Story Theater, who will improvise realistic situations and lead participants in role play scenarios.

The workshop is non-political and non-partisan and is appropriate for ages 16 years and older. The event is free, but registration is required here.

For questions, contact Donna Ruvolo at donna.ruvolo@gmail.com or 617-489-5446.

A Community Contemplates, Comes Together After A ‘Terrible’ Week

Photo: Participants at the rally Tuesday. 

In the warm twilight of Tuesday, more than 250 men, women, families and children arrived at the courtyard of St. Joseph Parish in an act of community contemplation after what Belmont Police Chief Richard McLaughlin described as “a terrible week.”

The residents came to demonstrate, in the truest sense, their concern to the violence inflicted onto two African-Americans – in Baton Rouge and Minnesota – and five Dallas law enforcement officers that left them dead and a nation in shock.

But the night would not be filled with slogans or protest placards, rather a quiet reflection and the light of more than a hundred candles.

“This event was prompted because there were a lot of conversation that ‘We need to do something and do it soon and to say really how much Belmont cares’,” said John Robotham, a leader of the Belmont Religious Council which with Belmont Against Racism and the Belmont Police Department organized the rally for hope and healing. 

The event began with prayers for the victims, survivors and for courage and understanding.

“Spur us to root out the demons of anger, hatred and racial disparity from our hearts and minds and our society,” said Parish member Suzanne Robotham.

Rabbi Jonathan Kraus of the Beth El Temple Center noted while “there is holy work for us to do” in acts of kindness and the pursuit of justice to help heal ourselves and the country, “before we can reach across the chasm of hurt, misunderstanding, distrust and violence, we must open our eyes with those we share communities but who, if we are honest, we really don’t know very well.”

“Even as we confess the legacy of racism and bigotry that continues to be a poison thread in the fabric of America, we must find the courage, the faith, and the strength to proclaim along with Anne Frank, ‘I simply can not build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.'”

Quoting from a passage from the Quran – “O mankind. We created you from a single pair of male and female, making nations and tribes, that you may know each other” – Furqan Sayeed, who graduated one month ago from Belmont High School, said what struck him is the phrase “know each other.”

Those words connote mutual respect and understanding “and that’s very important to keep in mind when we hear when those horrible things happen that attempt to divide us. I pray to God that we don’t get divided, and we face any challenge as a community together.”

McLaughlin quoted US Attorney General Loretta Lynch who called for “action; calm peaceful, collaborative and permanent … we must continue working to build trust between communities and law enforcement … and guarantee every person in this country equal justice under the law.”

“Above all, we must remind ourselves that we are all Americans and as Americans, we share not just a common land but a common life. Those we lost this week have come from different neighborhoods and different backgrounds. They are mourned by all of us,” said McLaughlin, who said his department is “here to serve you … to work with you, to make our community the best community we can.”

As the candles were lit, Robotham read from Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Lecture, and the gathering sang verses from “We Shall Overcome” and “America the Beautiful.”

While Belmont is far from the despair and confrontation occurring in other parts of the country, Robotham said this demonstration was necessary “because sometimes we do need to protest and speak loudly.”

“There are times in our town when there is a racial divide or divisions along ethnic or religious lines and we need to call that out and to make a statement that we do care about dialogue and living with and knowing each other and not just tolerating our neighbors,” said Robotham. 

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