I moved to Amherst with my partner Carol and our son, Jesse, over twenty-five years ago for two very important reasons, the quality of the Amherst Public Schools and our desire to live in a diverse and collaborative community – the Pomeroy Lane Cooperative, which had been conceived by ABODES, whose members were parents of adult children with cognitive and physical challenges.
We were ordinary people embarking on an extraordinary adventure.
Our family, along with 24 other families moved into Pomeroy Lane Coop. We were intentionally diverse. We were households labeled low-income, Section 8, and market rate. We were Asian American, Latinex, African America, and European American. We were gay and straight. We were at varying degrees of understanding about issues of social, economic, and environmental justice.
Along the way we changed. The assumptions we held about each were blown apart and we started to see the strength and creativity inherent in our community. We learned to see and acknowledge our differences and to find ways to collaboratively solve the problems that arose.
This experience, this community, showed me what Amherst could be. It provided lessons I have carried forward into my work as a teacher, an activist, a member of Town Meeting, and now as I seek to be re-elected to the Town Council. .
We face a variety of issues as a town. We talk about appropriate development, sustainability, social justice, funding capital projects, and preserving the character of our town, but we often mean very different things. Perhaps, the most challenging issue we face is the divisions that have occurred and, sadly, continue to grow.
To address this issue, all voices need to be heard and all ideas need to be considered, researched, analyzed, and reconsidered. These are lessons I learned from living in the Pomeroy Lane Cooperative and from my work as a teacher. I believe that these lessons need to be practiced by each resident and community member and be part of the fabric of the work of every committee and the Council. But, these lessons are too often ignored in Amherst – instead a kind of silence reigns.
Breaking that silence demands a commitment on the part of Council and community members. It demands that all voices can enter and expand the parameters of our conversations. Breaking silence demands we examine the limited meaning embedded in preserving the “character” of our town.
When we talk about preserving the character of our town, we seem to mean that we want to preserve aspects of the look of downtown and neighborhoods we like, hold to our history, and create change with minimum noticeable impact. I want to see the definition of character expand, challenging us to become inclusive, to create safety for all residents, and to create thriving and welcoming spaces downtown and in our village centers.
The historical research done by members of Reparations for Amherst has helped us see our history. The voices of our BIPOC community have helped us see the patterns and actions we use to keep unwanted change at bay. Together we need to recognize that we are fighting for the character of our town. We are fighting to create an equitable and just community by listening to one another, challenging one another, and, most importantly, rebuilding with each other. And, we need to recognize that we have the needed tools at hand. We need to use the aspirational goals we have embedded in Town resolutions to ensure all community members feel a part of Amherst and feel protected, listened to, and respected. We need to open to and encourage significant involvement of BIPOC residents, differently abled residents, and other marginalized residents in shaping our policies, procedures, and decisions.
We need to change the character of our community by bridging divides not exacerbating them.
I am a person of integrity and determination who will foster progressive change in Amherst, change that rests on the best of what we have already created and on the ways we are growing and challenging our community.