Speaking out: Sharing Stories of Pain, Frustration, and Hope

A panel put together by Bedford Embraces Diversity (BED) provided a platform for the first of the essential ongoing conversations which must take place for both the country and Bedford to move forward together. Mike Rosenberg of BED hosted the event, titled “Speaking Out: Sharing Stories of Pain, Frustration, and Hope.”

The panelists, all with strong connections to Bedford, shared their experiences dealing with race in America, and more specifically in Bedford. Many grew up in Bedford, attended Bedford Schools, or are current residents.

The six speakers were:

  • Kyle Draper, television broadcast professional
  • DeWayne Clachar, BHS ’09, community leader in Dorchester
  • Lt. Scott Jones, BHS graduate and member of the Bedford police force
  • Robin Grace, Trustee, Bedford Free Public Library
  • Jason Chisholm, BHS ’92, workplace specialist, Microsoft Corp.
  • Claudia Fox Tree, educator and Native American advocate
  • Terrence Parker, attorney

Many of the speakers were forced to address racism in America from a young age. Robin Grace, who grew up in Boston, learned of the dangers and obstacles people of color in America face even as children. “I was taught to move gingerly throughout the world. Wherever white people go, they’re able to blend in,” she said, “Wherever I go, I’ll always stand out, always be seen, and always be judged.”

DeWayne Clachar also grew up in Boston but attended Bedford Public Schools from first grade through the METCO program. Clachar’s time in Bedford was very positive, he shared. “It was the best experience I could’ve had,” he said, “I truly got the best of both worlds by being an inner-city kid living in the city and growing up in the city, but then having the chance to go out to Bedford and get a really good education and also just meet some really great people.” For Clachar’s siblings and friends who have gone through the METCO program in Bedford, the experience was different, however. During their time in the program they faced “severe racism,” Clachar shared. “They’ve heard the name-calling, the insults. They’ve experienced the body language or just explicit racism.” Clachar considers Bedford to still be a place near and dear to his heart and hoped to share their stories not to put down the town’s name, but to enlighten viewers that racism persists around them.

Jason Chisholm, who grew up in Bedford, couldn’t speak fondly enough of his hometown. Still, “as wonderful as my experience in Bedford was, I would be inaccurate if I didn’t say that there were instances… of racism, somewhat overtly and sometimes covertly, but reflecting back you know what those things were.” What stood out for Chisholm was the support he received in facing racism in Bedford. Unlike people of color in many communities, he “had an ability to advocate” for himself in the face of racism, with support from both peers and school staff.

The message echoed by every speaker was the importance of continuing the conversations which began that night. These conversations must include difficult ones, such as identifying racism in one’s own community, and their relationship with law enforcement. Lt. Scott Jones, a 33-year veteran with the Bedford Police department and lifelong resident, spoke about his experiences as a person of color growing up in Bedford as well as the importance of establishing this relationship with police. On a town level, Lt. Jones is confident in the Bedford Police Department, describing them as good, honest, hard-working officers.” Still, he said, work remains in bridging the divide between police and the community. Jones emphasized the importance of continuing to hold these conversations. Speaking about Bedford police, he said “I think our mission has to change in some way… I hope we’ll keep having these constructive conversations… and can change the culture in our police.”

TV personality Kyle Draper noted that while the nation appears more divided than ever, he is optimistic that change is coming. Through the protests of the killing of George Floyd by police, Draper sees a future and a generation where these necessary conversations will be able to happen. “I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing,” Draper said, “especially with many of the young people out there.” All of the speakers made it clear that this change will not come out of thin air, rather it will require all of us to be allies for change. Terrence Parker explained how this happens on a personal level, stressing the importance of listening to others’ stories and thoughts. Parker, an attorney, said that he has been followed by police countless times simply by driving an expensive car. As these experiences are not ones visible or relatable to all people, he explained that understanding can only come from listening to those who have lived them.

Draper agreed strongly with this sentiment, also adding that we must combat racism as well as working to understand it. “We can’t let it slide anymore. We have to call people out, and say that’s not acceptable,” he encouraged. Grace added that for substantial change to come about, we must go further than addressing police violence towards people of color. She explained that police violence is just “the visible symptom of a much greater and far more insidious ill in this country.” She said that even if “black lives would be saved, that doesn’t mean black lives matter.” Grace described the change which is needed as much deeper than violence at the hands of police. The systematic oppression so many Americans face must be fought at its roots, by voting for politicians who will work on improving healthcare, education, and striving for equality for oppressed groups around the country.

Claudia Fox Tree, an educator and Native American advocate, noted that as we address the oppression facing the black community, it is essential to consider other oppressed groups. From the time she was a child to her experiences with her children’s schooling, Fox Tree has noticed a severe lack of education on Native American culture and history. As the conversations around racial inequality continue, she asked that we not just address racism in its most public forms, but anywhere it appears. “I’ve been seeing schools stand for Black Lives Matter in front of huge Indian headdress mascots,” she said, “so we are missing something about the damage of implicit bias.

The complete video can be watched on Bedford TV’s YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H5S4kz8Caj0

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