For more than a year, an 11-member team of town government professionals, staff, and volunteer leaders has been meeting monthly to scrutinize the policies and practices of town government that may contribute to, and reverse, racial inequities.
Last week, members updated the Select Board on REMAP, the acronym for Racial Equity Municipality Action Plan.
REMAP is a joint program of the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, the Government Alliance on Race and Equity, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Bedford was one of six successful applicants for the pilot program in 2020; the others are Framingham, Lynn, Natick, Revere, and Stoughton.
Diversity, equity, and inclusion have been “an overarching goal of the Select Board for a number of years,” observed board member Bopha Malone, part of the Bedford REMAP team, appointed to represent all facets of the community.
That 11-person unit was “very thoughtful, very caring,” and dedicated, gathering monthly for day-long training sessions, Malone said. She thanked Town Manager Sarah Stanton and the assistant to the town manager, Charlie Ticotsky, for their leadership roles. The town manager noted that of the six REMAP cities and towns, only Bedford’s team has remained intact, “which speaks to the willingness of these folks to roll up their sleeves.”
Two other team members joined in the discussion: Akil Mondesir, the schools’ METCO director, and the Rev. Chris Wendell, rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Their colleague Terrence Parker joined virtually.
Other members are social worker Chris Bang; Izabelle Dick, social work intern; Firefighter Chris Gonzalez; School Committee member Ann Guay; and Heidi Porter, Director of Health and Human Services.
Among the conclusions delivered by the team were:
- The most meaningful areas are housing and transportation. “We talked a lot about what that looked like in Bedford. The barriers to entry are getting larger,” Stanton said. She also noted “the challenge of recruiting teachers, especially if they want to commute without a car.”
- A vision statement: “People of all races experience Bedford as a safe, vibrant, and healthy place to live, work, play, thrive, and participate fully in community life.” Wendell explained, “We spent a lot of time on the statement and left it intentionally broad. We wanted something that a lot of people could see themselves in.” Stanton added that a longer draft includes sections on people, infrastructure, and services.
- The process is a long-term one. Asked by Select Board Chair Emily Mitchell if there are “metrics for success,” Stanton emphasized that “the work is ongoing, learning and growing in each phase, identifying challenges, identifying opportunities, and having tough community conversations.”
Mondesir noted that the inclusion umbrella also covers the schools’ METCO families. “These are our kids – how are we connecting with them.”
The initial aim was for participants “to better understand how municipal government plays a significant role in contributing to – and reversing – racial and economic inequality,” Stanton said. From there the mission is “to develop a community-based vision for racial equity that’s particular to our municipality and develop action steps.”
Some of the training modules focus on inclusive community engagement; explicit and implicit bias; communicating to multiple audiences: and applying racial equity lenses to policy.
Stanton outlined three “mutually occurring phases:
- “Normalizing,” which involves a “shared understanding about what racial equity is, making racial equity a regular part of the discourse.” This process could take up to 70 percent of the time, she said.
- Organizing, through internal and external partnerships, and “setting up ways to resource racial equity work and monitor accountability. “As you bring in new partners you find new ways of thinking,” Stanton said.
- “Operationalize” by “using data and tools to change policies and practices.”
During the past year and a half, the team met with more than 10 community groups “to gather feedback and learn about what they are working on,” Stanton said. “We spent a lot of time discussing how we got here. That was really eye-opening for many of us, the conversation about how the community has evolved.”
“We had conversations about equity in housing, transportation, and social services,” she said. “Each member of the team challenged us to look critically.”
“If you are taking ownership of this work, it has to be supported from the very top,” Stanton said. “We really hope to look critically at everything
– it is slow and phased.”
Stanton said the group continues to meet quarterly, exploring a range of issues and areas related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. A consultant may be engaged to evaluate some specific challenges, such as how the schools and towns recruit professionals. Also on the agenda are services to residents and Town Meeting accessibility.
Asked by board member Ed Pierce where the focus will be, Stanton said the consultant will help answer that question. She added that success means making DEI “part of daily operations, the lens through which we make decisions,” and incorporating it into goal-setting. It has to filter down to boards and committees, and there will be training at that level, she noted.
Wendell agreed. “The goal of this work is how we integrate the lens into our regular functions. Whenever a branch of our municipal life conducts business, you think through the issues of access, exclusivity, language, and participation.”