Pittsfield’s effort to rebuild its affirmative action policy may move too slowly for anyone’s satisfaction but in fairness the city is shaking off a couple of decades of dust and cobwebs. It is, however, moving forward, and that should be a cause for optimism as opposed to recrimination.
When NAACP Chapter President Will Singleton asked last year to see a copy of the city’s dormant affirmative action plan of 1991 it fell upon the Bianchi administration to bring it back to life. If the local NAACP chapter had not become dormant itself, removing a civil rights watchdog from the city scene, the situation would have been addressed earlier, but it came to light when it did and Mayor Daniel Bianchi and city Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis have put the process in motion. The City Council has expressed its enthusiasm and Mr. Singleton and other members of the NAACP will make a presentation before the School Committee on Wednesday.
Pittsfield’s Affirmative Action Advisory Committee has met three times so far and while city committees have been known to fizzle, this one appears intent on making a positive difference. A spot on the committee remains open for a member of the NAACP and we hope one will step forward and join to assure the group a voice in the process going forward.
Ms. McGinnis and Pittsfield community activist Judy Williamson have disagreed on these pages recently about the extent to which the minority community was notified of the open position to coordinate the Shannon Grant, which is awarded the city to address its gang problem, and involved in the selection of a candidate to fill that position. If there was a communication breakdown than it highlights the need to put new policies in place, but there is no indication of a concerted effort to hire a white applicant, as was the case, and exclude minority candidates.
While it is true that when racism becomes institutionalized, excluding minorities is assumed and unspoken, Pittsfield’s problems concerning minorities have been based not in action but in inaction. Ingrained racism is different from neglect, and it is the latter which is the issue which is starting to be addressed.
Elected and appointed city officials and activists like Mr. Singleton and Ms. Williamson agree on far more than they disagree. It is apparent to all that more black, as well as Hispanic, city employees and teachers are needed, and will it take an aggressive effort to make that happen. Schools and government in Pittsfield must better reflect the increasingly diverse faces of the community. There is no going back and doing what should have been done 10 or 20 years ago, but it is possible to go forward to bring greater diversity to Pittsfield. That effort has begun, and with everyone working together, it will succeed.