PITTSFIELD -- The local NAACP branch is rounding out a vigorous 12 months since being re-activated in December 2012 -- today boasting 87 members from all areas of Berkshire County.
"I never try to read people's minds," said Will Singleton, of Pittsfield, a retired educator who is president of the chapter. "But my sense is, there were a number of people who felt discriminated against, or were treated unfairly, and maybe they gave up out of frustration. I think when we re-activated, they came forward."
After being inactive for more than a decade, the Berkshire chapter revived after a group of organizers were able to bring together the minimum number of members required for recertification. Since then, the membership has grown steadily.
The group has met in Pittsfield on the second Wednesday of each month, and Singleton said the plan is to move some of those meetings to sites in North and South County in the coming year.
"I think this has been word of mouth," he said. "Word has gotten around that we are trying to help people."
The chapter "can't give legal advice," Singleton said, "but we are able to give support and information, and we can direct them to the MCAD [Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination] or other agencies."
Time is set aside at meetings for visitors to talk about their experiences with discrimination or similar problems and receive feedback from the group. Singleton said standing committees -- Education, Communications, Labor, Health, Finance, Legal Redress and Membership -- also can do research on issues or specific problems.
People have told of being discriminated against or treated unfairly in seeking jobs or promotions, in rental arrangements, while being arrested or in the court system, he said.
"We are doing everything we can to expand our membership," Singleton said, "and to be as inclusive as possible."
He said the membership already includes people with a wide range of skills, backgrounds and experiences, who've helped give both visitors and the chapter with advice.
Other plans for 2014, he said, are to hold a multi-part forum on racism and continue to support the annual summer Gather-in festival at Pitt Park.
The chapter's most dramatic public action came in November, when it filed a complaint against Pittsfield, alleging in an accompanying statement that "the city of Pittsfield has both failed to make appropriate efforts to recruit, as well as failed to hire qualified candidates of color for municipal positions."
The complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Department of Labor, the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office of Civil Rights, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education over alleged long-standing issues related to hiring.
Singleton and other members have declined to comment further about the complaint, pending a review of the information by the agencies and any actions that might result.
City officials have responded to questions earlier this year about hiring and promotion practices in city and school departments by reviving a dormant affirmative policy and plan and an Affirmative Action Advisory Committee to monitor progress toward those goals.
Singleton said he hopes the chapter's complaint will lead to more city jobs for persons of color and to greater and more effective methods of recruiting those candidates for job openings.
The bottom line, he said, is that "the numbers speak for themselves," referring to the percentages of people of color holding city positions.
To reach Jim Therrien:
or (413) 496-6247
On Twitter: @BE_therrien
Where to call
For more information about the Berkshire NAACP chapter, call (413) 464-7898.