Anti-bias group in Massachusetts refocuses efforts

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FALMOUTH (AP) >> After several years of dormancy following the retirement of one of its founding members, a new core of No Place for Hate Falmouth members is working to refocus the group's efforts to keep bias and discrimination out of town and promote a spirit of diversity and inclusiveness.

George Spivey served as Falmouth's affirmative action officer for 13 years and coordinated No Place for Hate after its formation in 2003. Spivey, who retired in 2013 as the principal at East Falmouth Elementary School, was instrumental in leading the group's early years and helping to guide the town through a period of unrest between its police force and minority members of the community.

Although the group's roots are in tackling racial discrimination, members of the new steering committee — Rabbi Elias Lieberman of the Falmouth Jewish Congregation, Pamela Rothstein, the congregation's director of lifelong learning, and the Rev. Nell Fields, pastor at Waquoit Congregational Church — are eager to expand its boundaries to include gender issues, economic equality and anti-Semitism.

"George is such a powerful and positive man and he alone sort of defined the atmosphere," Rothstein said. "Without him, we had to say 'What are we about? What do we want to do? Who's going to be a part of this? Can we get those people back and expand it?"'

The early efforts have been promising, group leaders say. No Place for Hate has largely been event-driven, with its signature event, the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast. It also participates in Cape Cod Community College's multicultural festival in the spring and the annual Mashpee Wampanoag powwow in July.

Hosting three annual events is the baseline for a town to maintain its No Place for Hate designation from The Anti-Defamation League, a national civil rights and human relations agency. The ADL created the certification in 1999 to give towns and public organizations a framework to combat bias, bullying and hatred.

Spivey said the group formed in response to an incident at Falmouth High School in which hateful graffiti was left on the wall of a girl's bathroom. Spivey and other educators brought in No Place for Hate representatives to talk about the resources available to communities that adopted the designation, and the local chapter was formed a bit later.

Spivey said the group provided an organized way for the community to stand up against hate incidents such as graffiti. It also worked to ease tensions between the Falmouth Police Department and the town's minority communities at a time when the relationship was strained.

"We tried to be active and visible and bring a message that certain types of behaviors are not acceptable," he said. "It's amazing what happens. You think people don't notice things or aren't responsive, but they were coming on board with us and saying this is not acceptable. It was a very, very good experience."

Now, the new Falmouth steering committee is trying to hold monthly meetings centered around topics driven by current events.

Last year, for example, No Place for Hate hosted a screening of the Oscar-winning film "Selma," which is based on the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Meetings in the fall used Ta-Nehisi Coates' acclaimed biographical study of race and race relations, "Between the World and Me," as fodder for discussion.

"It wasn't a case of if we build it, the people will come," Fields said. "We did the 'Selma' screening, and after the screening we invited people to stay for conversation. The number of people who stayed was, to me, overwhelming. It was overwhelming in the sense of how hungry they were to talk in a safe place about issues of equality, issues of race and how it impacted them. A number of people of color were there who shared some very personal stories. We were struck that this is also happening in Falmouth, on a smaller level but a real level."

"I've never heard or met someone who was able to voice that to me," Rothstein said.

"These are our neighbors," Fields said. "It's easy for us on the Cape to think that it's far away, that it's over the bridge, but these are our neighbors talking. I felt like we looked at each other and said 'Wow.' We're not building this because this is a wonderful organization, which it is. I think we're really responding to an unspoken need."

That's why the kinds of conversations No Place for Hate is sparking are important, said Diane Keon, a race and racism educator from Nauset Regional High School and the keynote speaker at this year's Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast. Keon has long taught the topic to high schoolers but is increasingly seeing a hunger for the same information from adults, too. She and the No Place for Hate committee are working to host spring workshops on multiple topics, including race and the Holocaust.

"Unless you learn this history, the true history, you can never begin to comprehend the present and try to solve the problems that seem unsolvable," she said. "Without education, we're never going to move forward."

Spivey said he's heartened to see a new group of leaders take the reins of No Place for Hate. In the national context of race relations and the turmoil shown in many areas over police-involved shootings, many times involving minority victims, the group is especially valuable.

"We still have much to do," he said. "No Place For Hate can play an active role. Just being able to hear from one another and show respect for one another can change the world."

Joanne Treistman, 69, started coming to No Place for Hate events last year after retiring to Falmouth.

"I think we're looking to one another to make it in the image of the people who are there and the concerns we have," she said. "I think we're definitely making progress. We've got a path at this point to inform ourselves of things that are being said by people suffering from injustice. ... It's a chance to be with people who care about other people."

The "Selma" screening and discussion was the first No Place for Hate event for Roger Kligler and his wife, Cathy, who have lived in Falmouth full time for three years. Roger Kligler, 64, said his retirement from practicing medicine has given him the time to explore issues of race and diversity.

Having grown up on Long Island, Kligler said most of his life has been spent in a fairly homogeneous society. He had a large number of ethnically diverse patients as a doctor in Brockton, but he knew those people in a professional, not personal, context.

"Almost every place I've lived has been very segregated," he said. "That's bothersome. It just doesn't feel like it's a right thing that should be happening. People shouldn't just be living among their own kind, however you want to define that.

"They've certainly raised my consciousness," Kligler said of No Place for Hate. "I think the more interaction that people have with different points of view, the better it is for society at large."

In 2016, No Place for Hate leaders will work to increase the group's interaction with other communities on the Cape, Rothstein said, and broaden the group's conversations.

"We're focusing on race now because it's such a national issue, but that should not cloud the vision that race is one of many issues" the group will tackle, she said. "We are definitely interested in expanding and including a broader population in the conversations.

"The goal now is to reach out to different groups, to bring them in, to partner with them, to say this is what we are about and we want your voice in the conversation."

Information from: Cape Cod (Mass.) Times, http://www.capecodonline.com


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