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Look Ahead, Pittsfield:

Meet the man who Pittsfield city officials hope will champion its diversity, equity and inclusion work

Michael Obasohan posing (copy)

Eight council members voted in favor of Obasohan, with two against and one abstaining.

PITTSFIELD — For the better part of two years, Pittsfield has been on a path to transform city business into a more diverse, equitable and inclusive process. That journey may cross a critical milestone this week with the hiring of a chief diversity officer.

The candidate Mayor Linda Tyer is bringing to the City Council for approval this week is a rising political star in North Adams: Michael Obasohan.

Who is Michael Obasohan?

Obasohan will be a familiar face to those that follow North County politics. He was elected to the North Adams City Council in November and is believed to be the first Black city councilor elected to the body in the city’s 127-year history.

As the second-highest vote getter in the November election, Obasohan joined the council mere days after his election win in order to fill one of two vacancies left on the council following a spate of sudden resignations last year.

An alumnus of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, Obasohan made his career in the halls of his alma mater. Currently the associate director of college readiness and success, he has held top positions in the college’s student affairs office as the assistant director of student activities and assistant director of diversity programs and multicultural education.

As part of his time on the North Adams Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access working group, Obasohan created a DEI (diversity, equity and inclusion) training for his colleagues on the North Adams City Council.

He is also a member of the Mass MoCA Commission, the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition and sits on the board of directors for the Roots Teen Center.

What is a chief diversity officer?

The city plans to hire two chief diversity officers in the next year: one to manage DEI work at the city level and one to manage DEI work in the Pittsfield Public Schools.

The officers are the top employees within the newly created Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The job listing for the schools position was still active as of Saturday. Obasohan is up for the city’s chief diversity officer position.

Much of the city chief diversity officer’s work is about strengthening the internal mechanisms of City Hall. The idea is that if the environment inside City Hall is more diverse, equitable and inclusive, the work outside the building will be as well.

The city officer is charged with improving employee recruiting and retention of a more diverse workforce. Data from the most recent Affirmative Action Annual Report shows that as of August, 91 percent of the city’s 473 employees self-identified as white.

The officer will also be responsible for conducting DEI training on subjects like cultural competency, gender differences, disability, LGBTQ+ issues to improve the work of existing employees and measuring DEI work in the affirmative action annual report.

Why now?

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer delivers her state of the city address (copy)

Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer closed her State of the City address last month by highlighting the city's diversity, equity and inclusion work. She said she and Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Joseph Curtis would hire city and schools chief diversity officers this year.

Tyer has highlighted the realization of the office and hiring of the chief diversity officer as a key agenda item for this year.

In her State of the City address last month Tyer said DEI work was essential to creating “an inclusive and safe community where all people are empowered to live, work and play — where individuals are respected and valued for their unique contributions.”

The selection of a candidate for the city’s first ever chief diversity officer has been many months in the making.

In June 2020, the Pittsfield Public School Committee adopted an anti-racism resolution. While the adoption of the resolution was met by unanimous support from the committee, several members — including former committee member and Berkshire County branch NAACP President Dennis Powell — called on the city to put more than just words to the work.

Tyer responded to that call in October of that year by creating a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion study group. The six-person group, made of city employees and activists, recommended in March that the city create an independent Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, expand internship opportunities and require biannual DEI training.

The City Council approved a $99,760 funding proposal from Tyer for the creation of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in May and the creation of the chief diversity officer positions in October.

Helen Moon on DEI officer.jpg

Ward 1 Councilor Helen Moon pushed back against City Council members who questioned the need for the new Chief Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officer position during the Oct. 12 council meeting. Moon said the position is dearly needed and should be paid more than the city is proposing for a salary range.

At both junctions the budget for the office and positions was questioned by former city councilors Chris Connell and Kevin Morandi.

In response to those budgetary critiques former City Councilor Helen Moon had this to say at the Oct. 12 meeting: I think it is so disrespectful for certain councilors to express that this position and this department is not necessary.”

We have a growing population of people of color and that’s the only growing population in the city of Pittsfield and more specifically are immigrants,” Moon added. “There are a lot people’s lives that are dependent on how the city operates and if we’re not doing that in an equitable and just way, then we’re not serving all of our constituents.”

The officer position was created by a vote of 8-2 and the job listing went live on the city site the next day.

Meg Britton-Mehlisch can be reached at mbritton@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6149.

Pittsfield Reporter

Meg Britton-Mehlisch is the Pittsfield reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. Born and raised in Kansas City, Missouri, she previously worked at the Prior Lake American and its sister publications under the Southwest News Media umbrella in Savage, Minnesota.

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