NAACP: Let's work toward real solutions to racism

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In the weeks following the column that presupposed to have the solutions for the so-called ills of black America, much has been said by many. From the resounding backlash from readers of all ethnicities throughout Berkshire County and beyond, who rejected the columnist's racist generalizations and inaccuracies, to rationale provided by The Berkshire Eagle's editor, Kevin Moran, as to why the column was printed, to an article in The Boston Globe over the controversial piece.

While there have been many voices in the resulting conversation, it's been asked, "What does the Berkshire chapter of the NAACP have to say about all of this? Why are you silent?" To this we assert that, far from being silent, the NAACP's response is not one merely tied to words, but rather, one that is demonstrated in our ongoing work in the Berkshire community.

But first, let us be absolutely clear, we believe the column's rambling diatribe reflected a dangerous undercurrent of thinking both in the Berkshires and nationally. While we understand and appreciate the rationale provided by The Eagle's and that of free speech, our position is that this type of diatribe can cause certain individuals to blame present situations in their own life on others whom they feel are "taking away" from them. These tired stereotypes continue to thrive by those who refuse to acknowledge that many of the troubling issues plaguing this country are borne out of a legacy of blatant and institutionalized racism based on supremacist — whether conscious or unconscious — perspective.

As for personal responsibility, long before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black Americans have fought — both figuratively and literally — for their right to self-determination and the pursuit of liberty and happiness in all its forms.

Contrary to the columnist's unfounded notion of a gentler and more comfortable time for African Americans, passive acceptance has never been part of the black American narrative. The quest for true equality and justice continues today as we have recently seen with the shootings of unarmed black males in a five-month period by white police officers; and the massacre of nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., at the hands of a domestic terrorist. It also seems that this night of terror has sparked a wave of church burnings — seven to date — throughout the South. It must be said that the torching of churches has long been used as a tool of intimidation and fear tactic by domestic terrorists in this country against black Americans.

As the columnist is quite proficient in offering solutions, we would love to hear his thoughts on those who inflict such heinous acts on others.

But in spite of all of this, communities across the country still manage to come together. Here in the Berkshires, we saw a magnificent and powerful display of togetherness when hundreds met at Pitt Park on the west side of town and marched in unity, peace and justice in a protest of dissatisfaction over recent Missouri and New York grand jury decisions — a march organized by the NAACP, and again during a vigil late last month organized by the NAACP, Lift Ev'ry Voice and Multicultural BRIDGE. We honored the lives taken that night and resolved to continue to each do our part to enrich our respective communities throughout the county by taking a stand for justice for all.

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The fierce backlash to the column also demonstrated that ours is not a community that will tacitly allow such vitriol, and we, the NAACP, appreciate this. While the response is comforting, it by no means negates the very real fact that the columnist's opinion is representative of an untold number of others, who share such thoughts by way of remarks or "jokes" in private among one another.

So we know that there remains important work to do. For those who may not know, here are just some of the initiatives the NAACP has been working on in this community, and will continue to do:

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• Advocating for the implementation of the City of Pittsfield's Affirmative Action Ordinance, which will help to allow for greater transparency and access to potential opportunities for all city residents who qualify.

• Community revitalization by way of the repair of the basketball court at Pitt Park in the city's multicultural Westside neighborhood; while the court has been patched, a comprehensive repair is slated to begin before the end of summer.

• Challenging the Pittsfield school department for the lack of diversity in teachers and administration, especially those who are black. In one particular instance, the NAACP advocated for the school department to overturn a decision not to hire a young and highly qualified black teacher based on reasoning that the candidate lacked experience over other applicants. We noted that this young woman graduated in the top of her class, and had proven her skills through substitute teaching. We also stood firmly behind the Affirmative Action rule that hiring is based on qualifications for the job and not on years of experience a person may or may not have, and based on that rule, the candidate was given the position.

• Challenged the school department, school board, and local law enforcement on their decision to use the former Berkshire County Jail & House of Correction on Second Street in Pittsfield — that was deemed unfit for those incarcerated — to house our youth in an alternative School then known as the Juvenile Resource Center (JRC). Due to our efforts pointing out the injustice to our youth and community, the JRC was relocated to a more appropriate location.

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• Collaborating with businesses such as Greylock Federal Credit Union to increase diversity within their staffing, and providing scholarships to students advancing to higher education. Additionally, Greylock will serve as the major sponsor for this year's Gather-In on July 25, the Berkshires' longest running African American celebration. Organized by the NAACP and first held in 1972, the Gather-In has served as an event that has entertained and inspired, and Greylock will be an on-site community partner to provide financial literacy education to community members. Greylock's commitment to engagement on this level is noteworthy because it demonstrates the importance of community partners who understand that there's work to do, and are proactive about finding solutions.

• With the recent shooting in Pittsfield, the NAACP will be actively working with other community groups and organizations to form a coalition and discuss collaborative strategies to implement change in the community.

• And, in September, the Berkshire chapter, along with other chapters throughout the New England area, will be holding a simultaneous three-mile Unity Walk for Justice in our respective areas.

We know that ours is a county filled with people and organizations who value real solutions, and as such, we cannot afford to allow the tentacles of racism and discrimination to embed its poison into the fabric of the Berkshires. For those who were deeply disturbed by this column, it is our hope that you will find a way to keep the engagement going so that this kind of rhetoric never becomes OK.

Do know that you have the power within your sphere of influence to take a stand against racist talk and practices. Unfortunately, silence, whether intentional or unintentional, equates to complicity. Let it be known that the Berkshire branch of the NAACP comprises a committed and passionate group of people from all ethnicities and ages, and we sincerely welcome all those who would like to join us as we work to find real solutions to advance our community forward.

Dennis Powell is the president of the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP. To learn more about the organization, visit facebook.com/NAACPBerkshires.


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