The Revere Human Rights Commission (HRC) held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening, June 2. The meeting was held via Zoom because of the unavailability of the City Council Chamber.
Chairperson Janine Grillo Marra and fellow commissioners Rachid Moukhabir, Kourou Pich, vice-chair Chai Hossani, Rev. Timothy Bogertman, Molly McGee, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, and Dr. Lourenco Garcia were in attendance, as well as the HRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Maritsa Barros, Ed.D., who also serves as the city’s Chief Officer of Talent and Culture.
The meeting began with the regular “Land Acknowledgement,” in which Marra presents a map of the southern New England area indicating the various Indigenous peoples who occupied the land prior to the arrival of European settlers. The Pawtucket tribe lived on the land of present-day Revere.
“We take this time to acknowledge the land so that we can pay respect to the original overseers of this land that we are on,” said Marra.
Marra also mentioned the recent tragic mass shooting at the Robb elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as well as the racially-motivated hate crime mass shooting that took place only a few days before that in Buffalo, N.Y.
“This was a hate crime where innocent people were killed simply because of the color of their skin,” said Marra.”This is why the Human Rights Commission exists.”
The commissioners held a moment of silence for the victims of both of those tragic events.
Hossani further mentioned a third mass shooting that had occurred only hours before the meeting earlier that day at a hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and asked for another moment of silence for those victims.
Marra then presented the HRC’s Mission Statement:
“The Mission of the Revere Human Rights Commission is to promote human and civil rights and empower all people of Revere by ensuring that everyone, especially the most vulnerable and marginalized, have equitable opportunities, equal access, and are treated with dignity, respect, fairness, and justice.”
Barros made a presentation and updated the commissioners on what she has been doing in her official capacity with the city.
She said she has been working together with Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion officials in other cities and towns in the area.
“The City of Revere is a leading voice in this space,” said Barros.
Barros informed the commission that she also has been meeting with high school students in Revere “to build pathways for connections and collaborative project work with the city.”
Barros mentioned that the Revere Beach Partnership is seeking performers, singers, and dancers from different cultural groups for the annual International Sand Sculpting Festival on Revere Beach, which will be held July 22-24.
Barros said she also wanted to revisit some other matters since the commission’s last meeting in the context of the recent shooting massacres.
“It made me think about how volatile our meetings of the HRC have become and the intimidation by those who attend the HRC meetings,” said Barros. “Although nothing dangerous has happened in our space, it made me realize how quickly things can escalate. I know there are people of color who do not join us in the chamber out of fear of what might happen. It’s a real fear to realize you might die in America just because of the color of your skin.”
She then referenced what she termed as “the mockery” of the culture of the Mexican community that occurred at the last meeting by certain members of the audience.
Commissioner McGee also addressed the commission regarding the “mockery and racism” that occurred at the last meeting.
“To be Americans is to celebrate immigrants and I feel compelled to respond to hate speech directed at immigrants,” said McGee. “This was disgraceful and offensive behavior.”
Barros then turned to the many upcoming June holidays and events. She noted that there was a large turnout for the flag-raising the day before on June 1 to mark the start of LGBTQ+ Pride Month.
She noted that there will be a Celebrate Pride Tea Dance on Sunday, June 26, from 2-7 p.m. at Waterfront Square.
Juneteenth — which marks the day on which the last slaves were emancipated by U.S. troops in the state of Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War on June 19, 1865 — will be observed with a celebration on Saturday, June 18, at Veterans Memorial Park from 11:30-2:00. There will be a flag-raising, barbecue, and other events.
Barros also noted that this is Caribbean Heritage Month and Black Music Month.
Pich further mentioned that June is Immigrant Heritage Month.
Moukhabir added that the city’s annual Moroccan Festival will be held Saturday, June 25, from 1-8 at the Whelan School, to which all members of the Revere community are invited.
Members of the HRC’s new working groups — Cultural Events and Celebration, Education Outreach, Evaluation, and the Public Mediation Task Force — made brief presentations about the progress of the work they are doing.
Ward 3 City Councillor Anthony Cogliandro made an appearance before the commission to discuss an incident that occurred at the HRC meeting on December 2. The full City Council had discussed this matter in April, but took no action regarding the incident.
Cogliandro initially discussed the behavior of some members of the audience that had occurred at the May meeting pertaining to the Mexican community.
“What happened at the last meeting was totally inappropriate,” said Cogliandro, who noted that he has friends from all over the world, including Mexico.
Cogliandro then addressed the commission about the verbal exchange between an HRC member and a member of the audience on December 2.
“I am here on my own. I have not been sent here by anyone,” said Cogliandro. “I believe in the HRC and all of you are community warriors who care very much about your city and the cultures within it, as do I. I understand what it’s like to be in those council chambers with people yelling and it is completely inappropriate. However, as elected and appointed officials, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard. A resident approached the council and she said she was called names. I have zero personal interest in this. I heard a member on tape call the resident ‘trash’ and ‘garbage.’
“I do feel that as a mayoral-appointed, council-confirmed member, you need to be above that and apologize to her,” Cogliandro said.
Cogliandro reaffirmed that he did not agree with the behavior of those in the audience that night, who reportedly were shouting things such as “go back to your country” at some of the commission members.
“I acknowledge that there have been awful things that have been said, but it’s how we respond to those things that matter as representatives serving the members of the community, “ said Cogliandro.
“We’re on the same page as regards accountability and standards, but have you asked those who made those comments if they will apologize?” asked Marra, to which Cogliandro responded, “We are held to a higher standard. It is our responsibility to be the bigger person. It’s about conducting yourself professionally and as a servant of the community.”
Hossani, the HRC member who was involved in the controversy, then spoke.
“I will come out and say I take full accountability and responsibility for the things I have said,” Hossani said. “The way I acted is not the way I typically act. When I and my fellow members are being attacked racially and Islamaphobically, I have zero tolerance for that. But I am not going to apologize if she (the audience member) was offended.”
Marra interjected that the incident will be handled in a public mediation. “This really isn’t the venue for this discussion,” said Marra.
“You cannot compare that situation to what you see in the council because this was racially-motivated,” added Hossani.
“I appreciate that Ms. Hossani has taken responsibility,” said Cogliandro. “We all have to work together. I simply was saying that we have boisterous crowds in the audience, but I would never compare the issues that we deal with in the City Council to the issues you deal with. Those things that have been said to you are completely wrong.
“If you ever need help from the council, feel free to reach out,” Cogliandro added.
The commission then opened up the meeting to the audience members who were on the Zoom meeting.
Among those who spoke was Ralph DeCicco, the chair of the Revere Commission on Disabilities.
“You guys are doing a great job despite what’s being thrown at you. I’m reaching out to you so that all public meetings have a hybrid component to them and ask you to make recommendations so that people with disabilities, seniors, and others can partake of these meetings.”
“Those are excellent points,” said Marra. “We will do what we can to support you to make all meetings more accessible.”
The commission then adjourned.