Human Rights Commission Establishes Working Groups

The Revere Human Rights Commission (HRC) held its regular monthly meeting last Thursday evening, May 5, in the City Council Chamber.

Chairperson Janine Grillo Marra and fellow commissioners Lynn Alexis, Fire Chief Chris Bright, Police Chief David Callahan, Rachid Moukhabir, Kourou Pich, vice-chair Chai Hossani, Rev. Timothy Bogertman, Kathi-Anne Reinstein, and Dr. Lourenco Garcia were in attendance, as well as the HRC’s Executive Director, Dr. Maritsa Barros, EdD, who is the city’s recently-appointed Chief Officer of Talent and Culture. 

Marra introduced the commission’s newest member, Revere attorney Molly McGee, who practices criminal and immigration law.

Also in the audience for the meeting were Mayor Brian Arrigo, City Solicitor Paul Capizzi, and the mayor’s Chief of Staff, Kim Hanton.

Marra began the meeting by stating, “We’ve had some ‘interesting’ meetings in recent months,” referring to the disruptions by members of the public that have occurred at the HRC’s meetings since December and that have led to hasty adjournments. Marra then displayed a cartoon, which showed a group of office employees sitting at a conference table, with the caption, “Since we can’t agree to disagree, how about we disagree on agreeing?”

“The key thing is we want to have a respectful and orderly meeting to conduct our business,” said Marra. “We will ensure that everyone who has come here who wants to speak, that there will be time for members of the audience to speak, so no one has to shout out or be disruptive. 

“If we cannot conduct our business, that wil be considered disruptive behavior,” said Marra, who then referred to the State Open Meeting Law, which provides a definition of disruptive behavior. “Everyone has to be silent until the end of the meeting.”

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.

“Let’s take a moment to recognize and remember and honor those who settled here first,” said Marra.

Pich then took the microphone to acknowledge that May 5 is National Day of Awareness for Missing and Murdered Indigenous People, especially women.

“We encourage everyone to raise this awareness,” said Pich.

Marra then guided the room through the “Arrive & Settle” portion of the meeting, which essentially is a group meditative session. Marra departed from the usual practice and read aloud a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: 

“I am convinced that people hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don’t know each other. And they don’t know each other because they don’t communicate with each other. And they don’t communicate with each other because they are separated from each other.”

“So let’s take a few moments and let those words sink in,” said Marra. After a few moments, Marra then rang a bell to signal the end of the silent meditation session.

Barros then presented an update of her various ongoing and past projects.

“I want to reiterate madame chair’s call for order in this space as we try to work through our discourse. We welcome differences of opinion, but ask for civility,” said Barros.

Speaking about the recent 21-day Racial Equity Habit-Building Challenge, Barros noted that a total of 46 municipal employees and 66 public school employees participated in the event. Barros thanked those who participated and said she hopes to expand the program to a city-wide basis in the future.

“In the month of June, we are planning for Pride Month and Juneteenth. We have a Pride flag-raising scheduled at 5 p.m. on June 1 and there will be educational opportunities for Juneteenth,” Barros noted.

She also noted that the REMAP (Racial Equity Municipal Action Plan) program in the city is underway and there will be a presentation at the June meeting of the HRC.

Chief Callahan then spoke up to note that a person in the audience was proving distracting, prompting a warning from Marra that audience members must be silent or they will be asked to leave.

Marra then mentioned the idea of creating working groups of commissioners who would work on specific areas, such as Cultural Events & Celebrations and Education Outreach, which already have been established, and a new group that would be tasked with creating a “format for a larger public forum or even a mediation outside of our meeting.” 

Barros then stated the importance of support from the public and asked for public input into how the community can collaborate with the HRC.

“Working groups are the way to go,” noted Garcia and suggested that the Education Outreach group also should encompass the concept of evaluation that would involve the collection of data.

The commission then had a discussion of whether evaluation should be a separate group or be included within each working group.

Hossani suggested that it would be, “More efficient to have it (data collection) integrated into each working group.”

The commissioners went back and forth about how best to accomplish their goals by the creation of the working groups. In the end, the commission established a new working group, to be known as the Evaluation Working Group, and a task force, to be known as the Public Mediation Task Force.

Barros also added, “We need a system for folks to report their thoughts and experiences about bias,” and suggested the creation of a bias education response team.

At the conclusion of the discussion, the commission voted to create the three working groups, plus the task force: Hossani, Moukhabir, and Chief Bright were named to the Cultural Events and Celebration group; Pich, Alexis, and Reinstein were named to Education and Outreach group; McGee, Hossani, Pich and Garcia were named to the Evaluation Working Group; and Alexis and McGee were named to the Public Mediation Task Force.

The commision, at the suggestion of Reinstein, then read aloud 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 then asked whether any members of the commission had suggestions for the observances of Pride Month and Juneteenth. 

Hossani suggested that the city reach out to Black artists to display their works. Reinstein suggested that Black-owned businesses also should be highlighted for Juneteenth.

Grillo then opened up the meeting to public discussion, but with the admonition that speakers address the topics that were discussed at the meeting.The rest of the meeting, which lasted for about 22 minutes, was comprised of input from the members of the public in attendance.

Revere resident Ed Deveau, 216 Crescent Ave., (who wrote a thoughtful letter to the editor in support of the HRC that appeared in the Revere Journal three weeks ago), offered his support for the group.

Tom Bellingham was the next speaker and suggested that the city hire ice cream trucks for its cultural events. “Free ice cream will bring people together for these events,” he said.

Janet Long of 360 Revere Beach Blvd. who said she had moved to Revere from Lynnfield five years ago, said she was, “Filled with honor and impressed by the quality of the talent on this team and I love the work you are doing. The reason I came to Revere was for its diversity of ideas and people. I want to be a part of that and to see our community become stronger and stronger.”

Revere resident Gina Castiello, then spoke.

“We’re talking about cultural events and celebrations. I happen to be of Italian descent. This group is solely responsible for stopping Christopher Columbus Day and calling it Indigenous People’s Day. That is not all-inclusive,” she said.

Castiello then spoke of her opposition to what she asserted was the “emphasis on pushing critical race theory and Black Lives Matter. It is against my personal values to be teaching these things to our children through our school system and this commission is helping that. I personally disapprove of it and I know that lots of people in this community disapprove of it. I’m glad that I am being heard and bringing attention to this racist Human Rights Commission that needs to be abolished.”

The next speaker was someone who signed in as, “Mary Santos,” who was adorned with a costume-worthy hat. “There is so much tension in the room. We came to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as you can see by my hat,” she said. However, she then made comments, which she referred to as jokes, that might be considered by some as derogatory to the Mexican-American community.

Another person, who said that her last name was Beltran and that she lived on Ocean Ave., came to the podium and spoke in Spanish.  She was accompanied by a translator. Among her comments, Ms. Beltran said that some of those who were in attendance have treated her better in this country than she was treated by people in her native country. 

Ina Tall, a resident of 100 Florence Ave., then spoke.

 “It is an honor to be here,” she said. “You guys are really doing a great job. The mayor really picked the best to be appointed for this position. I’m really happy that you represent our city so well. Even though we have people coming from outside the city to disrupt us, we should follow the advice of Michelle Obama — ‘When they go low, we go high’.

“Yes, this is a beautiful city,” Tall continued. “I came from West Africa 26 years ago. My daughter goes to the high school. To see people come from the outside and coming to make fun of us is offensive. Before you come and make fun of a holiday, do some research on that holiday. Education is key.”

Members of the audience then became disruptive, prompting Chief Callahan to ask that a person be removed. However, Tall suggested that the person be ignored. 

Resident Gina Ambrosino was the final speaker.

“I am not in favor of the HRC and I do not like how they are infiltrating the School Department,” she said. “My son is coming home with stuff that does not make sense to me. I did not raise him to be racist and he gets along with everybody. I don’t like what’s going on and I don’t agree with it and I don’t want it to be taught to my son. So we do need that public mediation.”  

The next meeting of the HRC is set for Thursday, June 2.

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