Franklin County CDC, partners to explore institutional racism

  • WAITE

Staff Writer
Published: 10/13/2020 4:33:10 PM

GREENFIELD — Backed by $800,000 in grant funding, the Franklin County Community Development Corporation (CDC) has teamed up with businesses and community leaders across the county and North Quabbin region to explore ways individuals and organizations can dismantle institutionalized racism.

The Strengthening Racial Justice and Health Equity in Franklin County Project is an five-year initiative funded through the Massachusetts Community Health Fund and the state Department of Public Health. The project will focus on strengthening racial justice and addressing the culture of white supremacy.

The Franklin County CDC will work with the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, Greenfield Community College and Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. The partners are in the process of hiring a project manager who will facilitate a majority of the actions it plans to take over the next five years.

According to Franklin County CDC Executive Director John Waite, some of the actions the partners plan to take include collaboratively investing in professional development for employees and boards; assisting in the development of diversity, equity and inclusion strategic plans; creating a series of community forums focused on identifying why dismantling white dominant culture is important; and creating a participatory action research project where community members can help develop action plans that will make Franklin County a more welcoming, equitable and inclusive place.

“The chamber focuses on strengthening and sustaining the economic and civic vitality of Franklin County, and we view diversity and health equity as critical to our mission,” Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Diana Szynal said. “We know that Franklin County is the poorest county in Massachusetts, but by building a strong base of good jobs and quality health care, we think we can support our residents and attract a younger, more diverse population.”

Szynal said the initiative was started long before the pandemic hit, but in light of the changes she and others anticipate regarding where people will choose to live as a result of the crisis, “we see Franklin County as poised to experience new growth and opportunities. The collaboration of the amazing agencies looking at these issues is impressive, and we are grateful to be a part of it.”

“The FCCDC applied for the grant months before COVID-19 hit the area and the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis incited a new wave of anti-racist education and action across the nation and the world,” Waite said.

The agency has been exploring the personal, institutional and systematic white supremacy that exists within much of the area’s predominately white community, and has been discussing how these factors prevent the community from being as strong and vibrant as it could be. This requires difficult conversations, organizers said, and the project is aimed at helping many businesses and organizations have conversations in a healthy manner.

The project emerged from the work begun by the Welcoming and Belonging Group of Franklin County, a collaboration of leaders from local businesses and nonprofits.

Rachel Stoler, a member of the Welcoming and Belonging Franklin County group as well as FRCOG’s community health program manager, said the initiative is not meant to make people feel like they are bad because they are white, but rather to pay attention to what might be making someone else feel uncomfortable. For example, there are certain standards for the way people speak, and if another person pronounces a word differently, they are sometimes thought to be “uneducated,” which she said is simply not true.

“There are also standards sometimes for the way people dress or wear their hair, and when they are looked upon as different or not following the standards, that can be a hallmark of white supremacy,” she said. “When we live in a predominantly white community, we can tend to take things for granted. We have to dig in and ask ourselves, ‘Oh, why are we doing things this way?’ We have to think about who is at a disadvantage and the negative consequences of that.”

Stoler said she doesn’t believe anyone wants to reinforce a white-dominant culture, but instead hope to welcome people who are different, whether it’s because of skin color, age or other factors.

“We want people to come to this community, fit in and stay,” she said.

People within the partner organizations are also looking at everything from schools and housing to aging when it comes to equity and social justice, Stoler added.

Businesses or organizations interested in learning more about unlearning racism, tackling issues of white supremacy in the workplace or having other anti-racist conversations should call the Franklin County CDC at 413-774-7204 or visit fccdc.org.

Reach Anita Fritz at 413-772-9591 or afritz@recorder.com.



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