Berkshire Interfaith Organizing

175 Wendell Ave, Pittsfield MA 01201

(413) 464-1804

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Racial Justice

Our Theory of Change

“I don’t see race,” is a common phrase in our day and age. It’s also a surprising one, considering that the effects of race and racism are only becoming clearer in the lives of many. Yet there is some truth to the statement. The way we racialize each other is invisible- until you stop to take a closer look.  

 

BIO leaders and residents of Berkshire County dared to reexamine race at our county-wide community conversations. As we shared stories, we realized that we have all been shaped by experiences and perceptions of race.

 

Some residents grew up in insular communities where the only mention of race was in the news. As one leader said, “It just didn’t show up at our doorstep.” This often led to a lack of awareness about their neighbors’ struggles. Yet others, particularly residents of color, experienced negative interactions with law enforcement, poor representation in the media, and few opportunities to learn their own history. These have become sources of deep pain and isolation in communities of color.

 

Today, knowledge of the past is a key opportunity for change. As community elder Mabel Hamilton explained, “We must know about this history and the contributions of people of color to the country, to the educational system and beyond. We need to do this to fight white supremacy. To know where we are going, we must know where we come from… Through education of the reality of the American past, we hope to bring about the unity of all Americans – especially all those coming here today who are seeking to be free.”

 

As the conversation deepened, community members specifically identified high school education as a crucial period for productively challenging ideas and beliefs about race. As a result, we successfully petitioned the Superintendent Jason McCandless, of Pittsfield Public Schools, to reintroduce Black History to the curriculum by Fall 2019. Thanks to this campaign, fifty children are enrolled in the course this fall- including some of our leaders’ grandchildren. Our current work is ensuring the course’s permanency.

 

With racial justice and equity, the process of the work is equally as important as the outcome. As we work towards systemic change, we must develop individual practices of listening, accountability, and cultural humility. At our meetings we work with leaders to respect and make space for communities of color and language. This especially has an impact on our work with the immigrant community, many of whom are monolingual Spanish speakers. Our immigrant partners say that they feel cared for, and have invited us into their homes in acts of grace and trust.

 

In our racial justice team meetings, we begin by sharing stories about our experiences with race. Building bridges is hard when racial divides have been systemically reinforced. But sharing stories helps us treat each other with respect and compassion, and relate to universal themes of fear, isolation, hope, and perseverance. We do this same work internally, challenging our Executive Committee and other core groups to identify ways that our society is inequitable, how that manifests within BIO, and how we can become more organizationally equitable. We also amplify the efforts of organizations with leadership of color, such as Multicultural BRIDGE and their school committee work.

 

Together we are reshaping our county’s conversation about race. We are empowering students to learn a more historically accurate and comprehensive history.

 

And in the process, we are holding ourselves accountable to building equitable relationships and structures.

 

Race may seem invisible, but only by seeing it will we be able to dismantle systems of oppression and live into our common humanity.

Campaigns At A Glance

Black Studies in Pittsfield Public Schools

Ensuring a permanent Black Studies course by Fall 2019

We won a commitment from Pittsfield Public Schools Superintendent Jason McCandless to reintroduce Black Studies to the curriculum by Fall 2019.

 

The course is now underway, with 50 students enrolled. Now we're working to make sure the course is here to stay!

Accompaniment 

Program

Accompanying undocumented immigrants to their ICE check-ins

The dominant narrative about immigrants is an expression of racism, making it important to list our immigrant justice work here as well.

 

We’ve trained over 75 volunteers to travel with an undocumented immigrant to their ICE check-ins to provide moral support, bear public witness to their interactions with law enforcement, and assist in case an emergency arises during the check-in.

 

So far we’ve accompanied close to 20 immigrants, two of which have been released from the intensive supervision program due to their consistent and timely appearances!

Learn more here.

Our Work in the News

February 25, 2019

Our Opinion: Adding black history to curriculum will benefit all (Berkshire Eagle)

Link / PDF

February 26, 2019

Jason McCandless: Due credit on black history class (Berkshire Eagle)

Link / PDF

August 14, 2019 

Black history pilot courses on agenda for Pittsfield high schools (Berkshire Eagle)

Link / PDF