Town Manager Nominates Members For New Social Justice Committee

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Town Manager Paul Bockelman nominated residents to be members of the town’s new Community Safety and Social Justice Committee in a memo to the Town Services and Outreach Committee (TSO) and the Town Clerk dated March 8, 2021. 

The committee will incorporate and continue the work of the Community Safety Working Group. Included in its charge will be support for the work of the soon-to-be-formed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion department; support of the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service (CRESS) program; and working to address the needs of BIPOC and other marginalized groups including people who are  disabled, immigrants, and LGBTQIA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, (questioning), intersex, asexual, and (agender). The committee will have seven voting members. Two of the initial appointments will have been members of the Community Safety Working Group. No fewer than five of the seven voting members will represent Black, Indigenous, People of Color, or other historically marginalized communities. Appointments will strive to represent a broad range of the town’s socio-economic diversity. To that end, financial stipends (to be determined) will be provided to support the work of committee members.

TSO endorsed the nominations unanimously (4-0 with Bahl-Milne absent) and forwarded them to the Town Council, which will likely vote on them at their next meeting on March 21.

Nominated for the two positions reserved for previous members from the Community Safety Working Group are:

Debora Ferreira, of Sacco Drive, for a term ending June 30, 2024 
Pat Ononibaku, of Tamarack Drive, for a term ending June 30, 2023 

Nominated for four of the five remaining positions on the committee are:

Philip Avila, of Eaton Court, for a term ending June 30, 2025 
Allegra Clark, of Cherry Lane, for a term ending June 30, 2023 
Freke Ette, of Lincoln Avenue, for a term ending June 30, 2024 
Demetria Shabazz, of Chapel Road, for a term ending June 30, 2025 

Bockelman noted that none of the candidates interviewed represented a “young(er)” demographic and the interview team recommend that one slot on the committee remain open for an appointment of a young(er) person.

Bockelman provided the following biographical profiles for each of the nominees. 

Deborah Ferreira is an attorney who works as the chancellor’s liaison to the Office of General Counsel at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She previously served as the executive director of Equal Opportunity and the University’s Title IX coordinator. She has handled issues pertinent to equity, inclusion, and sexual harassment. Her goal is to have the police and fire departments connected to young people with an emphasis on training, accountability, and transparency. Ferreira self identifies as West African/Cape Verdean. She previously served as a member of the Community Safety Working Group.

Pat Ononibaku is a business owner and self-described social justice advocate with a long history of active leadership in the Amherst community. She served on the Racial Profiling Committee created by the town from 2004 through 2008. She runs Baku Care Adult Day Health Center and for a decade operated the former Baku’s African Restaurant in downtown Amherst. Ononibaku is also a founding member of Race and Discipline, Action, Rights, or RaDAR, which raises awareness and seeks to end racial disparities in school discipline. She was also active in the Fort River Elementary School Parent Guardian Organization, helped organize the African, Latino/Hispanic, Asian, and Native American (ALANA) Committee to increase parent engagement, and co-founded the Diversity and Anti-Bias Parent Committee to address racism. She previously served as a member of the Community Safety Working Group. She self identifies as African American.

Philip Avila brings a broad range of experience through his work at the Survival Center, interest in pursuing a graduate degree in social justice, and through his lived experience growing up as the child of immigrants in the Los Angeles area. He knows first-hand the challenges of food insecurity, being an immigrant, and living in a disadvantaged community. His work at the Amherst Survival Center includes food justice issues within the community. He also co-chairs the Survival Center’s DEI Committee. He has indicated a strong commitment to giving full service to the committee. He is chair of the Human Rights Commission and self identifies as Latinx.

Allegra Clark is a licensed independent clinical social worker who previously worked in a homeless and housing agency in Boston. She is currently a forensic social worker in the court system. She has been interested in housing and community development and its role in systemic injustice. Clark brings long roots and deep ties to the committee. She brings a grounded understanding of some of the issues facing the town and familiarity with a wide range of social justice and inclusion issues including the problems and promises of alternative visions of safety and inclusion. Her commitment to this work appears to be grounded in a genuine desire to support the town to more effectively fulfill its vision for itself. She is a member of the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust and self identifies as white.

Freke Ette is a professor of political science at Amherst College and brings sincere interest and enthusiasm to the work of the committee. He has shown interest in and knowledge of issues of diversity and inclusion, and expressed interest and desire to work on behalf of the community. Mr. Ette seeks to support the committee’s work by gathering information and operating from a data-based approach. He would bring the perspective of a person relatively new to town that could be useful to the committee’s work. Ette did not self-identify a race or ethnicity on his community activity form.

Demetria Shabazz is trained as a diversity coach and intergroup dialogue facilitator, and has an academic background in race, class, and gender in mass communication and the media. She is interested in social justice as a means of creating equity and inclusion within the community of Amherst. She brings a deep familiarity with the issues, and with the work of the Community Safety Working Group and its recommendations. She currently serves on the Board of Registrars, from which she would resign to take this appointment. She self identifies as African American.

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