Amherst Media Honors Community Safety Working Group With Jean Haggerty Award

Amherst's Community Safety Working Group receive the Jean Haggerty Award at the 47th Annual Membership Meeting of Amherst Media. L-R: Ellisha Walker, Russ Vernon-Jones, Brianna Owen, Pat Ononibaku, Darius Cage, Debora Ferreira. Photo: Art Keene

Amherst Media honored the town’s Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) with their Jean Haggerty award at their 47th annual meeting, held in the Augusta Savage Gallery at New Africa House, on the UMass Campus, on Wednesday evening (11/30). The award, established in 2009, is given annually by Amherst Media in honor of Haggerty, who was an Amherst Media producer and board member committed to uplifting her community through organizing, advocacy, and collective action before her passing in 2015. She also chaired Amherst’s Council on Aging and reactivated the Ann Whalen House Tenants Association. Previous recipients include founding board member Elsie Fetterman, the late teacher; Select Board member and civil rights activist Judy Brooks; State Representative Ellen Story; and last year, activists Carlie and Gary Tartakov.

In just under a year, December 2020 to November 2021, the Community Safety Working Group, comprised of Tashina Bowman, Darius Cage, Debora Ferreira, Pat Ononibaku, Russ Vernon Jones, and co-chairs Brianna Owen, and Ellisha Walker, held public hearings, conducted outreach and research, and worked with consultants to produce a comprehensive set of recommendations (see here, here, here, here, and here) that led to the creation of two new departments in Amherst government:CRESS, Amherst’s civilian responder department, and the Department of Diversity Equity, Inclusion. They also provided recommendations for creating a Resident Oversight Board for the Amherst Police Department, a BIPOC teen empowerment center, and a multicultural center. CSWG also facilitated the creation of a successor group, the Community Safety and Social Justice Committee, to continue its work. Ferreira and Ononibaku serve on that committee.

Amherst Media Board President Artie McCollum explained to the Daily Hampshire Gazette that the selection of the working group members for the award addresses racial disparities in Amherst between white residents and residents of color. “While the CRESS and DEI programs are new to the town of Amherst and thus untested, the CSWG’s leadership and advocacy on this topic have created the space to have courageous conversations about policing in Amherst and pushed the boundaries of the town to address racial disparity with action beyond words,” he said.

State Representative Mindy Domb reads a citation from the State Legislature to CSWG co-chair, Brianna Owen. Photo: Art Keene

State Representative Mindi Domb presented the award along with a citation from the state legislature for each member of the CSWG. She expressed her gratitude for the substantial contributions of the committee to make the Amherst community safe and noted that two of its recommendations were immediately implemented. “And that never happens,” she said.  She also pointed out that CRESS is unique in Massachusetts as the first and, for the moment, only civilian responder service in the Commonwealth. And she emphasized that while other communities, including Northampton, will soon bring civilian responder programs online, Amherst has been the leader in developing this approach to public safety. 

A Year Of Accomplishments At Amherst Media

Amherst Media board member Dee Shabazz welcomes the assembled to the 47th Annual Amherst Media Membership Meeting. Photo: Art Keene

Executive Director Jim Lescault and Board President Artie McCollum (via video) celebrated the many accomplishments of Amherst Media during the past year, accomplishments that they believe were all the more impressive in a year when the organization had to move from their long-time headquarters on Main Street to temporary accommodations at 101 University Drive, where they will continue operations until their new facility is constructed at Main and Gray Streets. McCollum thanked the community for its support that allows Amherst Media to “tell stories that need to be told and to be the voice of the people”. Among last year’s accomplishments were:

  • A 66% growth in membership
  • A successful move from their former home of 31 years
  • The hiring of two women who went through the Amherst schools and are now working as full-time staff at Amherst Media.
  •  Amherst Regional Public Schools Film Club is now filming out of Amherst Media
  • The production of 24 episodes of The Amherst Weekly Report, a news program growing in popularity that is written and produced entirely by interns
  • The successful training of 39 interns from 10 different colleges and universities. Those interns contributed 1,040 hours to Amherst Media
  • A new presence of Amherst Media on Instagram
  • A substantial increase in the number of programs offered including 186 local programs, 95 imported programs and 225 archived shows.

Springfield Poet Laureate Magdalena Gomez helped open the proceedings with a rousing poem with the refrain “where have all the good folks gone“ and the response — “it has to be us” — which elicited enthusiastic reactions from the more than 50 people assembled. 

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