Human Rights Commission Sets Goals For 2023


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Report On The Meeting Of The Amherst Human Rights Commission, January 18, 2023

This meeting was held over Zoom and was recorded.

Commissioners: Philip Avila and Ben Herrington (co-chairs), LaVerne Kelly, Tyler Matsuo, Rani Parker, and Juliana Shepard
Staff: Pamela Nolan Young (Director of the Department of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) and Jennifer Moyston (Assistant Director of DEI)

A main topic was establishing goals for the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to work toward in the coming year. Co-chair Philip Avila mentioned that most of 2022 had focussed on raising visibility in town through cultural and educational events, and added that he would like to see this work continue. Additionally, he said that he wants the commission to complete a review of the language used in its Bylaws. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Director Pamela Nolan Young noted this will mean working with the town counsel to revise some of the language to make it more inclusive as well as more consistent with certain other  documents. Herrington mentioned that some specific language related to issues such as gender identity and sexual orientation might be outdated. Young stated that the Town Council would have to create a revised draft for the commission to review and advised that it should include the procedure for addressing complaints that have been filed.

Another goal for this year is to review the process for resolving complaints. Under the current protocol the town receives the complaints, the DEI department reviews them and decides if they should be forwarded to the HRC. While the co-chairs advocated for earlier notification of complaints and a specific amount of time for  the town to respond, Young and Moyston explained that communicating these issues can be complicated due to privacy issues and emails. Additionally, the Town Council is concerned about the commission’s role in the process because it does not have decision-making power.  Instead, it is meant to serve as a referral service connecting residents with the appropriate government bodies that have that power.

Next, Avila brought up several community issues to be worked on this year, most prominently affordable housing. This was seconded by Parker. Avila suggested listening sessions in which town residents struggling with housing costs can be heard by the town government and the Affordable Housing Trust. Young and Moyston suggested putting together information on all of the actors who participate in decisions regarding housing — both public and private — to provide increased clarity on the issue.

Avila and Young also stated their intention to create the Legacy Project Initiative, which would serve as a long-term plan for the town to increase civic engagement. Young explained that the concept is similar to other initiatives around the country, and mentioned Welcoming America, a nationwide nonprofit organization that helps various towns create a welcoming culture for immigrants. The Legacy Project would likely include educational and cultural events that would lead up to the annual Block Party.

When discussing upcoming events Moyston stated that the Lunar New Year will be celebrated  on January 29 at 11:30 at the high school. It will include educational speaker Dr. Lily Soh and food from local restaurants. Additionally, Black History Month will be celebrated by the annual flag raising and Town Council Proclamation on February 1, as well as a second event midway through February, the specifics of which have not yet been decided.

Before closing, Liz Haygood joined the meeting to report on the activities of the Affordable Housing Trust, saying that the Trust has approved additional housing on East Street near the old East St. School.

The next Human Rights Commission meeting will be on February 15 and is  open to the public as usual.

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