At Civic Gathering #4, the Select Board, the School Committee, and the Winchester Multicultural Network hosted around 60 residents at the Sons of Italy Hall on Monday evening, September 18. David Errico, Selectman, had generously provided the meeting site. An original acrylic painting by resident Shelby Meyerhoff held center stage, a representation of the ancient and iconic oak tree on our Town Common. In the background was a large color photo of the actual 120 year old tree. In a prominent position, the Winchester Human Rights Statement reminded us of why we come together. Throughout the evening, the Network’s director Aba Taylor provided critical guidance and focus for participants.

Town Common Task Force in Action Over the Summer

Tom Howley opened the evening with a brief review of the prior civic gatherings and a preview of the night’s agenda. He introduced the Town Common Task Force (TCTF):  Susan Verdicchio, Hillary Turkewitz, Aba Taylor, Shelby Meyerhoff, Rebecca Levine, Gloria Legvold, Tom Howley, Michael Bettencourt, and Casey Bauer. TCTF had worked over the summer planning ways to honor, to reflect, and  to advance the efforts  residents  had set out in the prior three civic gatherings. (Please review the history here on our website. Post-election Civic Gathering: Promoting Social Justice and Protecting Civil Rights (#1); Strengthening Winchester: A Civic Gathering (#2); Civic Gathering #3: Building Momentum in Service of a Caring and Inclusive Community)

The Town Common: Where Winchester Comes Together

Serving as the backdrop and foundation for this fourth gathering was a concept enthusiastically welcomed in the May 18 Sanborn House meeting, “The Town Common: Where Winchester Comes Together.” Rebecca Levine presented a possible mission and principles statement for comment, drafted by the TCTF.  It reads:

The Town Common is an initiative comprised of individuals and groups coming together to build a caring and inclusive community in Winchester.

In advancing this mission we are grounded in respect for all and guided by the following principles:

•  to promote respectful listening, critical thinking, and constructive conversation

•  to facilitate connection, collaboration, and individual and organizational initiative

•  to inspire community engagement and action and, in doing this, strengthen Winchester.

Positive Efforts Underway

On the agenda were reports from new and continuing action groups, called to present by Hillary Turkewitz. There was a summary of the September 16 International Day at the Winchester Farmers’ Market and an invitation to participate in Community Organizations Day on October 7 at the Farmers Market. The uplifting Kindness Rocks project received recognition. You may have come across a painted rock with a message of encouragement and love, placed by an anonymous person, to be moved to a new spot or kept as the finder needs. Broader systemic initiatives included our public school’s incorporation of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance curriculum in faculty training as well as the Community Needs Assessment Survey project under current development.

Challenging Conversations: Let’s Talk

Setting the tone for Civic Gathering #4 were several who emphasized the critical skill of constructive dialogue and active listening around both unifying and challenging issues within our small community. This is particularly relevant when the issue involves emotional investment on both sides—such as the recurring Sachem logo question. Jon Swan, who moved here from Montana over three years ago, spoke about growing up on a Native reservation in Montana. His over 33% quantum blood line assures his tribal identification. Founder of the Native American Bank with friends, he lives here with us, his wife and children. He spoke of his discomfort as he drove by the high school with its huge logo. And, how does his wife explain to his children about their sports uniforms? Yes, there are differing opinions and strong loyalty to history and sports teams, and in the year 2017 could we have a discussion.

Round-The-Table Perspectives

With reminders of positive efforts underway, Shelby Meyerhoff invited participants to move to self-selected table discussions centered on Youth and Schools, Economic Justice, Interfaith, Refugee and Immigrant Rights, Environmental Justice, Civic Involvement and Education, and Diverse Winchester. The latter group was so large that, after introductions, the group divided itself into two conversations. Susan Verdicchio oversaw the “report back” from groups. We paused after the reports to note who was not present to offer an opinion. Hillary and Casey Bauer, TCTF members, will soon compile the issues raised—successes, speed bumps,  actions underway, where support is needed—and distribute to the group. Collaborations are already forming.

Without “Active” Listening, a New Problem Created?

In closing the evening, Michael Bettencourt reminded us of the Brown family. They had joined with the NAACP to sue the Topeka Board of Education so their seven-year old daughter could attend her neighborhood school rather than travel to a distant, assigned Black elementary school. In the resulting Supreme Court decision, a solution was applied to a problem the Brown’s did not have. They liked the distant school; they just felt they should have a choice. The landmark desegregation decision affected communities without getting perspectives from those most impacted. In the immediate decade following the decision, Black teachers were terminated when the Court forced schools to integrate. At the time of the decision there were over 80,000 Black teachers in the South; after the decision there were fewer than 40,000. Those numbers have never recovered.

Michael’s goal was to underline the absolute requirement of including different perspectives as we begin to problem solve. Our greatest tool is our ability to listen with openness to each other.

Attaching “Leafs” to Our Oak Tree

Suggestions about how the Town Common could support further progress soon found their way on to green post-it “leafs” placed on the artful tree at the front of the hall.

Under the patient, sturdy observation of our ancient red oak, the Town Common welcomes our celebrations, picnics, movies and concerts, Town Day petting zoo, protests and demonstrations, Saturday Farmers’ Markets, vigils and grief, one-on-one conversations, and our growth.

Our community lives happen on The Common.

Coming Soon!

Be on the lookout for further information from this productive evening spent advancing the progress of a connected and inclusive community:

  • a compilation of “leaf” notes about the role The Town Common can play,
  • survey comments about what makes residents happy to live in Winchester and what makes them feel less comfortable, and
  • a summary report on table discussions.

PARTICIPATE RIGHT NOW!

And, right now, join The Town Common with your initiatives and your comments at winchestertowncommon@gmail.com. The Town Common Task Force welcomes everyone, whether or not you have yet been able to attend a Civic Gathering:

  • Would you like to help manage the booth at Community Organization Day, October 7, Winchester Farmers’ Market? We want to introduce the Town Common to an even wider group of residents.
  •  Share your plans, add your participation, loan your expertise to our inclusive group efforts.
  •  Let us hear: What are the ways the Town Common can support individuals and groups interested in action related to its mission and principles?  How and where could you utilize enhanced, shared resources and moral support?

We invite you again to e-mail winchestertowncommon@gmail.com.

Winchester Human Rights Statement

Winchester is a community that is grounded in respect for every individual, and therefore protects all residents, employees, business owners, students and visitors in the enjoyment and exercise of human and civil rights. It is town policy to ensure equal treatment and opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, religion, ideology, socio-economic status, health, sexual orientation, age, military status, or disability.

Officially adopted by the Winchester Board of Selectmen.