Over a hundred people from predominantly white suburban communities around Greater Boston participated in the first convening of groups doing anti-racism organizing work in the suburbs (AROS) at Melrose First Methodist Church on a recent beautiful Saturday. Organized by Community Change, Inc. and the Winchester Multicultural Network, the day’s events included a keynote by well-known organizer and author George Lakey and workshops on a variety of topics highlighting systemic racism and inequity.

George Lakey made the crowd think critically about how to capitalize on the current political polarization in our country as a positive force for change, reminding everyone that “to bend iron, the blacksmith must first make it volatile.” He emphasized the need for sustained campaigns that include both economic and racial justice to create long-lasting generational change.

Breakout workshops covered affordable housing, eliminating harmful Native American stereotypes, incarceration and water justice, white people’s role in challenging white supremacy, street outreach in white communities, and building successful local campaigns.

The afternoon panel spoke on a number of topics, including how unjust evictions, development and gentrification, and a state-wide ban on rent control have disproportionately impacted people of color; how “justice” is not yet present in the “criminal justice” system, in spite of progress that has been made and how artificial isolation of the imprisoned leads to a culture of confinement; how important the District Attorneys electoral races are; and more. The panelists encouraged suburban folks to build relationships with people affected by injustice, and to connect local movements to a larger movement.

The goal of the gathering was to create greater capacity for movement building, improve alignment for joint campaigns, and strengthen shared resources for effecting systemic change in suburban communities. Former Network Executive Director Aba Taylor concluded the panel with this quote by Aboriginal elder, activist, and educator Lilla Watson: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”