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Viewpoint: NAACP calls for answers in CDO’s departure

Updated: Jun 21, 2022

We are agitated and enraged that once again, our chief diversity officer in Worcester is leaving. Our community’s hopes are once again being frustrated, denied, and delayed until another time. Worcester’s Black and Brown communities invested in this process and position are now left wondering why these smart, intelligent, and dedicated women hired with glowing qualifications are leaving after such a short time? We have gone backward. With a population so diverse, we now only have one person of color in the leadership of the administration and no Black women.

Fred Taylor, Sr. president of Worcester's NAACP Unit

We must remember our history so we can avoid repeating it. Worcester’s Black community remembers this history quite clearly. Worcester’s first CDO, Malika Carter, was hired January 2016 in response to the U.S. Department of Justice listening sessions on race. She left just over a year later in July 2017. She was quickly replaced by Suja Chacko, an insider from the human resources department, in March 2018, but she also left after less than two years. Then the city hired Stefanie Williams, a Worcester native. We felt as though we were finally on track.

During the George Floyd movement, the NAACP, Worcester’s Black Families Together, City Councilor Khrystian King, and other community organizations made the CDO position one of our negotiating priorities, advocating the next CDO be a cabinet-level position, existing independently of the human resources department, with pay equitable to the importance of the position. This was our effort to fix something we knew wasn’t quite working. We had hoped.

But the past couple of years have been difficult for Worcester’s Black and Brown communities. We were repeatedly told racism didn’t exist within the Worcester Police Department. We’ve watched as the elected leaders from our communities were frequently attacked. Proposals to address systemic racism have been delayed or sidestepped. The once-in-a-lifetime infusion of American Rescue Plan Act funds to uplift our communities is looking less and less like it will address longstanding inequities.

Then we learn late Friday, March 4, the third diversity officer is leaving. This departure raises so many questions. Why did Ms. Williams leave? Did she feel unsupported? Undervalued? Ignored? Marginalized? Are we serious about diversity and equity in Worcester? Why is there such difficulty keeping someone in this position? Is the position a smokescreen? The city administration should do some genuine and humble self-assessment. How can you tell Black and Brown people you are serious about diversity, yet not one diversity officer has stayed in the position for two years? As a community, we are calling for answers and transparency.

This is not the news I wanted to get as Black History Month concludes. The time for symbolic gestures and resolutions has passed; today we are forced to stop and re-evaluate. Effective immediately, the Worcester NAACP is withdrawing as an institutional member of Worcester’s Tercentenary Committee. We are demanding the city not rush to hire a replacement simply to check a box. Our community needs answers first. We don’t want symbols; we want true change.

Black leaders in Worcester are discussing what has happened. But I now also want to speak as Fred Taylor, as a Black man in this city, a graduate of our public schools, a resident of Main South, and community leader. I speak now as someone who has dedicated the past few years of his life to addressing institutional racism, inequalities in schooling, policing, and employment in Worcester.

I thought we were moving forward, but Ms. Williams’s departure shines a bright light directly onto City Hall, raising serious institutional issues. Ms. Williams’s departure jeopardizes any and all efforts to dismantle institutional racism in Worcester and loudly raises one unavoidable question, “Why aren’t we making progress?”

Speaking personally, I am devastated by sister Williams’s departure. It hurts. And while I will tone down much of my anger and frustration, I am not willing to hold all of it in. I must express some of it. This is serious, and serious issues deserve much, much more than a quiet press release at the end of the day on a Friday.

We will keep our eyes on the prize, but we will not do it in silence.

Fred Taylor, Sr. is the president of Worcester’s NAACP Unit.

Published in the Worcester Business Journal

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