On March 14, 2012, a group of 13 concerned residents came together at Second Congregational Church for a brainstorming meeting to discuss whether Berkshire County needed an NAACP branch. The consensus was that it did, and a reactivation committee was formed.
The new committee met the following month; Will Singleton and Dennis Powell, both of whom would become the first and second presidents, volunteered to co-chair the reactivation committee; Duane Booth volunteered to serve as treasurer.
Reactivation of a branch requires at least 50 members, and by late September that goal was reached. Juan Cofield, president of the New England Conference of the NAACP was notified, and we were on our way!
Election of new officers was held in December, with Mr. Singleton as president, and the Berkshire County branch of the NAACP was given new life.
Along with other branches nationwide, we operate as “One Nation Working Together, For Justice and Equality Everywhere.” True to that commitment, in the almost three years of our existence we have effectively brought about significant change in our community. Most of what has been accomplished has focused on the city of Pittsfield, where the minority population is highest among the Berkshire communities and diversity and poverty-related issues also high.
We challenged the unjust practices that created a lack of diversity in our schools of teachers and administrators who resemble the population that makes up our community. We were successful in getting a highly qualified teacher of color into Pittsfield Public Schools who was previously denied the position because she “lacked experience” even though she had proven herself more that capable of being able to do the job. Today she is considered an excellent teacher by students, parents, and her colleagues. Superintendent Jake McCandless is an invaluable ally in this effort, which is ongoing, thanks to his openness and determination to effect change in our schools.
We were instrumental in getting troubled children in a special program out of a facility on Second Street that was formerly a jail and into a proper educational atmosphere.
Our Legal Redress Committee has worked with and provided guidance to more than 14 individuals who were being unjustly treated by or because of the system.
We have provided financial assistance to college students of color to help ease the pressure of rising costs for textbooks and other expenses.
We have formed a partnership with Greylock Federal Credit Union to diversify the workforce at Greylock and provide an opportunity through education and training to our black youth. Beginning in 2015, Greylock became a major sponsor of the annual Gather-In and will do so as well in 2016.
In March 2014 we presented to the Pittsfield City Council a “Report Card on Race,” identifying goals and objectives: approval of an updated Affirmative Action plan by the city council that reflects the current needs of the community; fair and transparent hiring practices monitored by the Affirmative Action commission; full training and implementation plan throughout all city and school agencies; job description reviews to insure cultural competence; participation by the community of color on hiring committees; re-activate the human rights commission; address and change Pittsfield’s school-to-prison pipeline.
In January 2015, City Councilor Churchill Cotton and Mr. PowelI co- authored a petition to make the Affirmative Action Policy a city ordinance, giving the weight of law to it. Revision of the policy before submission to the City Council fell into the able hands of the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee, chaired by Mary McGinnis, and it was adopted by the City Council in September 2015. Helping Ms. McGinnis and her committee were Darrin Lee of the City Solicitor’s Office; Ethan Klepetar, legal adviser to the NAACP, and Judy Williamson and Lenny Kates, committee chairs of the NAACP.
In addition to these initiatives, the NAACP has been proactive in co-sponsoring a Forum on Race at which the main speaker was the federal attorney for Massachusetts, organizing a civil rights march protesting police killings of black men, providing scholarships for minority college students to assist with tuition and high textbook costs, supporting a children’s musical group, and financially supporting a county agency, Multicultural Bridge.