Wellesley stands united at solidarity gathering to combat racism

World of Wellesley, Solidarity Gathering
A group of over 75 gathered at the Wellesley Town Hall green to participate in a solidarity gathering sponsored by World of Wellesley.

Over 75 people gathered at the Wellesley Town Hall green to attend a solidarity gathering put together by World of Wellesley in the wake of “disturbing allegations of racial/ethnic harassment as well as hate speech involving students from Wellesley High School and from some surrounding communities,” as described in a July 19 letter to the WHS community from Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Lussier and WHS Principal Jamie Chisum (You can see the letter in its entirety at this link.)

The content at the center of the controversy was shared by WHS students in a Facebook group chat that naturally did not stay private. Screenshots of the offensive content (which includes references to the N word and lynching) have been shared with us and many others, and there’s been much discussion of the posts online, including in the comments section of our original post.

I stopped by the loosely organized solidarity gathering at Town Hall during which scheduled speakers and others who shared their thoughts spontaneously all called for end to racism in speech and actions in Wellesley and beyond. Here’s the thing: this stuff wasn’t easy to hear. Here’s the other thing: I’ve heard it all before, and it’s not getting any prettier.

A little over a year ago, a mom of color fired up a Facebook post heard round the town about the trauma her family endured while living in Wellesley for five years. “So sad,” she wrote. “All that glitters isn’t gold. Wellesley is called ‘Swellesley’ because it is such a ‘posh’ area. Well, beneath that veneer lies some of the most vicious, ignorant racism I have ever experienced. We’ve been here for almost 5 years…and while we’ve had challenges, they were nothing like what we’ve experienced over the last few months.”

At a community meeting, this mom recounted a series of long-term school-related incidents her child had experienced. He ended up suspended. Upon his return to school, he didn’t even have a chance to try and keep a low profile. The accusations started up as soon as he stepped onto the school bus. Video vindicated him, but the ordeal exhausted the family. They have since moved out of town.

Here are some of the comments shared around what Michelle Chalmers, World of Wellesley CEO, dubbed the circle of peace, love, listening, and healing:

One mom of color said that she hadn’t experienced such an intense level of racism in her life until she sent her kids to school here in Wellesley, and that every day feels dangerous in a different way. She says she is in fear of sending her children back to school, and that she could write a book of incidents that have occurred since her family moved to Wellesley.

Those in the circle spoke the refrain, “We see you. We hear you. We are grateful for you.”

One educator and mom of color says she moved to Wellesley in 1990, just after the Dee Brown incident (If you don’t recall, Brown and his fiancee were stopped by a handful of Wellesley police officers with guns drawn in September of 1990 after he was misidentified by a bank employee as a suspect in a robbery. The 21-year-old basketball pro was released once he showed identification, but the damage was done at a time when the Boston area’s racial tensions were flaring in the wake of the Charles Stuart case.) and that things seem to have actually regressed. Her current students, she says, feel harassed in town, and her former students talk of feeling traumatized by their time here in Wellesley. “We’re fighting on a day-to-day basis just to feel comfortable.”

Those in the circle spoke the refrain, “We see you . We hear you. We are grateful for you.”

One white dad had just learned that one of the kids involved in the center of the controversy over the Facebook chat was a child he had known over the years. “We try to instill the ideas of respect…and obviously sometimes it doesn’t work.”

Those in the circle spoke the refrain, “We see you. We hear you. We are grateful for you.”

A minister quoted Michelle Obama as a source of inspiration and aspiration: “When they go low, we go high.”

Those in the circle spoke the refrain, “We see you. We hear you. We are grateful for you.”

And as things wound down, one of the final voices said, “Tonight I’ve discovered another of Wellesley’s treasures — this circle. I hope that we can do more of this together.”

And those in the circle spoke the refrain, “We see you. We hear you. We are grateful for you.”

This is going to sound a little self-serving, but if you’d like to add your name to those who want to stand united, go to Swellesley’s Facebook page and hit like on the post “Wellesley stands united at solidarity gathering to combat racism.”

World of Wellesley is sponsoring another solidarity gathering on August 28, a few days before the August 31 start of school, as well as an Art Exhibit fundraiser on Sept. 30 and a Diversity Summit on Oct. 1. Check their website for more information.