The Chelsea Public Library (CPL) held a NASA@ My Library Community Dialogue on Jan. 31, to discuss the community’s view of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). City leaders, library and school administration, high school students, and parents participated in the casual conversation to plan programming that will positively impact the entire city and inspire a passion for STEM learning among residents.
“We should try to build bridges between what’s happening in schools and formal education, and what’s happening in the community as we develop and grow,” said Lisa Santagate, Chelsea Public Schools/Chelsea Public Library trustee. “Science pervades our lives. STEM is everywhere and all connected.”
The Chelsea Public Library is one of 75 libraries across the country that was awarded the NASA@ My Library Grant, funded by NASA and the American Library Association. The initiative collaborates with libraries to increase and enhance STEM learning opportunities and activities.
“The main focus of this grant is to help underserved groups — especially youth – find more resources within STEM, and have more models for STEM careers,” said Martha Boksenbaum, CPL children’s librarian. “Often, women and people of color are underrepresented.”
Since May 2017, CPL has hosted a solar eclipse viewing party on City Hall lawn, offered a science café for adults, and presented a series of Tinker Time Workshops for children to explore scientific instruments such as a green screen and inferred thermometers.
Some panelists explained that, while there are elementary school events and an abundance of library programs for children, teenagers are an underserved population. Members of the community suggested increasing connections to the schools and library, and creating a more inviting atmosphere for young adults.
“In school there are a lot of classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and engineering, but it’s usually announced to the younger kids, and I think that’s great. The younger you are when you learn about science, the more you love it,” said Stephanie Alvarado, Chelsea High School senior. “We do tree mapping and water quality testing. That’s how I’m able to connect with STEM, but not the community as a whole.”
One of the main concerns mentioned during the community gathering was outreach to local STEM professionals that Chelsea residents could better relate to.
“A struggle I am experiencing in implementing this grant is showing examples of role models. I would like to represent people of color and women, but when I reach out, they are overwhelmingly not a representation of the majority of people here in the community,” explained Boksenbaum. “If the kids are learning that somebody next door is in a STEM field and looks like them, then they’re going to feel like that’s something they can do as well.”
The shooting deaths of two black men by white police officers in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, and then the assassination of five white officers by a black sniper in Dallas, have shocked Americans of all ages, races, color, and creeds.
These tragic deaths that have filled the headlines this past week have unleashed a wide range of emotions, but there is no question that a sense of sadness is the overwhelming feeling that has enveloped all Americans.
The racial intolerance that we thought had been relegated to the history books of the 1960s and ‘70s, when racial unrest ripped apart our inner cities and large-scale riots were commonplace, has resurfaced. The multitude of events of the past two years, starting with the catalyst of the incident in Ferguson, Missouri, has made it clear that despite the progress America has made in the past 50 years toward achieving racial equality, our nation still is a long, long way from attaining the goal, as stated by Dr. Martin Luther King in his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, “when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
At a time when we should be united in our desire to confront the threat posed by foreign terrorists, we are ripping ourselves apart — we have met the enemy, and he is us.
And what makes our sense of sadness so pervasive is the hopelessness we feel in terms of finding a solution to problems for which we know there are no easy answers. Yes, we could have better training for our police officers. Yes, we could have better gun control laws that would not allow the sale of high-power military assault rifles with armor-piercing bullets that place our police at unnecessary risk. Yes, we could spend more on education and other programs that attempt to end the cycle of poverty and violence in low-income areas.
But deep-down, we know that while such measures and others might have some positive effects in ameliorating the racial divide, they will not address the root of the problem of prejudice in America.
By Clifford Cunningham
I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege of serving as City Councilor for District 7 over the last four years and, as my time doing so will come to an end in a few weeks, I wanted to take the time to share some final thoughts with the residents of the District I call home and the city as a whole.
I begin by thank my family for their support over the last four years. Stress that comes with the responsibility of being a City Councilor, as well as substantial time spent away at meetings and community events can, at times, place strain on a family. I thank them for putting up with those realities and supporting me and my commitment to serve the people of Chelsea, even though that commitment sometimes came at their expense. No thoughts about my family can exclude mention of my father. It saddens me that he did not live long enough to share the experience with me, but I do know he witnessed it and will undoubtedly give me his insight when we meet again.
I also want to share some thoughts with my colleagues on the City Council, both those who will continue to serve and those who will not. In a relatively unusual case, all 11 current Councilors served together for two terms. There were a number of contentious debates through the course of those four years, and sadly, a personal divide emerged as a result, one of my deepest regrets as a City Councilor. I am grateful that those personal differences were resolved and that we were able to continue doing the people’s business at times when it was most important. Despite what some naysayers have said, I leave proud of what our Council accomplished and can say with certainty our City is a stronger one than it was four years ago. As many of us step aside, it will now be up to those who assume office in January to continue moving Chelsea forward and in what I hope to be the right direction.
To the people of District 7, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you for placing your faith in me to represent you at City Hall. While most 21 year-olds are busy in college or having fun with friends, I chose to sit through late night budget hearings, question department heads at subcommittee meetings, and navigate city government to get potholes and sidewalks fixed. Despite the challenges, I can say with 100 percent certainty that, if given the choice, I would gladly do it all over again.
The opportunity to serve as an elected representative of fellow residents of the city I’ve called home my entire life was nothing short of an honor, and the people I’ve met and worked with will hold a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.
In closing, the final message I’d like to convey to the people of Chelsea is to never listen to those who tell you that we are more different than alike. No matter the country you come from, the color of your skin, the religion you practice, or the language you speak, we are all part of one collective family; humanity. E pluribus unum, a Latin phrase that has been displayed proudly on our nation’s seal since 1782, makes clear, “out of many, one.”
Out of many races, ethnicities, religions, etc., we are one nation and one people.
And so on January 4, 2016, I again become a private citizen. I am happy to do so, and do so with the pride of one who was honored to have served my district, Chelsea and its residents.
Thank you and God bless you all.
When one considers that it has been almost 47 years since Martin Luther King was assassinated, it is easy to understand why so many of our fellow Americans today have so little understanding of who he was and what he accomplished.
Every school child for the past generation knows well the story of Martin Luther King. But an elementary school textbook cannot truly convey the extent to which he brought about real change in our country. To anyone under the age of 50, Martin Luther King is just another historical figure. But for those of us who can recall the 1960s, a time when racial segregation prevailed throughout half of our country and overt racism throughout the other half, Martin Luther King stands as one of the great leaders in American history, a man whose stirring words and perseverance in his cause changed forever the historical trajectory of race relations in America, a subject that some historians refer to as the Original Sin of the American experience.
The new movie, Selma, depicts the struggle that Martin Luther King and his followers faced in ending segregation in the South and the immense odds that were stacked against them. We hope that many of our younger fellow citizens will see the movie to get a better understanding of what King accomplished and what conditions really were like in the early 1960s, and realize that his life truly was a profile in courage.
However, we also hope that the movie conveys the idea that as much as King accomplished in his lifetime, his work still is not done. Until we truly can say in this country that every American is judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content his character, it is up to each one of us to ensure every day that the legacy of Martin Luther King’s work continues to live on.
The Rev. Reuben Rodriguez has served the homeless in Bellingham
Square for six years and said he hopes the next City Manager would be willing to work alongside him in the goal of opening a mission here.
The room was packed Monday night with curious residents, business owners and organizational leaders for the first of what promises to be several public input forums into the City Manager replacement process.
Not everyone chose to spoke during the hour-long meeting, but a majority who did stressed that they wanted to see the next City Manager live in Chelsea – or even be a homegrown product.
It was a sentiment amongst newer people to the community, and amongst long-time residents and their families. The City Charter – crafted in the 1990s after receivership – calls for the City Manager to live in Chelsea or be willing to re-locate one year after starting. That, however, can be waived by the Council and was waived for current City Manager Jay Ash – who will leave for a top Beacon Hill post at the end of the year.
Amy Arrington, who lives in Chelsea and works at the Phoenix Charter School, said she and her husband would like to see a resident picked.
“It’s easy to make difficult decisions when you can go home to another community at the end of the day,” she said. “We need someone who knows what it’s like to live here and the things that happen when you live here day and night. That’s the only way to know what we go through as residents.”
Bill Alowski, who lives in Chelsea and whose parents live on Bloomingdale Street, said a homegrown product as City Manager is appealing to him.
“First and foremost, I think it would be a great choice to to have a homegrown candidate – someone from Chelsea that knows what it is like to live and grow up here,” he said. “Chelsea is not Sturbridge Village. It’s a diverse mixture of people. It’s not like any city or town. About everyone from Chelsea is a minority. The next person has to know the people, know all of us and the problems we’re facing…We’ve come a long way and the City has grown.”
Marisol Santiago of Cooper Street said she wanted a resident and a person of color considered for the position.
“I would emphasize that something that’s really important is the new City Manager lives in Chelsea,” she said. “I also want to make sure we reflect the diversity of our city during this process…We need to be very purposeful and very specific about whether we will prioritize a person of color…I would ask you to be purposeful in that the final pool of candidates will be diverse in race, ethnicity and gender.”
However, residency was not the will of everyone. Some long-time residents didn’t wish for that, and it seemed pretty clear that non-profit leaders and their workers (some of whom are Chelsea residents) didn’t necessarily want to limit the search to people living in Chelsea or willing to relocate here.
Barbara Salisbury, of Washington Avenue, is a long-time resident who is the former budget director for former Gov. Michael Dukakis’s administration. She is currently on the new Chelsea Housing Authority (CHA) Board and said she didn’t consider residency desirable.
“We need to determine between what the City Manager does and what the City Council does,” she said. “The City Council represents all of us…I don’t think we should restrict our choices to only someone who is willing to reside in the city. It’s not important at all for this person to live here to understand what needs to be done and to make it happen.”
A similar chord was struck by Ann Houston, director of The Neighborhood Developers (TND) on Gerrish Avenue.
“We’re not going to replicate Jay, but the next person should be of equal calibre and with similar skills,” she said. “The real elected leaders are you all – the City Council. We need a manager who can manage under you’re guidelines.”
Some 20 residents and organizational leaders spoke, with every councillor being present except Councillor Joe Perlatonda. Those keeping score informally said about 60 percent of those speaking called for some sort of residency.
Residency, of course, is not necessarily the will of a majority of the City Council – which has in majority votes repeatedly taken stands against residency requirements in other facets of City government. The residency quality, referred to by the speakers more than any other, could also put the Council in a box as it looks for the best candidates statewide – some of whom may be older and settled in their personal lives and their communities.
“This isn’t a job for a 20-year-old, or probably even a 30- or 40-year-old person,” said Councillor Dan Cortell afterward. “This is a very good job and probably for someone in their 50s or older. Those types of folks often are established in their communities for many years. Maybe they own homes there too. What if they live in a surrounding community or nearby and not some far-flung community as was mentioned here? I’d like to have more conversations about the specifics of this quality as we move on.”
Councillor Calvin Brown said he felt moved by the comments of those who felt it was the City Council’s role to be the residential watchdog and not the city manager – who shouldn’t be restricted by home address.
“That really spoke to me; I was moved and uplifted by it,” he said. “We are the ones elected in the end to represent the people. That was encouraging for me to hear.”
Council President Matt Frank said he had not decided about his stance on residency, and doesn’t know if the Council should be too eager to pin down its position on the issue right away.
“With police and fire residency, my feet are dug in (against that), but with the City Manager I’m still out there and I’m still looking into it,” he said. “I kind of disagree with my colleagues that we need to decide residency in advance. I’d like to see who the people are first. My feeling on residency is it’s a strong preference. If I have two candidates with equally high scores, and one lives in Chelsea, I would probably take the Chelsea candidate. I’m really on a wait and see approach with it.”
There were, of course, other qualities and concerns voiced by those who spoke as well.
Nadine Mironchuk – a long-time advocate and former Chelsea Record reporter during receivership – said she would like to see the Council take the strong step of eliminating politics from the process by refusing applications from former City Councillors and Aldermen.
“It disturbs me to hear people say there is no one in this town who isn’t an obvious choice or who doesn’t qualify for it,” she said. “I encourage those on the Council to make the rounds and talk to people (in City Hall) about their aspirations in going to the next level of their careers…I also encourage the Council not to consider applications from former city councillors and former aldermen because some of those who get the position get it by getting seven votes…That will destroy this process and faith in this process.”
Sylvia Ramirez and Maria Belen Powers of the Chelsea Collaborative requested that the next person be someone who speaks Spanish – as a majority of Chelsea’s population is now Hispanic.
“We would like someone who can speak Spanish,” said Ramirez. “We really strongly believe that is what we want in the next City Manager. We would also like someone who is representative of the people we are and what we do.”
That was another common theme, that the next candidate, or at least the final pool of candidates, have a consideration for people of color. Diversity and cultural awareness and sensitivity was a paramount concern – along with gentrification of the existing population.
“We need to make sure the next City Manager has worked with people of color and understands cultural differences,” said Deborah Washington.
Added Harrington, “My husband and I don’t necessarily want to see Chelsea become what certain parts of Somerville and Charlestown have become. We don’t want it to become a place where people can no longer afford to live here. One thing we love is the diversity and cultures that are here.”
Rev. Reuben Rodriguez, of Wakefield, has been ministering to the homeless and drug addicted in Bellingham Square for six years, and said he wants a City Manager who will work with him and not push him out.
“I have seen a lot of things happen in drug abuse and homelessness here,” he said. “I want to make sure the next City Manager would be able to work alongside of us as Jay has done the last year and a half…My goal is to open up some place here – a mission – and that I wouldn’t be pushed out because I have devoted myself to Chelsea and I love Chelsea. People here say they’re trying to get out of Chelsea. I’ve been fighting my way in.”
Council President Frank said he was glad to see how civil the discussion was, as everyone was respectful and shared valuable input for councillors to consider.
“I hope it’s something the next Council President will continue – this open dialogue,” he said. “People really appreciate it. The fact that before we got the process started, we wanted input from the community was appreciated.”