JPNC aims to improve ‘racial equity’

March 15, 2013
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An ad hoc committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) is seeking to address racial equity in the JPNC’s decisions.

Tom Kieffer, executive director of the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center, and fellow Ad Hoc Racial Justice Committee members Elmer Freeman and Susan Naimark presented the committee’s first report at the Feb. 26 JPNC meeting at First Baptist Church. The report said that the committee will aim to focus the JPNC’s decisions and actions through the lens of racial equity.

Freeman is co-chair of the Disparities Action Network (DAN) and of Critical MASS, a statewide coalition of over 75 organizations working on eliminating health disparities and creating health equity. JP resident Naimark is a consultant on racial and social equity and has recently published a book, “The Education of a White Parent: Wrestling with Race and Opportunity in the Boston Public Schools,” which looks at the racial dynamic in the system and how that plays with equity and privilege.

“We know that there are different realities in JP, between the higher-income, largely white areas, and the lower-income areas, largely [comprised of] people of color,” the presentation said.

The committee proposed a two-hour seminar for JPNC members to train them to recognize opportunities to create or enforce greater racial equity in the council’s actions. There are no further planned actions yet.

“The neighborhood council would be much more successful if all of JP’s populations were engaged,” Kieffer said. “We can only succeed as a city if we address equity.”

The committee did not mention any specific racial issues relating to the JPNC. The current JPNC membership appears to be majority white. Jamaica Plain as a whole is 53 percent white, 13 percent black and 25 percent Latino, according to the latest census.

The JPNC ran into racial representation controversy in 2011 with its ad hoc committee on Whole Foods Market moving into Hyde Square. The committee focused on impacts on JP’s Latino community but had almost no Latino participants.

The committee’s presentation to the JPNC included explanations of how racism and social inequity can exist at the personal level through institutions and society as a whole. It included examples of inequity in the neighborhood like English-only public signs, affordability and gentrification of available housing and maintenance of public play spaces.

The committee mentioned school systems that concentrate people of color in the most overcrowded, under-funded schools with the least qualified teachers, or the “racial wealth divide” that results from generations of discrimination and racial inequality.

A training session for JPNC members is tentatively scheduled for March 28. Committee members also asked for time to work with other committees’ members who might be JPNC members.

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