The Malden Youth Civics Council hosted a Racial Justice Forum over a Zoom meeting where individuals in the Malden community had the opportunity to discuss a variety of concerns involving racial issues to local representatives including Mayor Gary Christenson in order to further highlight problems that have been present within the city.
Hossam Braer, who is the Vice Chair, explained that the council initially planned for this event because with the recent killings of Black Americans across the country, they wanted to utilize this discussion to “educate individuals about historically racist tactics” that are used in the United States to “suppress African-American representation.” On top of that, with local leaders being present in the forum, the council wanted them to be more transparent on problems that are occurring in the city so that residents can learn “what steps local leaders are taking in order to resolve these issues” so members of the community do not feel as if “their problems are [being] swept under the rug.”
Braer believes that “you can not and will not solve an issue you do not believe exists,” and that to be transparent, you need to “truly acknowledge the issue at hand.” By having this forum opened up to the community, it would enable individuals to be more informed about how these issues have been “prominent for so long now” with systemic racism prevailing to this day.
Brandon Wong, who is the First Chair, mentioned how even despite Malden being such a diverse city, there are still issues that need to be addressed, especially “issues that are not apparent to us” as we live in it and “this is our norm.”
Adding on to that thought, Minh Thu Do, the art coordinator, believes that simply just “standing and idling around” will not solve anything as “speaking out is important.”
During the forum, many initiatives were presented to the local representatives including staff diversity and representation. With Malden being considered to hold one of the most diverse sets of students, it was highlighted that in the Malden Public School system, there is actually a lack of people of color acting as teacher figures for students.
Attendees were able to hear what steps Malden is taking to tackle these problems including how the city is planning to set up classes with the Malden Public School system that are dedicated towards engaging more students in becoming teachers. Mayor Christenson mentioned that by having these classes, students of various groups are likely to at least attend these classes and it would inspire students of color to pursue the career of teachers.
Braer expressed that the council did like the approach that the Mayor and the City of Malden was taking as it was a “step closer in the right direction,” however, they did feel that along with this program, there also needed to be a “change within the school curriculum” to establish a platform for “students and teachers alike to talk about racial issues.”
In addition, the UniteMalden 2020 initiative was also brought up which consists of five steps that will be taken in order to handle the problem of racial inequity. The steps include declaring racism as a public health crisis, establishing a police department community review board, funding a director that will prioritize diversity and inclusion, a ‘diversity in hiring’ initiative, and recognizing Juneteenth as an official holiday in the city.
Wong felt that it was “good to know” about what was presented because “[he] now knows that there are initiatives in place” that are being formulated in order to address the issues that were made during the Black Lives Matter protests which reveals “that their efforts were not in vain.” But in spite of that, he further said how “there are always ways to get better” and ways to “improve the current conditions in our community” even if these developments are “small incremental changes.”
Mayor Christenson stated that there is a significance in engaging young people in conversations about race and racism because in order to “effectuate positive change in our community,” it is critical for the younger generation to be included in the process as their “voices [need to] be heard and their experiences shared.”
Do agreed that by allowing young people in these discussions to express both their concerns and experiences, it facilitates for them to “be exposed to these issues” so that they can “work together to fix them.”
All in all, the Racial Justice Forum hosted by the Malden Youth Civics Council enabled for members of the Malden community to discuss with local representatives a variety of issues present in the city and address certain initiatives that could be taken in hopes of moving toward a more equitable community.