COVENTRY — A local resident is pressing town officials to declare racism a public health crisis.
Linda Blakesley, 42, submitted a letter that was read during the public portion of the Feb. 16 Town Council meeting, arguing that the town must declare racism a public health crisis because you cannot cure what you cannot diagnose.
“Just because we live in a majority white town, does not mean that racism is not impacting our residents,” she wrote, adding: “We owe it to all the children in this town who will one day be global citizens, to create equitable systems in which all children can thrive and outcomes are not determined by race.”
Blakesley pointed out that Manchester’s Board of Directors made the declaration last summer and that Coventry is late in doing so.
Blakesley letter was addressed during Monday’s steering committee meeting.
Committee Chairman Matthew D. O’Brien Jr. said the Town Council is working on something similar and in line with Blakesley’s request.
“It’s not precisely what you’re asking, but I’m always willing to listen and hear everyone out and see what we can do to improve the situation,” he said.
Lisa Conant, steering committee member, said having this type of declaration would be a great first step.
“It is making a statement to the population of Coventry that is not white that you’re welcome here,” she said.
Conant said she witnessed racism on Facebook town forums over the weekend.
“The racism is horrific and I was just so sorry to see that,” she said. “It really bothers me that people felt so free to express it.”
Blakesley told the Journal Inquirer today that she thinks it is important to speak up and use her white privilege to elevate the voices of minorities.
Blakesley is one of three community organizers of Power Up-Coventry, a sister group to Power Up-Manchester led by Keren Prescott. In Coventry, about 115 members are in the group organized in November, she said.
“We are looking to build up that support in town,” she said, adding: “I’ve been able to look at ways in which I’ve been socialized and learn biases and benefited from white privilege. From my point of view, if I’m not actively seeking ways to end systemic racism, then I’m upholding it.
“Just because we do live in a town that’s majority white population — about 95% white — doesn’t mean we don’t have to do the work,” she continued.
Blakesley said that she’s attended rallies in town over the summer where biracial high school students have shared that they’ve experienced racism within the local school system.
“I know that kids and adolescents are experiencing it,” she said. “I recognize that it exists within the systems and institutions that we uphold in this town.”
Blakesley said that she understands that declaring racism a public health crisis cannot just be words on a paper, but it’s the first step to positive change.
“That will allow us to really take a deep dive into the policies, structures, cultures, and beliefs through the racial equity lens so that we can identify any racist practices or beliefs that exist — whether they are on the surface or deeply embedded within it,” she said.
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