Did you know…
- Last month, Christiana Severe became the first Black police sergeant in Lexington’s history. Previously, no Black or minority police officer in Lexington had been promoted or served as a sergeant, supervisor, lieutenant, captain or chief.
- During Lexington Public Schools’ most recent hiring season, 30.7% (39 employees) out of the 127 new employees with a hire date of July 1, 2021 or later were employees of color and/or Hispanic/Latinx. This was an increase from the previous hiring season, when 25.9% of employees with a hire date of July 1, 2020 or later were employees of color and/or Hispanic/Latinx.
- From March to May 2020, CALex made donations to Black community hospitals and long-term care institutions in Boston, Brockton, Somerville and West Medford, which included 19,000 masks and 3,500 pairs of gloves.
For many communities of color, COVID-19 has accentuated the deadliness of another threat — racism and hate — and facilitated a fundamental racial reckoning on national and local levels.
High-profile acts of racially motivated violence — including the murder of George Floyd and the shooting of eight people, mostly women of Asian descent, at three spas in the Atlanta area — have caused an immense outcry and national protests of unprecedented scale.
Black and Asian Americans have joined forces nationwide with the shared goal of eradicating white supremacy. These are some of the ways they have worked together in Lexington.
Expressing solidarity throughout a painful year
In the wake of an unrelenting litany of national tragedies, representatives of Black and Asian American affinity groups in Lexington have spoken out against racism in forceful solidarity with one another.
Four days after the mass shooting of Asian women in Atlanta, Sean Osborne articulated the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington’s solidarity with Asian Americans at a Lexington community vigil for the victims of the tragedy.
“The evils of white supremacy and racism are intertwined and continue to fuel racist violence and harassment in and around our town,” said Osborne, who is the ABCL president, standing before a hushed crowd on March 20, 2021. “Like a vigilant gardener, we must regularly remove the weeds and prune away the unwanted growths that are represented by the racists and their enablers in our midst.”
Asian Americans in Lexington have been similarly steadfast in their support of the Black community. “We must never forget that ‘injustice everywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ Our solidarity in seeking justice transcends boundaries of ethnic groups, skin color, national origin, or any other personal differences,” wrote CALex, or Chinese Americans of Lexington, in an official statement responding to the murder of Ahmaud Arbery on Feb. 23, 2020.
“I know that I want to live in a world where everyone feels respected, everyone feels like they are treated as an equal, and everyone feels like they have access to the resources that they need to succeed in any sector of their life.”
— Annika Bajaj, Indian Americans of Lexington (IAL) youth president
The year following the pandemic has been rife with injustice against both Asians and African Americans, exacerbating the need for an alliance between the two groups.
“I don’t think you can completely get social justice for one group without getting it for the other, so in that way I think solidarity is very important,” said Michelle Wu, president of Lexington High School’s Asian Student Union. This does not mean the two groups face precisely the same struggles, she stressed: “Obviously, the African American experience is very different from the Asian American experience. But the matter of fact is that both are minorities within the United States, and do face discrimination. And so that’s a way that I think solidarity is really important — because we are stronger united than we are divided.”
Annika Bajaj, Indian Americans of Lexington (IAL) youth president, agreed.
“I know that I want to live in a world where everyone feels respected, everyone feels like they are treated as an equal, and everyone feels like they have access to the resources that they need to succeed in any sector of their life,” Bajaj said. “I think that that’s why Black and Asian solidarity is so important — because in order to reach that point, we first need to really initiate these efforts to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed in this world.”
Beyond Words: Working together on aid
Solidarity has not stopped at words — particularly during the pandemic, affinity groups in Lexington have collaborated to get key resources to the communities that need them the most.
“ABCL has, almost from the beginning [of its establishment], coordinated [with Asian American organizations],” Osborne said.
As the pandemic-induced panic reached a fever pitch in 2020, ABCL teamed up with Asian organizations in Lexington to support the Black community in the greater Boston area. For instance, from March to May 2020, CALex made donations to Black community hospitals and long-term care institutions in Boston, Brockton, Somerville and West Medford, which included 19,000 masks and 3,500 pairs of gloves.
“We took the masks and gave them to nonprofits who primarily serve Black people in the Greater Boston area who were in need of masks. And so we made sure to put a note on each delivery, ‘this is from ABCL through our friends from CAAL and CALex.’ We were facilitators, moving the masks from one hand to the other,” wrote Osborne in a follow-up email to LexObserver.
Asian-American organizations in Lexington were highly active overall in providing COVID-19-related aid beyond the Lexington community, LexObserver previously reported.
CALex Youth donated $2,500 to the Black History of Lexington Project sponsored by ABCL, which aims to uplift the narratives of Black historical figures and Lexingtonians, according to Wicked Local.
“I think it’s important …not just for Asian Americans to fight for themselves, we need to work with all…races to share the same goal to fight against racism,” said Houze Xu, CALex president.
The Indian American community in Lexington is also dedicated to advocating for the Black community. IAL Youth president Annika Bajaj has advocated for Black Lives Matter by attending marches and supporting fundraisers. Bajaj emphasizes the importance of fighting against intersectional racism. “It seems that a lot of people in the world don’t understand that, but both Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate have the same core message, which is stop hating people for what they look like or where they’re from,” she said. “And I think if the two groups kind of unified, they’ll have an even stronger message because instead of it being about loyalty to someone’s Asian culture or loyalty to their African American culture, then it’s just about loyalty to humanity, and kindness.”
Before the pandemic, Asian American affinity groups and ABCL have allied throughout the years to promote BIPOC visibility and representation in Lexington. Specifically, “when ABCL was advocating for non-White candidates to be selected for [school] principal for different openings, some of the different Asian groups also advocated for that,” Osborne said.
Osborne explained in a follow-up email that in April 2018, the ABCL and IAL both sent letters to then-Superintendent Mary Czajkowski “ advocating for the selection of a non-White principal to lead Bowman, Estabrook and/or Harrington.” But “Dr. Czajkowski and her successor, Dr. [Julie] Hackett, who came on board in the summer of 2018, chose White principals to fill all three openings,” he wrote.
Hackett detailed the progress LPS has made in diverse hiring in a message to LexObserver. “During our most recent hiring season, 30.7% (39 employees) out of the 127 new employees with a hire date of July 1, 2021 or later were employees of color and/or Hispanic/Latinx,” she wrote, an increase from the January 2021 report which found that 25.9% of employees with a hire date of July 1, 2020 or later were employees of color and/or Hispanic/Latinx.
“We also continue to expand the diversity of our leadership team,” Hackett added. “Since July 1, 2021, we have welcomed 6 new administrators to the district, as well as 3 internal candidates taking new leadership roles. Among those 9 staff members, 3 identify as educators of color and 6 identify as white,” she wrote.
The January 2021 report also noted that since July 1, 2018, when Hackett officially took over as superintendent, “we have had a total of ten administrative vacancies in building and district leadership positions. Of the educators who filled these roles, four identify as LGBTQ+, one identifies as Black, four identify as Asian, and five identify as white.”
Among these changes, Osborne noted that Chris Wai, who is Asian-American, “has been appointed co-principal [of Maria Hastings Elementary School] for this school year.”
“It takes constant pressure from many, many justice warriors to bend the arc of history towards justice,” he wrote.
“We work together all the time so that when it’s time to come together for the hard times, we’re not meeting as strangers.”
— Sean Osborne, president of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL)
The organizations had also allied in promoting non-white candidates for police department promotions. “When ABCL was advocating for the first non-white Christian to be promoted to sergeant, for the police department, some Asian groups also sent letters of support,” Osborne said, “because we had two candidates — one Chinese American, one African American — for the sergeant that we thought should at least get interviewed.”
Improving police diversity in Lexington has long been a priority for its citizens. On June 25, 2020, ABCL hosted a conversation on 21st Century Policing and Police Reform. In 1980, the Lexington Police Department hired its first full time Black police officer, but during the last four decades, no Black or minority police officer in Lexington had been promoted or served as a sergeant, supervisor, lieutenant, captain or chief.
“In or around October 2020, CALEX and other members of the Asian community sent letters to town leadership requesting that the Lexington Police Department immediately fill the open sergeant position,” wrote Osborne in a follow-up email to LexObserver.
In September 2021, Christiana Severe was promoted to sergeant, and is the first Black sergeant in Lexington’s police department. Two other police officers were promoted as well, one of them (Mitch Caspe) being the first Jewish sergeant. Additionally, Steven Herrera, who is Hispanic, was just promoted to the position of Dispatch Supervisor, Interim Chief Michael McLean wrote in an email to LexObserver.
“All three …have a history of exceptional job performance and distinguished themselves in an intensive promotional process,” McLean wrote, adding, “the Lexington Police Department is dedicated to increasing the diversity of the entire department, including the supervisory staff, to reflect the community, which enables us to enhance our ability to engage and serve our residents.”
“Advocacy takes time and change has many, many parents,” Osborne wrote.
Beyond issues of power and representation, the organizations also collaborate on programming, Osborne added. For instance, “IAL invited ABCL to join the careers program they run every year mainly for middle schoolers,” said Osborne.
“We work together all the time so that when it’s time to come together for the hard times, we’re not meeting as strangers.”
LexChat is a book-club style community conservation initiative started in Summer 2020 to discuss race, racism, racial justice and anti-Blackness.
“LHSchat has had a special focus on addressing issues pertaining to anti-Black racism but expanded that this spring in light of increased incidents of anti-Asian racism,” wrote Elliott Gimble, who is also a biology teacher at Lexington High School, in a follow-up email to LexObserver. “It was a group decision…there was an intentional reaching out to the Asian American community — students and staff — to try to better understand we could address these issues with their input and involvement.”
This intersectionality is reflected in other community efforts. Suhanee Mitragotri is a member of the class of 2021 at Lexington High School. She identifies as South Asian but has facilitated conversations within Sunrise Lexington, a youth environmentalism organization, about anti-Blackness.
“Because I don’t identify as Black American, I think that …I can try my best to understand their experience, but I can never truly understand it because I haven’t lived through it….that’s why I think it’s so important to make sure that you try to talk to students who identify as Black Americans — because I think that getting that first-hand perspective is so important,” said Mitragotri.
Gimble agrees with Mitragotri’s sentiment about valuing student perspectives.
“In addressing the impacts of racism, it seems to me important that there is no one-size-fits-all narrative, but that there are some important common threads; if you look more closely at power, who benefits, and who doesn’t,” he wrote. “The specific stories and impacts vary across different groups and appreciating that has been a key starting point for me trying to wrap my head around it.”
Consequently, “I think there is a huge need to try and address ‘both-and,’ trying to understand better how we can better serve all students with greater, more universal cultural awareness and understanding, but also finding ways to recognize and highlight the unique successes and struggles of each, be they students who identify as Asian American, as Black, as LGBTQ+, as students with disabilities, and others,” Gimble wrote.
Moving forward from historical divides
Historically, the relationship between Asian and Black Americans often included contention.
“I think the model minority myth can be prevalent in education, because it kind of frames Asians as successful people, and which, at the same time kind of puts down African Americans and so I think it’s really important to address the model minority myth,” said Wu of the ASU.
“There will be individuals who express anti-Chinese racism in ABCL and those who express anti-Black racism in CAAL or CALex, for instance. And that doesn’t mean that the groups can’t work together. And it’s acknowledging that we can move forward within our imperfections, as opposed to assuming that we have to take the position that we are perfect,” wrote Osborne in a follow-up email to LexObserver.
“There’s so much left to do, but I think we’re definitely making progress, which is really nice to see.”
— Sean Osborne, ABCL president
“Historically, yes, there were a lot of barriers that prevented conversation between Black Americans and Asian Americans. And I think that these barriers definitely prevented people from trying to learn more about each other. And I think that this is something that still obviously exists to this day, but it’s something that people are working towards trying to overcome for sure,” Osborne wrote.
He largely credited students with helping move conversations forward. “I think that especially students now are seeing these divides and sort of the impact they’ve had on our community. And a lot of students are now working really, really vigorously and passionately to overcome these, and obviously, we are nowhere close to being done. There’s so much left to do, but I think we’re definitely making progress, which is really nice to see.”
Osborne also recognizes that Asian American and Black history can be used by the groups to find common ground. “One of the things that Houze [Houze Xu, CALex president] and I started talking about initially was about the relationship between the lynching of Vincent Chin, and the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. And it’s understanding the similarities and the geographical and chronological differences that help us understand the rough patches that the other has walked through, and how to get through a little bit faster,” said Osborne.
— With additional reporting by Sophie Culpepper