“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” - Martin Luther King
In light of recent events -- and efforts among Hingham residents to support the overall Black community by attending the recent candlelight vigil at St. John's and the protest at the Hingham Bathing Beach and displaying Black Lives Matter signs and other reminders -- the Hingham Anchor reached out to several local Black and biracial families, asking them to share their experiences living in this predominantly White town.
June 14, 2020 by Carol Britton Meyer
The Hingham Pride flag and logo -- which feature the colors black and brown in addition to the rainbow colors -- is a symbol of inclusivity. And yet, with a roughly 99 percent White population, the town lacks diversity.
While Hingham's biracial and Black families chose to live here for a number of reasons -- from its good schools to close proximity to the ocean -- some family members have been troubled in varying degrees by racism in their daily lives.
At the same time, the overwhelming show of support at the recent St. John's candlelight vigil, and the town beach event the following weekend for George Floyd and other Black lives lost to violent acts, was encouraging.
The Busby, Fairhurst, Randall, Brown, and Carter families have experienced a range of scenarios -- from feeling uncomfortable in situations that relate to race, to feeling devastated by an unexpected racial slur from a presumed friend.
When people think of Hingham, beautiful harborfront views, tree-lined streets, the town's rich history, and an overall sense of tranquillity often come to mind. While that is in large part true, what at times lies beneath the surface -- or bubbles up when least expected -- is a streak of racism exhibited by a child, student, an adult, or a group.
And while residents in general may consider themselves to be living in a community that reflects the "beautiful symphony of brotherhood" extolled by Dr. Martin Luther King, that's not always the case.
'Our silence can speak volumes'
Melissa and Cody Busby moved to Hingham from Kansas 3-1/2 years ago after he accepted the position of pastor at South Shore Baptist Church.
Melissa runs a non-profit that works with women in Uganda, called Mercy for Mamas. The Busbys adopted two of their four daughters, Angel and Mercy, who are both Ugandan. Emma is a sophomore in college, and Avery attends Hingham High School. Angel is graduating from Hingham High this year, while Mercy is a student at East School.
"I love that each of our four daughters is unique and different, but they are all strong, independent, and spirited. We have a lot of fun in our house," Melissa said.
The Busbys love Hingham's small-town feel and the emphasis on community. While they have found Hingham overall to be welcoming -- "with great interaction with people in town and in the school system -- it can be challenging to be a person of color in such a White community," Melissa said. "I think most adults in Hingham would speak out against racism and would want to promote diversity, but I'm not sure we're doing a very good job of talking about that with our kids. Sometimes our silence can speak volumes."
While Angel and Mercy have not faced explicit racism in Hingham, they have been made to feel uncomfortable in situations that have to do with race. "It's often from ignorance or a lack of exposure to different ethnicities, especially when it comes to things like hair or skin color," she said. "Or it's having everyone look at you in class when slavery or the civil rights movement gets brought up.
"On the other hand, my White daughters have come home telling me about racist things they have seen or heard," Melissa said. "I'm assuming most kids know to not say something in front of a black person (or Asian, Hispanic, etc.), but they don't know to just not say it at all. My children have heard disparaging remarks about all different races. They've heard kids regularly using the 'n'-word or telling racist jokes. They've spoken up against these things when they've happened, but they get frustrated that it happens at all, or that they feel they are the only ones speaking up."
Melissa feels that exposing children to different races and cultures helps promote racial inclusivity, including sharing racially-diverse toys and books. "I also think it's important to note that while we do want our kids to learn about historical events like the civil rights movement and slavery, we don't want every book or show they encounter to be about that. Let them read stories that portray people of different races in normal everyday situations. We never want to teach our children to be color blind. We want them to see and appreciate diversity."
It's also really important to talk through how to handle situations when someone says or does something that is racially insensitive, Melissa said. "Kids need to know how and when to speak up on behalf of others, even if the person of another race is not within earshot.
"The more we can teach our children about race and the realities of racism now, the more equipped they will be as they leave home and enter a diverse world. If we want more diversity in our Hingham community and in our schools, we need to make it a welcoming place where people can feel comfortable to be who they are," Melissa said.
More education about racial issues needed
Miles Brown, 18, said he experienced racism while attending classes in the Hingham Public Schools, which led him to enroll in Boston College High School starting with his sophomore year. He feels comfortable there, and enjoys participating as a member of the Diversity Cabinet and in a black-Latino student union that also welcomes White students, creating bonds and helping to ease tensions.
"Just because you don't see racism right in front of you, it can still be very real, even in communities like Hingham," Miles said. "Some people just don't see some underlying issues and ordeals."
Miles believes that more effort should be made to educate children and young adults about systemic racism and inequality in America. He would also like to see more White and Black students intermingle in school, rather than keeping to themselves.
While Miles said most of the students at the high school were "ok," "certain groups showed hostility to me for no apparent reason, and would target me in social situations," he recalled. "Some students even told me, 'You're the whitest black person I know.' What was I to say to that? Sometimes they would make jokes about slavery, and the kids near them would laugh, but I didn't. One day someone asked me why I didn't hit the kid who said it, and I responded, 'What would that prove or say about me if I did?'"
Miles went on to say how challenging it was to learn in an environment in which he was usually the only Black student in the classroom. "I felt this weird sense of isolation," he said.
Miles just completed his junior year at BC High and will continue there in the fall as a senior. His brother, Josh, graduated from Hingham High in 2017 and is now a student at Trinity College.
Miles' parents, Warren and Janet Brown, bought their first house in Hingham in 1996. Up until the time when his mother said Miles started experiencing incidents of racism, "we found Hingham to be very inclusive and very much without incident for us. . . . . With students like Miles leaving [to attend another school], it's a powerful message," she said. "Our world is a diverse place, and I believe that Hingham students benefit from different points of view. My older son’s first college roommate was from China. The second was from Nigeria. We live in a diverse world, and our students need to be prepared for that. Miles’ world has opened up tremendously by going to BC High."
'We've been fighting so long'
Growing up in Hingham, Sonya Fairhurst's family was one of a few that were Black or biracial. "When I was going to school, there was only a handful of African American students, other than those attending through the METCO program," she said.
Because she was biracial, "people didn't always look at me as being black and would [make inappropriate racial remarks or jokes], not thinking, and I would call them out. Sometimes people would respond with a comment like, 'You know what I mean -- you aren't really black.'"
Fairhurst recalls being called a racial slur by a new resident to her neighborhood -- a fellow student -- at the bus stop near her home when she was in the sixth-grade. "Incidents that occur during different stages of your life really do stick with you," she said. When children witness acts of racism, "that's part of what keeps it going. The things that kids see and are fed mold who they become."
A couple of years ago while riding the summer school bus near her home, Fairhurst's daughter was called "white trash" by a fellow student. When she responded that she was Black, he threw another racial slur at her.
"I love Hingham, and the town has been wonderful to me and my kids, but that incident made me think: Here we are, years after the civil rights movement, and someone called my daughter [the 'n' word] on the bus."
At the same time, Fairhurst said, "Considering how nondiverse Hingham is, [its residents] do care. I love seeing all the facebook posts supporting the recent protests and gay rights.
"I think a large part of our community does see and acknowledge [race-related] incidents and wants to change that," Fairhurst said. "That's huge, but like everything else, a handful of racists or anti-gay people can really spoil the tone of the community."
African Americans and their supporters "have been fighting for so long to make a difference and to try to get people to understand, and we're tired of having to keep explaining. I don't have the answer. I just keep talking."
'The tale of two Americas'
Holly Carter and her husband moved to Hull from Newton in semi-retirement 4/1-2 years ago and have been members of St. John the Evangelist congregation in downtown Hingham for four years. Her family includes three adult children and three grandchildren, ranging in age from 4- to 24-years-old.
"While we have felt very welcomed and loved at St. John's, the transition from Newton to the Hull/Hingham area has been difficult for us as an African American family. Newton has an identifiable Black community, and neither Hull nor Hingham do," she said. "Hingham feels much more insular than Newton, and neither Hull nor Hingham seems to have the percentage of liberal democrats found in Newton. Neither Hull nor Hingham feel inclusive. Both Hull and Hingham feel more exclusive than inclusive, each in their own way."
Carter earlier co-led the "Sacred Ground" series at St. John's because she had the sense that "many in the congregation were committed to living their Christian beliefs of social and racial justice without knowledge or understanding of the basis for racial and social injustice."
Carter and the other co-leader of the program, a young White Hingham resident, were pleasantly surprised that more that 80 individuals (including a few residents of Hingham who were not members of St. John's) signed up for the 10-week series, which was based on the model of what true partnership in seeking racial and social justice can be.
"We sought to correct historical misperception and create a safe space for introspection," Carter said. "We were amazed, but not surprised, at the number of participants who repeated every week, 'I didn’t know. . . .'"
As a Black mother of two sons and a daughter, Carter said she has lived "with a pit in [her] stomach -- a concern, and often fear fed by news reports of the senseless deaths of Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. White mothers and grandmothers of sons and grandsons, daughters and granddaughters, are spared that concern and fear. It is the tale of two Americas, one White and one Black -- the irony of fear, and being feared simply on the basis of skin color."
Carter said she abhors the "violence perpetrated by radicals amid peaceful demonstrations for racial justice. I am crushed by the expression of rage from 400 years of oppression turned loose in Black and Brown communities and urban centers across America yet again.
"I am a Black woman, wife, mother, and grandmother in pain -- a pain that has been in my DNA since 1619. And, until there is a critical mass of White women and men who feel and express their pain and anger over the events of these last months, nothing will change."
Tina Randall -- who was born in California but lived in Mexico from the age of one until she moved to Boston at age 22 -- and her husband, Francisco Jauffred -- who was born and raised in Mexico -- like the fact that Hingham is "safe and a very pretty town with a good education system." Tina has a son, Brandon Silva, and a daughter, Carmen Randall, adopted from Guatemala.
"We are white Hispanics, except for my daughter, who is mestizo," Randall said. "Spanish is our first language."
When talking about the subject of whether they find Hingham to be welcoming and inclusive, Randall's answer was, "Yes and no."
Noting that the majority of the Hingham population is White, with English as their first language, Randall thought when she moved to Hingham "people were going to be interested in finding out more about us and our background, but that wasn't the case. We have never experienced racism or linguicism directly, but we have experienced what I can best describe as 'cultural apathy' -- a lack of interest and curiosity."
As one example, Randall was disappointed when her offer of sharing authentic recipes, photos, and information about Mexico with students in her children's classes when they were assigned a project about Mexico met with less than an enthusiastic response. "There was zero interest," she said.
Her son has been made fun of a few times for being "Mexican" (even though he is White). "While no adult in town has ever questioned the fact that we speak Spanish in public, a few of my kids' friends have told us that they are not interested in learning Spanish, that it's useless, and that English is the only important language. Children are innocent; they are sharing what they have learned at home," Randall said.
When asked what she thinks Hingham residents could do to contribute more to racial inclusivity, Randall had this to say: "Hiring a more diverse teacher population, police force, etc. would help. But in all honesty, I don't know. Hingham is a pretty uniform, monochromatic town. High real estate prices prevent low-income minorities from moving here."
To address some of these issues, Randall said that increasing intercultural awareness "in turn increases tolerance, acceptance, and the ability to communicate with others.
"Opening people's minds to other ways of thinking, living, and seeing the world leads to understanding different perspectives, and being able to put oneself in the other's shoes leads to a more empathetic and close-knit community," Randall said. She also believes the work of the Hingham Unity Council is important.
Hingham Unity Council
Steering committee member Katie Sutton explained that the Council was started to create a space for "more open, in-person, dialogue and exchange about difficult issues in our community that result in people not feeling welcome or safe here."
The results of a Council survey last fall placed race at the top of the list of these issues. "We realize that every person, including our committee members, is at a different place in the journey to learn, understand, and effect change, and we are trying to find ways for everyone to participate," Sutton said. "We were pleased that people came to the vigil June 2 vigil to show their support, but there is much more work to be done. We hope they take that night with them and stay engaged."
Sutton offered suggestions for how to do that, including reading more about the legacy of systemic racism in our country, learning more about the people who are running both locally and nationally for office "and voting for the ones who make racial equity a priority, and supporting businesses and nonprofits that are owned by and support and/or hire minorities." For more details, visit hinghamunity.org.
Community policing program
Police Chief Glenn Olsson also weighed in. "Through our community policing program, the Hingham police take pride in working with, and being involved in, the community -- having one-on-one conversations, participating in training about deescalation techniques, and showing empathy and understanding to all members of the community. Our officers learn about different cultures as we talk with our residents, and we are moving forward the best we can to ensure that people of all cultures and races feel welcome and safe in Hingham.
"As police officers, we train to make change and to correct and teach ourselves. Some of the best 'training' I've had is discussing how a particular incident was handled and talking about how we could have done better and what we would do if a similar situation happened again," Olsson said. "The HPD will always continue to try to make that effort. It takes time to change institutions and to change the mindsets of people through education about different issues. I hope that each generation that comes along remains open and willing to change as necessary."
Equity and Inclusion Working Group
Hingham Public Schools has been discussing issues of race and equity for a number of years. This past fall the district formally created a districtwide Equity and Inclusion Working Group tasked with developing an Equity and Inclusion Plan for launch in September 2020. The team is composed of educators and administrators from all levels (elementary, middle, and high school), representatives from the central office, and is chaired by Assistant Superintendent Dr. James LaBillois.
"The team has worked to define educational equity, outlined the district's vision for equity, developed a comprehensive resource list for faculty and staff, and has completed a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis of the district's readiness to begin this important work. The team has also begun to brainstorm and seek out speakers and professional development providers and consultants to guide the district," LaBillois told the Hingham Anchor.
Last March the district welcomed Johnny Cole, Director of Equity and Student Supports for Lexington Public Schools, who kicked-off HPS' discussions with a professional development workshop focused on understanding and recognizing implicit bias.
"The work of our team has been paused during the school closure as the district's attention has been focused on remote learning," LaBillois said. "However, the work is continuing and the focus for next year's professional development work with our educators will be on trauma-informed instruction and ensuring proper social-emotional support as we return to school following the COVID-19 school closure."
The district "remains committed to our vision of educational equity where regardless of student background, experience, and knowledge, our students will be provided with opportunities and resources to develop socially, emotionally, and academically in a safe, supportive, enriching, and bias-free environment," LaBillois said.