Nantucket Equity Advocates fight structural and systemic racism on Nantucket.
Long before the nationwide demonstrations prompted by the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, a group of Nantucket residents had already been meeting to discuss issues of race and equity on the island. “These conversations had been happening for years,” said Marita Scarlett, a co-founder of Nantucket Equity Advocates (NEA), which formalized the organization this summer. “There’s been fits and starts, but George Floyd really pushed us to define ourselves.”
Today, in addition to Scarlett, the core members of the NEA include Charity Grace Mofsen, Theran Singleton, Moe Moore and Brooke Mohr. This multiracial group of island residents has pledged to fight structural and systemic racism on Nantucket. “Our goal is to transform the systems of power and decision-making in order that they become truly representative of the whole community,” indicated Theran Singleton of the NEA mission statement. “We will do this by identifying actions that all community members can take to identify and address both individual and systematic racism within our community.”
In addressing systemic and structural racism on the island, NEA is focused on greater inclusion in Town government as well as in the staff and administration in the school system. “If you look at young people in the community and in the schools, it’s as clear as day—the staff does not reflect the student body,” said Charity Grace Mofsen. The NEA has made it their mission to call out this lack of diversity and demand change. “When we introduced ourselves to the Select Board in an open meeting, I described us as being a thorn,” said Brooke Mohr, “because I think the Select Board has good intentions, but they can get slowed down within the systems that exist. Our intention is to keep the pressure on because the people who work and serve in Town government do not reflect the diversity of the island.”
NEA has launched a two-pronged approach to engaging these equity battlegrounds. Through a fund established by the Community Foundation, NEA is raising $10,000 to hire the consulting firm All Aces Inc. to perform a community assessment. “All Aces will help evaluate the racial climate in Nantucket and identify specific areas that need attention, education and improvement,” explained Mohr. “They will also collect stories that can help educate us all about the lived experience of our neighbors and to safely invite folks to participate in the movement by engaging them anonymously and showing them that we are serious about investing in a process for and advocating for change and that we want their help.”
After hiring All Aces, the Nantucket Equity Advocates Fund will be directed toward sustaining the NEA’s long-term mission. “This has to be a movement, not a moment—there’s been a lot of moments,” said Moe Moore. “We need to get to a point where we can explain structural racism to people and break that down into layers so they can understand the policies and laws that they see as normal are actually unfair.”
On this front, NEA established a monthly community conversation that began last month. “There needs to be a space to talk about race,” Scarlett explained. “Essentially, what we wanted to do with that first conversation was get information. What do people want to talk about? What are the issues that people see?” The NEA hopes these conversations will help build trust in the community as well as educate residents on how to be better allies. “Time is of the essence,” said Mofsen. “We can’t afford to put off these conversations anymore. No one is comfortable right now. No one should be right now. If we are ever going to have a semblance of true comfort again, we need to push forward.”
The NEA has risen at a time when calls for justice in the African Meeting House hate crime case have reached a fever pitch and new stories of injustice have emerged in the community conversation. As with the rest of the country, Nantucket is grappling with how to rid itself of deeply sewn systemic racism. And while there are many mechanisms in play, Moore said that when it relates to Nantucket Equity Advocates, “We won’t be influenced by anything but justice.”