Meet the Town of Nantucket’s first Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Director, Kimal McCarthy.
Like the rest of the country, Nantucket has been grappling with the issue of racism. While some might have been oblivious to the undercurrent of discrimination that exists on the island, the horrific defacing of the African Meeting House in March 2018 laid bare the racism some island residents encounter. In the aftermath of social justice protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd in May 2020, and in light of the unsolved crime at the African Meeting House, the Town of Nantucket recently created a director position to address these issues from within municipal government.
“Nantucket has never been a racist town,” says Kimal McCarthy, the Town of Nantucket’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion director. “If you check out Nantucket’s history, and people like Absalom Boston and an all-Black crew going whaling and coming back to invest in the community, it’s always been a welcoming place.” Yet at the same time, McCarthy acknowledged the inherent contradictions between that legacy of tolerance and his own experience growing up on the island. Nantucket is the only place McCarthy has lived where he’s “frequently” been called the N-word. “Yes, there is still work to do,” he says. “There will always be work to do.” And now that work is squarely on his shoulders.
From his new office on the first floor of the Nantucket Town & County Building on Broad Street, McCarthy has a view of the downtown streets where he grew up. In his first few weeks on the job, he has been listening, learning and attempting to establish what is a completely new role within town government. As the diversity, equity, and inclusion director, McCarthy will be responsible for implementing new diversity training and awareness programs and promoting equity and inclusion within the town workforce and its governing boards and committees, while also serving as the town’s liaison to the community.
“I want to make sure everyone has a voice at the table,” McCarthy said, pointing to Nantucket’s elected government boards and committees that clearly do not represent the diversity of the island’s year-round population. “It will only spark better ideas and better innovation for what we want our community to look like in the future.”
In his new position, McCarthy was immediately plugged into the town’s “cabinet”-level meetings, which include department leaders from across the municipal government. Among his first observations was that he was one of only two BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) individuals in attendance. The group has been very welcoming, he said, but again, it is not representative of the population it serves.
Over the past twenty years, the demographics of Nantucket’s year-round population have changed dramatically, with an influx of immigrants from Central America, Eastern Europe and the Caribbean nations arriving to find work and establishing a foothold despite the high cost of living. McCarthy himself represents that demographic shift, having come to Nantucket from Jamaica with his family during his teenage years. Today, his brother Kadeem works at the town’s Planning and Land Use Services office, while his mother works at Our Island Home, Nantucket’s skilled nursing facility.
McCarthy, who attended middle school on the island and graduated from Nantucket High School, brings his local experience and connections to the new role. He will have the opportunity to prioritize diversity in training and hiring across all town departments, as well as work with the same schools that provided his own educational foundation, one that he lauds despite the lack of diversity among faculty. “I’ve been pretty lucky to have teachers who just believed in me as an individual,” McCarthy said. “I do think there is something special to having someone who looks like you and can understand the shoes you are walking in and help advance you in your own career. But I had a great education [on Nantucket].”
Among his first initiatives will be a listening tour across the island, to hear as many different voices and perspectives on diversity issues as possible. It’s a project he believes may require different approaches depending on the audience, and perhaps, the age of those he’s hearing from.
“Millennials and Gen Z want change tomorrow, and I personally know that that’s not going to happen… that change doesn’t happen like that,” McCarthy said. “Whereas an older person, or someone from an older generation, may see this position as just affirmative action in sheep’s clothing, and I don’t think that’s the case either. So it’s a matter of having a balance, hearing different voices and realizing that one person cannot solve these issues and two focus groups won’t either. This is going to be ongoing.”