NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Bilal Ansari has been known to quote civil rights icon John Lewis' call to, "Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and redeem the soul of America."
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Ansari was recognized for his efforts to redeem the soul of his hometown.
The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition recognized Ansari with its 2021 Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service Peacemaker Award in an announcement posted on the non-profit's Facebook page on Monday afternoon.
In making the announcement, the NBCC's Wendy Penner reminded listeners that making peace is not always about avoiding conflict.
"I want to acknowledge that many people feel uncomfortable about some of the work being done around racial equity, and that is OK," Penner said. "Combating racism requires us to all be uncomfortable."
Ansari has been a strong voice for racial justice in Williamstown, where he is a founding member of the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee and serves on the Racial Justice and Police Reform group.
"His family has a long history in the Williamstown community, which he has shared, including painful acts of racism and discrimination against them," Penner said. "You have used this history to educate and empower the community to respond to racism, to not tolerate racism and to address racist practices and their impact."
In accepting the honor, Ansari said no peacemaker acts alone, and he credited his partners on the DIRE Committee and the police reform group for their efforts over the last year.
"I'm just happy to be mentioned with a long line of people who have received this award," Ansari said in accepting the honor. "There is one person I want to call out by name, intentionally.
"Post George Floyd, there has been a lot of anti-Black racism work, and the Black Lives Matter marches and standing firm against hate. I want to call out one person I consider a hero for me, a person I am so proud of. That is Raymond Moore (of North Adams), who has been doing great work for Black lives in the region and who does great work every day showing up as a Black father to his children. … For him to do all he has done, he's my hero."
Ansari thanked the community coalition for all the work it does throughout the year and for honoring Dr. King's legacy with the annual Peacemaker Award.
"I wish the town of Williamstown would be more active in acknowledging and serving and doing something on this day, but we will keep pushing," Ansari said.
Earlier in the day, the NBCC was active in both North Adams and the Village Beautiful, doing what it could to keep the spirit of the National Day of Service alive in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"The main goal is we want to make sure we do something impactful," NBCC volunteer Jennifer Ceolinski said. "And we wanted to do something accessible, something that's easy for people to participate in. So we just tried to think about what's going to have the most meaning and most impact and something people can connect to."
Ceolinski, who works with Ansari in Williams College's office of institutional diversity, equity and inclusion, spent her morning connecting with people who turned up to drop off donations of winter clothing and/or shelf-stable food products at the NBCC table on Main Street (Route 2) outside First Congregational Church.
"We're outside because the building is closed to the public, but I realized it's actually a much better thing to be outside," said Bridget Spann, the church's outreach community organizer, who joined Ceolinski on Monday morning. "It gives us a little more visibility, and it's a great way to catch people."
The Williamstown table was mirrored by one at the UNO Community Center in North Adams, one of several suggestions the NBCC had for those who wanted to honor the spirit of Dr. King by serving the community.
In addition to visiting the donation sites, people were encouraged to walk around their neighborhood with a garbage back and pick up trash, offer to rake leaves or shovel snow for a neighbor or have a child write a letter or draw a picture for delivery to neighbors in order to build and maintain connections during the pandemic.
To help older kids take a step toward advocacy, the NBCC distributed letter-writing kits that included the addresses of elected officials and social justice prompts for their letters.
In a normal year, the coalition would have had workshops, efforts to connect volunteers with community projects and a luncheon to recognize the Peacemaker Award recipient. This year, the NBCC found a different path to keep the traditions of the day alive.
"I hope everyone is having a meaningful day today and that you had an opportunity to participate in some of the service activities," Penner said. "The coalition has been involved in supporting the community's observance of the Martin Luther King Day of Service for, this is our 28th year. We're pleased this year that we are able to honor someone who has made an incredible contribution to our community and the spirit and memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr."
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Williams College Asks Town to Help Clear Way for Davis Center Building Project
By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
Chandler House is also on the college's chopping block. The Historical Commission will hear on Monday the college's proposal to raze Chandler and Hardy.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Williams College Monday will ask the town's Historical Commission to sign off on the demolition of buildings built in 1914 and 1854.
The buildings are slated for removal to support the programming of the Davis Center, which already utilizes one of the two structures in question.
The Davis Center, named for noted Black Williams alumni W. Allison Davis and John A. Davis, began as the college's Multicultural Center in 1989 and supports students from historically disenfranchised groups as well as international students.
The center's main offices are in Jenness House on Morley Drive, which is flanked by the 107-year-old Chandler House, which fronts on Walden Street, and 167-year-old Hardy House.
Mount Greylock Superintendent Jason McCandless and Business Manager Joe Bergeron met virtually with the town panel — not to discuss specifics of the FY22 budget the district is formulating but to discuss some of the inputs that help build that budget.
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Making a stop at West Parish Elementary School, Baker said educators, who were next on the state's priority list for its phased vaccination rollout, will be able to schedule appointments starting Thursday, March 11.
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