Renewed demands for racial equity in America following the death of George Floyd have resulted in many promises of change, including at the local level.
At Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce, based in Peekskill and also covering Cortlandt, Croton-on-Hudson, and other areas, Jann Mirchandani, chair of its new Equity and Diversity Committee, said, “The Chamber board wanted to speak as one voice, and stand behind the movement for justice and equity. We’re committed to putting action behind our words.”
The new committee seeks to assist Black and minority business owners with problems such as access to capital, finding usable space, and networking. “We don’t want to presume that we know the answers. We want to ask business owners where the gaps are and what they need.” The work has started with a survey that was distributed in early November, but “There’s no road map. We are all feeling our way,” Mirchandani said.
One source of valuable support has been the Peekskill branch of NAACP, to whom Mirchandani reached out. President Valerie Eaton welcomed its initiative: “We have been fighting for social justice for many years and we can’t do this alone,” she said. “Together we can make effective change.”
Eaton is optimistic about the shift and local awareness to push for change. “2020 has provided 20/20 vision,” she said. She urges groups to join forces with NAACP, citing its advocacy experience to address inequalities.
Entrepreneur Martin McDonald has a new non-profit, Black Diamonds Academic Success, Inc., which aims to “empower and encourage young men of color to make academic excellence ‘the new normal’ in school districts across the state of New York.
“I actually think that my business will benefit in some ways from the heightened awareness around racial inequity that is experienced by many minority–owned businesses,” he said.
“I am optimistic some of the challenges of systemic racism will be diminished. We are making progress, but have a ways to go. There is much more to be done because systemic racism is so pervasive, intentional and nasty.”
Among the most prominent groups supporting systemic change is the Business Council of Westchester (BCW). Marsha Gordon, President and CEO, says, “The BCW has always worked to have a diverse, inclusive culture, but the George Floyd crisis certainly spurred our organization to develop a comprehensive program and action–oriented response.”
The BCW has launched an Anti-Racism Resource Center, providing free programming to members and their employees with a variety of topics such as Fostering Inclusion in the Workplace and Coping with Civil Unrest.
“The challenge,” says Gordon, “will be to keep the community and the business community for the BCW focused on these issues and continue to make positive strides in the area of diversity and inclusion.”
The Ossining Public Library’s website has a resource page listing “Community Organizations Committed to Equity” including a link to the Facebook of Race Amity of Northern Westchester and Putnam.”
The Village of Croton-on-Hudson formed a Diversity & Inclusion Committee two years ago. Recently, the Croton-Harmon school district hosted a robust Community Conversation on Diversity and Inclusion in our Schools that drew nearly 80 participants on Zoom for a nearly two-hour, candid exchange of experiences and perceptions on a broad range of topics.
Rebeccah Worth is a freelance writer based in Northern Westchester.