There have been several articles published by RiverheadLOCAL regarding the reorganization of the Riverhead Anti-Bias Task Force at a time when Riverhead is dealing with the aftermath of racism witnessed by many at a football game. While attending the ABTF meeting on Monday, Sept. 18, I was appalled listening to Ryan Scott and Tiffany Beck tell ABTF members about the incident, the unsatisfactory support from security assigned to the game, and the lack of consequences for those involved. I’m certain that I was not the only one in that meeting who felt that way. I was also sorry that many experienced voices familiar with how the ABTF is organized and works were neither part of the conversation nor able to offer their expertise and support tor the victims’ family.
For the new members of the task force, I wish them luck as they grapple with solutions to this problem and other bias incidents that take place in Riverhead. Anyone who is willing to volunteer for such a committee must be committed to doing the right thing. They listened to Ryan Scott and Tiffany Beck talk about the trauma their children experienced and the disrespect shown by the perpetrators to them personally. ABTF members’ shock at hearing about the incident from the mothers as well as extended family members was evident. They brainstormed solutions. I applaud that.
My problem is with the Town Board and its liaison to ABTF, Councilman Ken Rothwell. At this forum and in RiverheadLOCAL articles on ABTF, the Town Board advocated for respect, collaboration, and trust regarding their decisions about ABTF. You get what you give. Was it respectful for Councilman Rothwell to go to RiverheadLOCAL in August criticizing the ABTF for being “Caucasian women from the Democratic party?” Is it collaboration to appoint people to ABTF positions without any input from the ABTF members? Do you establish trust when resolutions are put on the town board agenda at the last minute? These questions prompt others. How do you increase diversity in an organization when you reduce its numbers? Why work behind the scenes to make these changes undemocratically rather than from within the organization of which you are a part?
The ABTF before Sept. 6, when the new committee was appointed, had several programs set up in collaboration with the public library including what the asylum process looks like, banned books, domestic violence, and a volunteer give back. The Town Board pulled their support for these events in an email to the former chairpersons of ABTF on August 24. These programs can and will continue without being under the auspices of the ABTF, but each was discussed at meetings, and Councilman Rothwell did not express concerns about them at that time.
Another program ABTF was working on prior to the restructuring is the donation of books to school libraries in Riverhead, a subcommittee of the ABTF I chaired until I was not reappointed in the reorganization. This program is in its third year. School librarians compile lists of books that enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in their collections and get administrative approval of the list. The ABTF subcommittee reviews the books, the ABTF approves the list and then the town board writes a resolution to approve the list and start the ordering process. We use an independent Black woman-owned book seller as the vendor for the books. In August, I received an email from a representative of the town board saying that the resolution should be on the Sept. 6 Town Board agenda. Instead, the reorganization took place at that meeting.
Ironically, the book donation is one way ABTF works collaboratively with the school district to create an anti-bias environment in all the schools and can be one tool the district uses to address the racism and bullying that happened at the football game. School librarians purchase books to create an inclusive environment that promotes reading for pleasure and information, curriculum support for the classrooms, and research students may do in class. When Incidents like the one at the football game happen, librarians and teachers use books to read aloud with the whole class and have discussions or recommend the books to students who might benefit from them individually. In the past, ABTF members went into the school to share some of the donated books with the elementary students. Several ABTF members have told me how much they enjoyed this interaction.
This program is by no means the answer to all the questions that arise from the racial bias experienced by the children of Ryan Scott and Tiffany Beck, but it is a step in the right direction and a good program overall for the school district and the town board as they support it all while keeping the mission of the ABTF at the forefront. There are many winners and no losers in the donation.
At Monday’s ABTF meeting, I asked about the status of the donation, and Councilman Rothwell said that the town attorney was looking at the list to make sure the books are appropriate. Librarians and an administrator, a subcommittee, and the ABTF as a whole reviewed and approved the list. In addition, the Town Board had this information in April. Why the town attorney is the voice of the Town Board for this donation is a mystery, but five months is more than ample time to read the book reviews that were submitted. The town board should approve the list of books and move forward with the donation so this small effort can continue to promote acceptance and represent the residents of our school district. That is what the most recent bias incident indicates Riverhead needs and what ABTF promotes.
In the attempt to increase diversity on the ABTF, the Town Board reduced the numbers, had members who they reappointed resign because of how it was handled, and did not reappoint all four members of the subcommittee for the book donation. Why did they do all this? That question and the ones above deserve answers from the Town Board as well as consideration from voters in this year’s Town Board elections. Councilman Rothwell has done a disservice to the community with his self-serving reorganization of the Anti-Bias Task Force.
Rosemary Pearce is a resident of Riverhead.
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