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Berkshire NAACP Urges Pittsfield To Hire More Minorities

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The Berkshire County chapter of the NAACP continues to urge the city of Pittsfield to commit to hiring minorities.

The county’s chapter was reactivated in December 2012 by now president Will Singleton. He says it has about 75 members after reaching 89 at one point. In early 2013, Singleton met with Pittsfield city officials to find out if the city had an affirmative action plan. City Director of Administrative Services Mary McGinnis says the city found it did have a plan, but couldn’t find evidence that it was acted on or updated since 1993. In response, the city formed the Affirmative Action Advisory Committee this past summer.

“Each time we have a meeting we review one page or a different subject of it whether it’s the education piece which has been a big focus; diversity and cultural competency,” said McGinnis.

In November, the county’s NAACP chapter filed complaints against the city alleging long-term discrimination. Singleton sent the complaints to the state attorney general’s office and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education along with the federal departments of Labor and Justice.

“Rhetoric is good,” Singleton said. “Planning is good. But if we don’t get the results then all we have is rhetoric.”

Singleton says the federal departments haven’t responded, but the state offices said they could only respond to specific allegations of discrimination. He says he heard some positive things at the latest committee meeting like educational training with cultural organizations and expanded recruitment efforts that have resulted in more than 40 applications for city jobs. McGinnis says there have been 19 city job openings since November and five have been filled by minorities. But Singleton isn’t satisfied.

“Any time you’ve got 600 or more teachers and you’ve got approximately five African American teachers, that’s unacceptable,” Singleton said. “Any time you have a city hall that should reflect the community at large and you don’t have one African American working in city hall itself, that’s unacceptable.”

Jason McCandless, superintendent of Pittsfield Public Schools, serves on the affirmative action committee.

“I am completely, completely with Dr. Singleton in thinking that it is good for students to see faces that look like theirs,” said McCandless.

McCandless says the district is committed to reaching out to all communities when hiring. One month into a search for three principals, he says the district is advertising in the nationally and internationally circulated Education Week and the online version of Teachers of Color magazine. According to its 2010 census, Pittsfield’s population is 88 percent white, five percent African American and five percent Hispanic, while 52 percent of residents are female. McGinnis says the committee is nearing completion of updating the 37-page affirmative action plan for a city that has 2,000 employees.

“On paper is only maybe 50 percent,” said McGinnis. “If you hire people of color, people of disability or veterans they have knowledge that’s above and beyond that is so enriching to your whole workforce.”

McGinnis says the city is very interested in having an NAACP member serve on the 11-member committee. Singleton says the NAACP hasn’t appointed anyone because it felt it was getting more rhetoric than results. He says the chapter will reconsider appointing someone at its next executive committee meeting on March 6.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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