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Obasohan believed to be first Black city councilor in North Adams history

North Adams City Councilor Michael Obasohan
Michael Obasohan
Michael Obasohan for North Adams City Council

Elected last week, Michael Obasohan is believed to be the first Black person to ever serve on the North Adams, Massachusetts city council.

Obasohan, 33, is an Associate Director for College Readiness and Success at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts. He moved to the city to attend MCLA in 2007, and chose to stay after graduating.

“I've been thinking about running for city council about two and a half years," he told WAMC. "And it wasn't until this year where I decided to run because friends encouraged me to run and then also I met with another city councilor in the Boston area, someone who is a person of color, who actually encouraged me to run because I didn't see myself in this type of space, or anyone who looked like me in this type of space. So I didn't feel like I really would fit in in that space. But he said that, you deserve it. You deserve to be in any space that you walk into- And if there's not a seat at the table, bring a seat. So I found those words of encouragement, really, really positive and really encouraged me to do that. So I threw my hat in the ring.”

At least as far back as 1975, North Adams has never before elected a Black person to its city council. The North Adams Transcript ran an article in 1967 declaring James Wynn the city’s first Black elected official when he secured a seat on the McCann School Committee. It’s believed Obasohan bears the weight of being a historic first.

“I have my own viewpoints and my own missions of what I would like to accomplish within city council, but a lot of things that I want to do is really focused on diversity, equity and inclusion and creating a safe space and a welcoming community for people of color and people who identify with the LGBTQIA community," he told WAMC. "But it is a real honor and I want to be and I'm happy to be that person, the first Black man to walk this path, so that it is easier for others who are other Black and Brown people to walk in this path.”

The new city councilor – who was sworn in Tuesday to fill a vacant seat on the body before the next term starts in January – says the work toward true inclusivity is just beginning.

“It’s more than just pulling together committees and groups to do this, right?" said Obasohan. "It's actually seeing the work being done- Like, action steps. One thing that North Adams did that I thought was a push in the right direction was the creation of the IDEA, [Inclusion], Diversity, Equity, Access group. And you know, that was something that was actionable, and actionable things are happening there in trainings that are being created. But just more work around them and creating spaces where community members, community members of color, LGBTQI+ feel like they belong in North Adams and feel like they can thrive here. But yeah, more looking at beyond programming and trainings and looking more into like policies that, you know, hinder folks of color from thriving in this area. So, taking a look at that. So, doing that work, and it's more action than just forming these groups. It takes a takes more work than that to really strike change.”

He wants to see the various groups working on diversity and inclusivity efforts come together to strengthen the undertaking in Northern Berkshire County.

“I mentioned to some community members, I’m thinking about doing a cultural festival," said Obasohan. "Where I grew up in Boston, we did a lot of Caribbean festivals, and it was like a really great time to get everyone out in the community just to celebrate different cultures. So doing something like that, it will bring the community together.”

After a tumultuous term that saw three city councilors resign amid acrimony, Obasohan says he heard voters ask for clear communication from the next round of civic leaders.

“My priority, really, through the lens of inclusion and belonging, diversity, is to first work on the transparency and to bring to the community what's going on in city hall, what's going on within this role of being a city councilor, and bridging that gap so we can create trust within our city council," he told WAMC. "So doing that first, and making sure that I am getting all the information that is coming through, and educating myself on a lot of things that are happening. And then from there, start moving into a lot of things that I've been thinking about during my campaign run, which was creating a cradle-to-career program, working with the city of North Adams and MCLA and organizations that exist within North Adams to really bridge that gap. So that way, our MCLA students, along with our community, feel like they can- Students feel like they can, much like me, see themselves staying, here thriving here.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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