By Steve Sears
It’s an idea – a prevalence, if you will – that has always been needed, and never more so than 2020 and now as humanity is seated in 2021.
“I think the kind of tipping point was, with everything that was going on racially, as well as discrimination and racism and things like that, it kind of put it on its head, so to speak,” says Meredith Ross, founder of Randolph PEACE (Partnership Endeavor for All Citizens Equality), a group that currently has 152 members that seeks to change the “climate” and embrace diversity in all.
The group, which is currently limited to tackling any issues within Randolph borders, is a diverse group of individuals coming together to make a change in the community. Promoted are tolerance, understanding, and acceptance for all regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, religion, or gender identity or sexual orientation. The group meets to brainstorm ideas, and then take action for change. There is a current leadership team including Ross who are of diverse backgrounds and cultures, religions, and ethnicities.
When Ross started Randolph PEACE in June of 2020, she had three goals: build a diverse cohort of individuals committed to make change; serve as positive role models for others, and especially their children, teach them to stand up when others are hurtful, discriminatory, hateful, and recognize covert and overt racism/discrimination; and identify and develop a network of community members and organizations who can work together to make change through action and education.
The group is succeeding. “I think what’s so amazing about it is that how many people were on board with the mission,” says Ross. “And I never met the majority of these people in person, which is pretty incredible, to have joined the mission with not really knowing me from Adam. I’m proud. I’m thrilled of how it came across and, as it was developing, some people kind of really raised their hand to be taking a more active role. And then we developed a leadership team.” The Randolph PEACE leadership team is comprised of women from various backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities. “Everyone kind of brings different experiences to the table. And so, it really is a group effort. I may have started this, but I am not the end all and be all. We are very collaborative; I don’t make decisions without the consultation of my team. We’re very transparent in terms of what we’re all about.”
“Our focus is addressing racism with an inclusive and intersectional lens.”
Randolph PEACE held a fall and winter book drive into February and had collected close to 200 books donated by early January. “I think community awareness, kind of our most visible activity is through that holiday drive, because we really wanted to have every kid be able to see themselves in a book,” says Ross. “We wanted them to be able to read about a character that’s like them and looks like them and maybe celebrates the same holiday as them. Also, to educate our youth in cultures or religions, or gender orientations outside of something that they may be familiar with. And ultimately, learn about other cultures and religions, but also to realize how similar we really are.”
Moving forward in 2021, the group aims to carry over what they did last year, and institute some new goals. “Last year we really worked collaboratively with the school system, we’ve worked with the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Steering Committee, which was formed in response to some of the racial incidents that were occurring within the town. And it’s developed and comprised with Board of Education members, members of town council, as well as the Morris County Human Rights Commission as an independent agency to come in and assist with ultimately making recommendations based on the observations. So, we’ve been collaborating with them to obtain testimonies from Randolph residents who have experienced discrimination or harassment bias incidents of any kind. Some of our members have been victims of discrimination bias incidents, so we’ve collaborated with them. We’ve also collaborated with the school system. One of our leadership team has provided training to the teachers in trauma sensitive training, helping to have discussions about racism and addressing equity.”
Ross then mentions the three main goals for this year. Diversity in hiring within the school system is first. “Because there are not many persons of color that are in the faculty overall, and a lot of the minority students or the BIPOC students – which is biracial indigenous persons of color – have commented that they would feel more supported and that it would make a difference to see someone that looks like them, that maybe understands and can empathize where they’re at. While there’s a growing minority population within Randolph, there isn’t as much diversity. And so, I think when there are instances or bullying or discrimination or anything like that, it’s helpful to have kind of an advocate and someone that can empathize and really support that endeavor.”
The second component is addressing and expanding on the staff training, and the needs of the staff to be able to have difficult conversations and to be aware of their own biases. Ross says, “That’s something that we would really like to provide, and not just (to) the teaching staff; obviously, this would impact the bus drivers, the lunch aides – every person that comes in contact with the student that could also be aware of the dynamics that are going on. Because oftentimes these things happen outside of a classroom: in the hallway, during the lunch recess, downtimes and things like that.”
Number three is community awareness. A “PEACE in the Park” gathering, where the community would have gathered with organization members and learn more about the mission, as well as meet other diverse community residents, was cancelled due to COVID19. Randolph PEACE will attempt to hold the event during the nice weather and with restrictions in place. Ross also mentions an initiative in partnering with the Randolph Public Library, hosting readings of culturally diverse books. “They (the library) really kind of thought out of the box with the read-alouds and STEM activities. There are so many ways they’re really trying to reach people in this pandemic when people are ultimately very isolated. I think it’s a way to keep that connection.”
“I think those three prongs are really where we are going,” Ross says.
Changes in the community-at-large is the true goal for Randolph PEACE, and Ross is positive as the group further embraces challenges with their endeavors. “I know it’s going to continue,” Ross says, “I get enthusiastic about the direction we’re moving. And with the fact of what we’ve accomplished thus far, I can’t wait to see what we do. It’s really amazing how it’s come together.”