This was originally posted to the Uncensored Melrose Community page on Facebook. It’s a follow-up to my last two entries here.
First, I want to say thank you. I don’t know who drew on “my” corner, who wrote these words to Melrose, to me. My friend, City Councilor Jack Eccles, sent me the photo. I met Jack during his campaign. He knocked on my door, we talked a bit, then he asked if he could put a sign on my lawn. His sign went next to my “Hate Has No Home”, near my “Paul Brodeur for Mayor” sign and in front the rainbow flag I was flying (that flag is now on the wall in my living room, replaced by a “Black Lives Matter” flag). That he wanted his sign on my lawn told me who he is as a person and what he stands for. I cried when I saw this picture. It still makes my cry. I suspect that some who I’m angering will use this fact to belittle me. I’ll reply in advance, it’s not a weak man who cries, it’s a man who is strong enough, confident enough, who can cry and show the world his joy and pain. I posted on Friday out of frustration to say what has been happening here, what I’m seeing. I know the support is there for what I do, for what we want to change. I hear it, see it. Thank you. Thank you for fighting the lies and vitriol that have shown up here on Facebook and on The Patch. Melrose is a great place, I’m proud to live here.
Last night I said that today I’d write about me and why I’m doing what I do. This is it. Sorry, it’s a bit long.
I moved to Melrose in 1988. I didn’t grow up here. I had lived here briefly in 1983 and worked in downtown Boston. The Orange Line made it a quick commute and, having grown up in a rural part of Central Massachusetts, I needed the mental relief of being outside of the city. A year and a week later I was on the ballot for Ward 7 Alderman (now City Councilor). When I started my campaign I barely knew my neighbors yet through a lot of hard work I, well, lost, but did receive 40% of the vote. Two years later I ran for School Committee. At that time the Committee was nine members, all elected as a group, every two years. I lost again, missing a seat by ten votes. I spent time on the Historic District Commission, ten years or so on the Conservation Commission, was Chair of the Ward 7 Democratic Committee for a period as well as serving for a while as Vice Chair of the City Committee. And then, from a political perspective, I disappeared for quite a while. Part of it was burn-out, but more was that I was a parent and my focus changed. My focus became soccer and that went on for about ten years.
At first, I was a parent who just stayed at practice, just in case. When my daughter started playing I worked with someone who had four children. They all played hockey. His Saturdays often had him at the local rink from seven in the morning until nine at night. He said that he needed to be there, that if one of his kids got hurt, he didn’t want them only seeing strangers. As I’m sure you can already tell, I’m not a person who can stand by without getting involved. So, since I was there, I volunteered to be an assistant coach. Why not? I knew nothing about soccer. Coaching made complete sense! Soccer didn’t exist where I grew up. Then I ended coaching, still knowing nothing about soccer, but I was needed. The team was part of the city program. The person running the U10 City league was having trouble working on a balanced schedule, and being an IT person who has studied statistics, I helped. This led to me being the Field Coordinator, which pretty much means scheduling all the field space, availability for games, practices, and such. I spent four years in that role. One funny thing about that role is I got to know a lot of people, but only through email. Not to say hi to at Shaw’s. Not people I recognize in the actual world, just email connections. Coaching was a bit like that too. I’d have times where someone would pass me and say “hi coach”. OK, must be a parent. But whose?
As an aside, Melrose Youth Soccer is an incredible organization. Outside of the city government, it probably serves more people that live here in Melrose than any other organization. One Fall we had 965 children in the organization. There are roughly 28,000 people in our city. That meant one in twenty-nine people in this city, not one in twenty-nine children, but residents of the city as a whole, were playing soccer through MYS. Add in a hundred or so volunteers who coach and fill various other roles and it’s a tribute to our city that so many people are involved and make this happen.
After serving as Field Coordinator I spent four years as President of the organization. I’m proud of the work we did. I believe the organization was stronger when I left it than when I joined. One of the great achievements in my time on the MYS board was working with Sean O’Brien (RIP, my friend) on a Child Protection Policy. Sean was the organization’s first Child Protection Officer. After what happened at the YMCA after school program, then Mayor Dolan asked the various youth organizations to participate in the Darkness to Light program and to actively work on preventing child sexual abuse. Sean wrote the MYS Child Protection policy. It was, it is, more than a policy, it’s a code of conduct. It protects not only children, but coaches as well, by outlining best practices. As an example, after the policy was adopted, I was coaching a team of 11 and 12 year-old girls. We were practicing on the East Side Knoll. One of the girls had kicked a ball over the fence into the dense trees and undergrowth behind it. She asked me to help her find it. It all sounds completely innocent. It was. But had I just gone to help? A parent would have seen a coach taking a child, alone, into the woods. The policy taught me to recognize that even appearance matters when acting as a coach. So what did I do? I asked a couple of other girls for help and we all went into the woods. The policy was simple. Don’t take a child, alone, out of sight of others. Going as a group protected the child who asked for help. And it protected me, as the coach, from even appearing to do something wrong. Oh, and we found the ball.
So why does this all matter to this story? To be a better President of MYS I also involved myself in the travel leagues and joined the board of Middlesex Youth Soccer. On a couple of occasions, Jovan, the Malden Travel Coordinator, brought the board incidents of racial slurs, taunting, during games. Every time I’d ask, was anyone from Melrose involved? Every time the answer was no, that anything Malden / Melrose related was just about the rivalry between two adjacent cities. I’d nod, think to myself, “Of course not, Melrose is an enlightened city, we wouldn’t do that”. And then we received a complaint of a Melrose kid who had done it. I had to wake up, confront my naivety. The problems are here too. We may me more enlightened, but we are not different. Problems exist here too, in Melrose. I had to look at myself and ask why, why, why didn’t I see it? Why believe that we, Melrose, were exempt, outside the issues that confront the rest of the world? We have people here that don’t have food security. There are a couple of food banks that service our community. One of them had to stop helping people outside of Melrose because the need here in our city is too great and they couldn’t meet it. Just about every major problem confronting our society, our country, exists here in Melrose. Yes, many of them are much less prevalent, but they are here. And that includes racism.
So why do I stand? To remind people, to remind myself, that we need to change. The death of George Floyd convinced me that I have to act, do something. Going to one demonstration is not enough. We are a country that forgets quickly. We move on to the next issue, the next crisis, leaving so much unresolved. The protest on the Fellsway was great. Yet if all we do is feel good about standing out for a bit, ask yourself, what has changed? Changing things is a long term commitment to action. I’ve been told I should go to “Methadone Mile”, Roxbury, and wherever to support “them”. It’s not Black people that need to end racism. Yes, it’s directed at Blacks, Blacks suffer its effects, but to end it we, White people, must change. I’ve been told that holding a sign won’t change anything. My reply? You’re right. Read my blog posting called “Be a Pebble”. I am not John Lewis. I will never achieve the things he did. And I’m good with that. But I can be a pebble, cause a little splash, hope it will spread. I’m the guy who heard the other day that my signs help a mother have conversations with her son about racism and why I’m doing what I do. I’m the guy that had a woman tell him that she gets chills when she sees me because what I’m doing makes her feel so good (and I thought that’s a pretty powerful thing to happen on a day like that when it was 90 degrees). But most important for me is I’m that guy who is getting yelled at, berated. Why is that important? Because most of us are good people, living our lives, trying to do what is right. We don’t always see what is wrong around us. I help remind us that we have a lot to do if we want a safe society that includes everyone, Black, White, Asian, LatinX, Native American. All of us. And there is something I don’t ever forget. I hear the hate, standing there as a White man, that is directed at Black people on a regular basis. It’s yelled at me. And I never, never, ever forget one thing: I can put the sign down, get in my car, and come home, and that hate stops. We need to change, to make sure that everyone feels as safe as I do.
As one last thought, one of the signs I hold reads “Police Matter So Do Black Lives #BLM”. It’s partly to confuse the people who yell at me. But the real reason? After George Floyd and the reaction to the police that did it, there was a lot of anti-police sentiment. It was causing morale problems. So I made that sign, because, yes, some police are the problem, but not all. There are some who say ACAB: All Cops are Bad. That is as ridiculous as saying All Blacks are Criminals. I made and held the sign for support because both matter: Black lives and our police.
While I’ve been holding the signs I met Sergeant Charles (Chuck) Byrne. We’ve had several conversations. One of them including him telling me that there is not a single member of the Melrose Police Department that is not disgusted by what happened to Mr. Floyd. We talked about some of the things that need to be done to reform policing, some of the difficulties of doing his job. Aspects of policing need to change, police know that. There a probably fewer changes required here in Melrose than in other communities, but change is needed. Police need to be part of the discussion and part of the solution. My dad owned a pharmacy in Central Massachusetts. He was robbed at gunpoint on two occasions. And you can be damn sure his first phone call didn’t go to a guy holding a sign. Oh, and about Sergeant Byrne? You might be saying that name sounds familiar. It is. When that kid gut stuck on the fence at the Winthrop School, he’s alive now for a couple of reasons. I talked about it with Chuck. He told me that a friend of the boy was there and knew what to do, she slowed the bleeding. And Chuck was one of the three members of the Melrose Police Department who arrived and helped. One of the three was trained, had the equipment, for that exact type of injury. Our police don’t just work on crime, they work helping people.
Finally, this is my website. It’s my statement of principal. And my challenge to you: https://radify.me/846Challenge/