By Stacey Dresner
WORCESTER – Howard Borer has been reappointed to the Worcester City Manager’s Coalition Against Hate and Bias. Borer, the executive director of the Jewish Federation of Central Massachusetts, has been on the coalition for the past four years. He has now been reappointed to serve on the coalition until 2019.
The coalition was founded in 2000.
“Around that time nationally there were a lot of different hotlines being created in response to the national hate crime legislation,” explained Jayna Turchek, director of human rights for Worcester and the coordinator of the coalition. “This was our community response in terms of creating — at the time — a hate crime taskforce to come together and create a network of responders. We actually had a hotline and coalition members took turns manning the hotline.”
The coalition began as a small group, but over the years has grown to include 35 appointed members besides Borer, including representatives of the YWCA, NAACP, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, the United Way, local schools, the Police Department, LGBTQ Asylum Task force, area colleges and health care providers, the Worcester District Attorney’s office and the Massachusetts Department of Justice.
“We are really diverse in terms of the large institutions that are serving various populations,” said Turchek. “They are institutional members in that they represent various agencies and institutions throughout the city. This provides us with a direct opportunity to respond in the event of any incidents in the community and to kind of activate any kind of community response and also assist us in educating the community on things that affect all of us.”
Borer represents the Jewish community of Central Massachusetts on the committee.
“It seems I was the right person to represent the Jewish community, given the fact that though the Federation wouldn’t necessarily speak on behalf of everybody, it is perceived to be the umbrella organization of the Jewish community,” Borer said.
The coalition meets to discuss issues quarterly, but also offers programs during the year. It institutes sub-committees when issues in the community warrant it.
“One subcommittee that is active is examining ‘next steps’ after a summer Dialogue on Race,” Turchek said. “This was a seven-week series during the summer to get the wider community to dialogue on issues of race and racism. The subcommittee is examining the ‘next steps,’ reviewing all of the notes from the dialogues.”
Both Turchek and Borer said that overall Worcester is a peaceful community, and programs like the Dialogue on Race are one reason for that.
“I think across the country communities have become much more aware or concerned about issues that affect, particularly, people of color,” Borer said. “And therefore, this community has dealt with this by discussing these issues so people can understand one another better.”
“One of our strengths is that we have strong leaders in the community and that we are very proactive,” Turchek agreed. “We saw that these dialogues were a way to open lines of communication and build bridges. Whereas in a lot of places in the rest of the country we could see that there were a lot of things going wrong and maybe not the best communication on the part of local leaders to have people open up about their experiences. So it was a proactive as well as preventative measure to get the people to talk about what was already on everyone’s mind.”
“This has been an issue we have been responding to for two years but it parallels the discussion on race happening nationally and the issue of community-police relationships,” Turchek added.
Two years ago, an employee at a post office in downtown Worcester hung a noose in the post office’s employee area. Visible to people at the counter, a local NAACP member saw the noose, and reported it to the local NAACP chapter. The president of the NAACP chapter, a member of the coalition, quickly brought it to the attention of the members of the coalition.
“The coalition made a community response at a community gathering for unity and started providing communications to the wider community about how it would be investigated,” Turchek said. “When it concluded, we convened a community report-back so the authorities who investigated could report back to the community what they had decided and what the next step would be.” This included racial sensitivity training at the post office.
Turchek said there is no doubt that the work of the coalition made a huge impact on how the community dealt with the incident.
“The coalition, because it represents institutions and agencies and groups throughout the city has the ability to mobilize and inform the community in a way that one institution might not have been able to, and so when news of the noose was first coming out, first in rumors, then in social media, then picked up by the press — there is always an underlying question in the public’s mind in terms of what is being done. And being able to one, inform the community about what is being done and that it was being taken seriously was very important. And then, two, bringing the community together in a larger setting in a very public manner, show that our community does not advocate hate or violence of this type. Our community showing support and unity is an expression that makes us all realize we can come together, and that we are a community against hate.”
This unity also occurred nine years ago, Borer said, when in response to swastikas that were painted on some buildings downtown, the coalition held a press conference to denounce the blatant anti-Semitism that had occurred.
Borer also cited an important coalition program held in Worcester public schools.
“At the beginning of every semester, everybody who participates in high school sports has to attend a seminar dealing with how to behave at sports activities, not only from a player’s point of view, but from a parent’s point of view. They have to take a pledge and that is a project that was initiated by the coalition. There is always a representative of the coalition at these programs,” Borer said. “Since they have initiated this program, there are no issues on the sports field. It is a great program.”
Three years ago, the Jewish Federation initiated an anti-bullying program through the coalition. “Our community really initiated that program and the coalition bought into it. We brought in Lee Hirsch, the director of the movie, “Bully.” That was really a major program. We were bringing him in anyway and we said, ‘We really should bring it to the attention of the coalition,’ and we did.”
Borer said that as a member of the local Jewish community, he feels it is important to be active in the important work of the Coalition Against Hate and Bias.
“We are part of the much larger Greater Worcester County community and as a community that understands the importance of tolerance and understanding and acceptance, we feel we can play an active role in helping to create coalitions and to educate the community,” Borer said. “We all need to work together to create a much better society and a much more tolerant society, especially in light of all that is going on in this country right now.”