Amherst Media to honor committee with its Jean Haggerty Award

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Staff Writer
Published: 11/22/2022 7:54:38 PM
Modified: 11/22/2022 7:54:27 PM

AMHERST — Members of a municipal committee that spearheaded Amherst’s creation of departments focused on promoting diversity and equity, and establishing an unarmed alternative to police, are being recognized with an annual award from Amherst Media.

This year’s Jean Haggerty Award for Community Engagement and Social Change, to be presented Nov. 30 at the Augusta Savage Gallery in the New Africa House at the University of Massachusetts, is going to residents who served on the Community Safety Working Group in 2020 and 2021.

“Our support from this community affirms gaps in services that we were able to recognize and recommend solutions for,” co-chairwomen Brianna Owen and Ellisha Walker said in a joint statement.

The committee, which also included members Tashina Bowman, Darius Cage, Debora Ferreira, Pat Ononibaku and Russ Vernon-Jones, formed after the 2020 murder of George Floyd, and spent months coming up with proposals to the Town Council that led to establishing the Department of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, and the Community Responders for Equity, Safety & Service.

Other ideas remain in the implementation stage, such as a youth empowerment center and resident oversight board for the Police Department; or in a conceptual stage, including a multicultural center.

“We are honored to be recognized and remembered with previous recipients of the Jean Haggerty Award and hope that we continue to see support in all of our recommendations coming to fruition to ensure Amherst moves towards being the equitable community we know it can be,” Owen and Walker said.

The reception for the honorees, part of Amherst Media’s 47th annual meeting, takes place from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the 180 Infirmary Way site. The gallery is currently exhibiting the Social Justice Collaboration Quilts Project, a creative expression for incarcerated and formally incarcerated artists.

Amherst Media Board President Artie McCollum explained the selection of the working group members for the award as addressing racial disparities in Amherst between white residents and residents of color.

“While the CRESS and DEI programs are new to the town of Amherst and thus untested, the CSWG’s leadership and advocacy on this topic have created the space to have courageous conversations about policing in Amherst and has pushed the boundaries of the town to address racial disparity with action beyond words,” McCollum said.

Haggerty was a producer and Amherst Media board member committed to uplifting her community through organizing, advocacy and collective action before her passing in 2015. She also chaired the Council on Aging and reactivated the Ann Whalen Tenants Association.

In 2009, the Jean Haggerty Award was established in her honor, and the following year the first award went to senior activist and program host Isaac Ben-Ezra. Since then, other recipients have included teacher, Select Board member and civil rights activist Judy Brooks; state Rep. Ellen Story; and last year, “dyamic duo” Carlie and Gary Tartakov.

Walker and Owen also praised Amherst Media’s role in town.

“Amherst Media has been the backbone of this community providing access to local government and allowing for community engagement in Amherst to take place,” they said.

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