June 20, 2022
COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS AT THE GABLES
Gables’ equity & inclusion discussion wraps up June 27
SALEM — The last of four Community Conversations on racial equity is set for Monday, June 27, from 6 to 8 p.m. This special series, sponsored by The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association and led by Shawn Newton, closes on a positive note. The discussions on equity and inclusion have been informative, productive and inspiring.
“I personally think that human beings, even those with nearly every challenge against them, find ways to persevere,” says Newton. “By being optimistic, even about a difficult topic like race equity, I allow myself drive and energy. Many people here have seen the many ways our community and country have changed for the better. Think about where we were 200 years ago, 75 years ago, and now. Change takes time, unfortunately. People 200 years ago would be proud to see that their work wasn’t in vain.”
Given his commitment, it’s not surprising that Salem’s Mayor Kim Driscoll appointed Newton head of a task force to look into equity and inclusion within the city’s operations. The group’s final report recommended that Driscoll appoint a permanent equity and inclusion commission. Ragina Varagoza, who attended the third equity discussion at The Gables, has been named leader of the new commission. “It was really nice to see her at our last meeting,” says Newton. “She listened and participated. She’s been busy, on a listening tour, building relationships and partnering with others.”
Newton says that the final meeting, which is free and open to all, will finish reviewing the task force’s findings, and then explore how individuals and groups can contribute. It’s been a consistent group, Newton says. Many of the same people have attended the first three discussions. The final discussion will, in some ways, be the most demanding. “We will look at ideas for how each of us can help close the equity gap. After all, in the end it’s a community responsibility.”
Newton works with people and organizations to improve both understanding and practices regarding equity and inclusion. His parents moved from Barbados to Roxbury, where Newton lived until he attended Salem State University. He stayed in the city, married and raised his two children. He worked at the university for 20 years and has served on many critical boards and committees. The Newton Consultancy Group that he founded brings together experts in their fields to engage with organizations to build greater equity and inclusion strategies.
“When they call me to ask how to create an anti-racist organization, they are saying they would like to incorporate the tactics into their strategic work,” says Newton. “I see tangible changes taking place and the transformation is awesome. When people make decisions to change who they are personally and professionally, it’s priceless. They are getting ready to make a change in their homes, with their children. When people make a commitment to do better, that’s always a win in my book. It’s slow and incremental. I work with one person, one organization at a time. But each one has influence. Their children are our future. Because of what I see in my work, I believe we are in good hands.”
Newton has created a safe and positive environment for these difficult discussions. He says he is grateful for the opportunity to lead such conversations using The House of the Seven Gables as a venue. He expresses his thanks to former Executive Director Kara McLaughlin and her team members who brought Newton to The Gables. “Kara and her team are all exemplars for holding true to the mission of the organization.”