Standing together at a vigil in Chase Park last month to demand justice after the death of George Floyd while in police custody in Minneapolis, multiple Scarsdale students recounted local incidents of racism and discrimination. In response, the Scarsdale Board of Trustees voted unanimously July 14 to establish an ad hoc council to combat racism and bias in the community.

“What we’re trying to do with the council is to listen, to engage and [make] sure that we’re trying to reach a number of different populations that may have issues,” Mayor Marc Samwick told the Inquirer.

The 13-person council comprising residents, school employees and village officials held its fourth virtual meeting on July 15. The group is charged with addressing five objectives that will help identify situations involving bias, racism and discrimination, educate the public and provide an actionable strategic plan to limit conscious and unconscious discrimination within the community. A framework for the objectives was laid out by the village prior to the selection of the council members, and the objectives were refined in an iterative process by the members.

The council is headed by Jennifer Fischman, who is also the chairperson for Scarsdale’s Advisory Council on Human Relations. Other council members are school board trustee Karen Ceske, school district Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Edgar McIntosh, Scarsdale Edgemont Family Counseling Director Jay Genova, Deputy Village Manager Robert Cole, Assistant Village Manager Ingrid Richards and seven residents, including Christopher Jackson, a prominent actor who played George Washington in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” and spoke at the vigil in Scarsdale.

Racism box 7/17 issue

According to Samwick, council members were primarily chosen by the village and there was no application process. Based on how the advisory council on communication was formed, Samwick said the village sought a manageably sized and diverse resident pool that “would help achieve the goals and the objectives of the council.”

“The underlying goal here is not to be exclusionary. The goal is to be inclusionary. To be as open as possible to as many people as possible, but that can take many forms,” Samwick said, and he explained that the council has considered setting up working groups under its umbrella to allow for more discussion. “Listening and engagement are core. It is absolutely fundamental, because without engagement from the community and without hearing what’s actually happening in the community it’s very difficult to understand how to point a path forward.”

Since its inception, the council has been formulating how to incorporate public participation and how to utilize community listening sessions to obtain a broader perspective. An email address will also be created to encourage communication with the public.

Although formed as a temporary council, Samwick said council members might be asked to consider and recommend what a permanent council to combat bias would look like and how it would be sensitive to the work already being done by the Advisory Council on Human Relations.

“I really truly believe that we are at a time where we do have an opportunity to make real change,” said Samwick. “Hearing from the speakers at the vigil that was held in early June, it became clear to me immediately that we have issues that we need to address in Scarsdale.”

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