PROVINCETOWN — When Nantucket’s first diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) director, Kimal McCarthy, got a complaint about the town’s athletic fields, he braced himself to hear about people using racial slurs during sporting events.
McCarthy, who was hired six months ago as the island’s first DEI director, grew up on Nantucket. He was in middle school when he arrived there from Jamaica with his family. Given his own experience of being called the “n-word” more than once, it would not have surprised him, McCarthy said, to learn it was still being hurled.
But the complaint turned out to be different — about the equitable allocation of field time. It seemed, at least to the person raising the issue, that lacrosse was favored over soccer. The lacrosse players were mostly white. The way McCarthy handled this explains what a DEI officer, who will soon be hired in Provincetown, can do. It is a job that can encompass so much, he said, that it’s best defined by what it is not.
“I am not going to solve housing on Nantucket,” McCarthy said. But he is going to talk about ways that housing policies can be more inclusive. Are the applications for affordable units available in Spanish, Bulgarian, or other languages? Is the outreach getting to all populations?
In the case of the playing fields, McCarthy spoke to the staff person at town hall who reserves the fields. He found there was a fair process in place for reserving field time — at least on paper, he said. So, McCarthy called the person making the complaint and explained the steps involved. Then he went further, offering to put the person who reported the problem in direct contact with someone at town hall who could follow up to make sure the process was working well.
Provincetown’s town meeting voted in May to raise $136,000 to create a DEI office. Similar positions have been created in many Massachusetts towns, including in Nantucket and Falmouth this year.
The petitioners of the DEI article call themselves the Provincetown League of Visionary Revolutionaries, or PLOVR. Since then, PLOVR members Donna Walker, Elspeth Slayter, and Jamie de Sousa have met with Town Manager Alex Morse and with Earl Hinton, whom the town has hired as its DEI consultant. Hinton, a former human resources employee at Fidelity Investments, has nearly completed a demographic analysis of Provincetown. Next, he will help write the job description for the town’s first DEI officer, said Morse.
The job description should be ready by the end of the year. Before then, Morse will publicly present the results of the demographic analysis. It pertains not just to racial demographics, but also to sexual orientation, gender, disabilities, age, income, and even home-owner vs. renter status.
The goal is to create a clearer picture of the people of Provincetown and how well the town’s government matches the population.
One missing piece in the planning is participation from the Jamaican community, Walker said. Slayter noted that some Jamaicans had participated in the creation of the town meeting article. McCarthy said many Jamaicans are working two and three jobs, and the last thing they want is to serve on a town committee. Meeting Jamaicans where they have a passion, such as college opportunities for their children, will attract them, he said.
Addressing inequity is at the heart of the DEI mission, but “race” is not townspeople’s only concern. Most boards and committees are made up of older people, Morse said. That’s one reason Morse asked Oriana Conklin, a restaurant manager in her 30s, to serve on the committee reviewing the requests for proposals for the affordable apartments to be built at the VFW site.
During the 10 years Morse served as mayor of the city of Holyoke, he used his appointing authority to bring in Hispanic residents, who made up 50 percent of the population but just 8 percent of town board membership, he said.
He reached out to church groups and knocked on doors in Hispanic neighborhoods. His method may have been recruiting, he said, but his goal was to make Holyoke a better place for people of color to live. Once Hispanic engagement increased, things began to change.
“When people saw their playground getting fixed and housing stock improving, they started to realize they could make a difference,” Morse said.
Slayter, Walker, and de Sousa are also advocating for a committee that will work with the DEI officer and the select board. There must be buy-in, Slayter said, for things to change.
Slayter described the high-profile case of Kimberlee Archie, the equity and inclusion director in Asheville, N.C. who had the support of the city manager who hired her in 2017, but not of his replacement or town department heads. She resigned because of what she called a hostile work environment in 2020.
“We want allies; it cannot be just Alex Morse,” said Slayter, a professor of social work at Salem State University who has done diversity training for the school. “He gets it. But we don’t know about the rest of town hall, and we need someone to back this person up.”
The town meeting vote that created the office with a paid director was not unanimous, Slayter noted. Yet the work to be done requires management skills. “It’s too much for a volunteer,” she said.
One step in the right direction has been the select board’s move to stop the personal attacks that have been a feature of Provincetown politics, Morse said. The select board adopted a code of conduct this summer.
“It’s about creating the conditions where people want to serve this town,” Morse said. “It’s important we don’t allow and are not complicit with divisive behavior.”