The Wellesley group, like Natick’s Freedom Team, encourages those who witness or experience threats, harassment, or violence related to race, color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, national origin, religion, disability, or class to call its hotline. The Wellesley group, which also can be reached by email, aims to find out about and address issues that may or may not be criminal in nature, but that still require attention.
“We’ve got to address these issues, and if we don’t find out about them, we can’t fix them,” Wellesley Police Chief Jack Pilecki told me.
When I first looked around for background on Natick’s Freedom Team I wasn’t sure how active the group was, thinking maybe it had been replaced in some way by other efforts in town to address diversity and equity. Its social media presence, for example, is modest.
But upon reaching out through Natick is United, I learned that indeed the Freedom Team remains alive and well.
The team, founded by former Natick resident Jamele Adams, consists of a cross-section of community members, including, as it turns out and previously unbeknownst to me, one of my neighborhood friends. Members are:
- Jamele Adams (Ex officio, Founder, Dean of Students, Brandeis University)
- Tom Campbell (Attorney)
- Don Greenstein (Director & University Ombuds, Brandeis University)
- Christine Guthery (Founder, SPARK Kindness)
- Brian Harrigan (Principal, Natick High School),
- James Hicks (Chief, Natick Police)
- Linda Hughes (Director of Diversity and Inclusion, Walnut Hill School)
- Leah Parker-Moldover (Program Coordinator, Natick SEPAC)
- Sue Salamoff (member, Natick Select Board)
- Four student members representing Natick High School and the Walnut Hill School for the Arts
The Natick Freedom Team meets at least once a month as a full group, and additional meetings in smaller groups take place to address community needs and respond to individual outreach as needed in addition to these regular team meetings.
Natick’s team also interacts with a network of such groups in other communities, including Franklin, Hopkinton, Waltham, and now Wellesley.
The confidential hotline—(508) 647-9548—hasn’t been used often. In response to my inquiry about how many calls the Freedom Team gets I was told “several.” Word of mouth via residents, team members, and the police department is the most common way that incidents surface.
“The most common that I hear is larceny or vandalism of property such as lawn signs,” says Police Chief Hicks. “We still have a few disputes with neighbors or encounters where there is a feeling of bias or racism. Most only want to report and be on record. They are offered the opportunity to speak to [the Natick Freedom Team] but decline.”
The hotline is monitored by the police. The Freedom Team emphasizes that hate crimes should be reported directly to the police and that incidents in which an individual fears for their life should be called in to 911.
The Freedom Team, which fittingly mulled my inquiries as a group, says it has been able to help with a number of conflicts that could have otherwise escalated.
“Our work is about empowering people to learn from each other’s differences, and help people fully listen and learn about the situation collaboratively and creatively,” member Don Greenstein says. “We are neutral as well as multi-partial. During these difficult times of mistrust, lack of patience with one another, and a high level of stress and depression, this work is very important and can be healing.”
Wellesley Police Chief Pilecki cited an incident at a Natick supermarket in which a customer allegedly made derogatory racial statements to a woman’s kids while they were in another aisle, and the kids told her about this after they got in their car. The mom got out of the car and spoke to the store manager. Rumors circulated in town that a store employee was the one making the derogatory remarks, which wasn’t the case, and word of the incident made its way to the police department, which identified the man who reportedly made the remarks. The Freedom Team reached out to the woman, listened to her concerns (including possibly encountering this man again), and wound up following up with the store, which was cooperative and agreed to offer related training to employees while also securing a no trespass order against the instigator. “As much of a happy ending as you can have after what happened,” Chief Pilecki said.
Natick’s team says situations are especially tricky when many parties are involved. “The biggest challenge is to create an atmosphere of trust and support in the midst of an incident or series of incidents that are or are perceived as racially motivated,” Chief Hicks says.
The Natick Freedom Team is looking for a few new members that represent the following sectors:
- Chaplain/clergy/community faith leader
- Mental health professional
- Media expert
- Restorative/transformative justice trainer/facilitator
- High school student
If you’d like to be considered for inclusion on the team, call the hotline or email Don Greenstein.
And by all means, call the hotline at (508) 647-9548 if you witness or experience an incident that the team could address.
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