A few weeks ago, we released an initial statement regarding the recent uprisings that have followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others whose lives were cut short by police brutality. We acknowledged that systemic racism exists, and voiced our belief that Black Lives Matter. That statement should have come earlier. We recognize that by staying silent for so long, we were failing to uphold our mission to shape a better future for Cambridge. Today, we are promising to do better. And we want you to hold us to that.
Over the next year, we will strengthen our commitment to our Task Force on CHS History, which was established in 2019 with the goal of examining the ties between our organization and slavery. We will expand the task force’s mission to highlight the ways that white privilege has shaped our organization. When the research phase of this task force’s work has concluded, we will conduct a thorough analysis to determine how we can productively reconcile with these ties.
Our ties to slavery are still unclear, but our relationship to systemic racism is evident. The Cambridge Historical Society was founded in West Cambridge in 1905 by affluent white people, with white people in mind. For many years now, we have pledged to serve all of Cambridge. But to accomplish that, we must hold ourselves accountable for change. Without acknowledging our past and recognizing the ways it affects our present, we remain complicit with earlier systems and have little hope of moving forward.
In recent years, we have made an effort to elevate voices of Black Cantabrigians and other people of color. Today, that effort turns into a promise. We will continue offering a platform for Black Cantabrigians and other people of color to share their experiences at our programs. It is undeniable that these individuals and their voices are critical to any and all conversations about Cambridge.
The Cambridge Historical Society has benefited greatly from the contributions of people of color, but our board and staff have remained almost exclusively white over the years. We recognize the importance of changing the makeup of our board to better reflect the city that we serve. But while inviting people in is important, that action will be fruitless if we do not first commit ourselves to making our organization more welcoming and inclusive. With that in mind, we must commit ourselves to education and critical reflection.
In August 2020, we will begin a yearlong conversation on systemic racism within the Cambridge Historical Society. We will conduct an assessment that identifies our strengths and weaknesses and highlights opportunities to shift the culture within our organization. Our board and staff members will commit to reading and listening assignments, which will be followed up with virtual and/or in-person conversations. Our board and staff will also participate in implicit bias testing.
We are also committed to supporting broader anti-racist efforts in Cambridge. We will amplify initiatives that explore Cambridge history through an anti-racist lens, lending our platform to support these external efforts. If you would like to contribute ideas to fuel this work, please reach out. We look forward to being called in, learning more, and assisting as we are able.
In August 2021, we will evaluate our progress as we plan for the following year. At that same time, we will restructure our nomination committee’s policies and procedures to ensure that our process is inclusive with the aim of fostering the development of a board that better represents the city of Cambridge. We recognize that in order to be effective, anti-racism work requires a sustained commitment. By planning one year at a time, we will allow for critical evaluation and careful consideration on how best to approach the work. Evaluations, task force reports, and other documentation related to our anti-racism work will be available on our website. We seek to maintain transparency throughout this process and offer our community the tools and information necessary to hold us accountable.
There is no doubt that anti-racism work can be difficult and uncomfortable. But we recognize that committing to this work is key to supporting Cambridge and carrying out our mission. While the work ahead will challenge us, we are embracing this opportunity for education and critical reflection.
This statement was approved by the CHS Board in June 2020.