On June 16, 2020, the Town Board authorized the creation of the New Castle Council on Race and Equity (CRE), and since then, co-chairs Zabeen Mirza and Nichelle Maynard-Elliott have collaborated with the workgroup team leaders to create a safe space for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) families in the community.
According to a statement the CRE released on Instagram in August, the council is “a volunteer-based organization here in New Castle led entirely by BIPOC leaders.”
The CRE is an “organization of over 115 New Castle community members, divided across eight workgroups committed to achieving, sustaining, and upholding racial equity and ending systemic racism across every segment of the Town of New Castle’s infrastructure,” according to the Instagram statement.
“As progressive or as liberal a community might believe it is, there is still so much work that needs to be done,” said Mirza.
Mirza has three children in the Chappaqua School District and believes the work the CRE is doing is mainly for the children in the community, and for future generations, who will benefit from the changes.
“Why are we so committed? Why is the council as galvanized as it is? It’s because it’s for our children. We’re invested for our children. We quickly realized that the community–if it doesn’t progress, if it doesn’t accept, if it doesn’t evolve and adapt–then it will fail our children,” said Mirza.
In 1978, Maynard-Elliott moved with her family from Queens to New Castle where she attended the Chappaqua School District. She said her family received a cool, and in some cases, hostile reception from neighbors but over time developed relationships within the community. Maynard-Elliott felt she had a solid academic experience and after college and law school, she wanted to move back.
But, in 2008, when Maynard-Elliott, her husband and her two children moved back to New Castle and when it was time to start school, her son had a different experience. Throughout his time in the school district, Maynard-Elliott and her husband met with administration about racial incidents. His experiences motivated Maynard-Elliott’s son to establish the Black Student Union with the support of guidance counselor Mrs. Tinuke Colpa. Now the BIPOC Student Union, Maynard-Elliott’s daughter is currently co-chair.
Following the June Board of Education meeting about racial incidents in Chappaqua schools that lasted four hours, Maynard-Elliott decided to expand her involvement.
“I otherwise love this community. We have great neighbors, it is a comfortable and safe place, but I do believe everyone should have equal access and should be treated with care and respect. White students just get a different experience,” said Maynard-Elliott. “Our BIPOC kids carry the baggage of dealing with systemic racism and inequity and challenges with teachers; this school system is challenging enough without kids having to bear that additional burden.”
The committee is divided into eight workgroups each led by a BIPOC member of the council. Each group also has a town board member and a student voice.
Community Education, Candace Chestnut-Zoller
Their focus areas include the library, the PTA and student organizations with a goal of positively “impacting the values of our New Castle community by establishing programs and resources, for all ages, that foster individual and community transformation on issues of race implicit bias, institutional racism and equity as well as opportunities for BIPOC representation and inclusion,” according to the team’s mission statement. With two kids in school, Chestnut-Zoller feels strongly about the role education plays in identity. “My incredibly passionate, dedicated team and I are conducting focus groups and meeting with local organizations as well as the CCSD in hopes of creating opportunities that provide and encourage awareness, education, and BIPOC inclusion and engagement throughout our community.”
Community Outreach, Johanna Kathleen Nayyar
The community outreach team welcomes new families into the community and finds ways to attract new families to New Castle. “With a little more passion on the Community Garden, I envision this to be a sanctuary for our community filled with love, warmth, friendship and produce hopefully. All small steps working towards a common goal for a sustainable and equitable future,” said Nayyar.
Community Partnership, Hermian Charles
With a background as an author and advocate for social justice, Charles seeks to build bridges within the community to create a place that can be a model for surrounding towns on how to achieve equity. “I am honored to be working closely with Chief James Carroll of New Castle Police Department on the reform proposal to be submitted to Governor Cuomo in April 2021. I am happy to lend my voice and experience to help influence changes that can have a massive impact throughout the entire State of New York,” said Charles.
Events and Programming, Kristina Herman
Building connections and allyship between the BIPOC and white community members in New Castle is a focus of this group. According to the mission statement, the goal is “by creating opportunities to gather, learn and celebrate the voices, experiences, cultures and talent of BIPOC communities, we hope to transform negative perceptions, implicit biases and racism in our community.” Herman is searching for creative ways to hold events. “It’s not always about workshops and lectures. You can support anti-racism with cause-related events, meet new like-minded friends at a rally or program and even just get to know your neighbors better,” said Herman.
Communications, Angela Bronner Helm
According to Helm, the group is currently working on three large projects–a newsletter, an anti-racism guidebook and a survey to help collect information from the community to aid other team leaders with their ongoing projects. “I am most excited about the Guidebook because I feel that it can be a resource for this community and others, and it’s both a learning tool, and a place where those aggrieved in the community can be heard,” said Helm.
Housing and Planning, Mindy Park
The housing and planning team’s goal is to increase housing diversity and inclusivity in New Castle according to its mission statement. The team is partnering with local real estate professionals and creating marketing plans that will attract diverse residents. “We are looking at multiple angles and fronts to help diversify our community and promote inclusivity. With the pandemic, the challenges are mounting for our downtown area, and we are excited to support in any way we can,” said Park.
Business and Commerce, Tanya M. Tochner
According to the mission statement, the goal of the business and commerce group is to “increase diversity and equity by expanding town requisition guidelines, actively work to increase both the number and visibility of BIPOC owned and operated businesses in New Castle.” As a business owner herself, Tochner “sees first-hand how important it is to have BIPOC business owners and different cultural experiences. Whether it be food, music, or art, introducing these culturally diverse experiences are not only good for our community to grow, it helps everyone to appreciate, accept, and respect each other’s differences.”
Town Administration, Melissa Cintron
The town administration team focuses on policy, management and leadership. According to their mission statement, the goal is to “implement sustainable policies, practices and procedures in the Town of New Castle that promote equal access to employment and civic involvement opportunities to all of its citizens regardless of race, gender or other protected class thereby creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive Town labor force and systems of community governance.”
Supporting BIPOC Community Members
The CRE is an inclusive group that encourages everyone to get involved. Mirza said regardless of where someone is on their journey for justice, they are welcome to join seeing as the members of the council are all moving in the same direction.
“Get involved and after you are involved have an open mind to listen and that means de-centering yourself and really accepting that people of color have different experiences than you. And accepting that even though that may be hard for you to understand, or to accept or to believe because it is so outside anything you have ever experienced, you have to listen and you have to follow their lead and support them in the way they need it,” said Mirza.
According to the leaders, there is a sense of kinship among the members as they all share the same goals. Anyone with a connection to New Castle is welcome to join and support the group’s mission.
“The CRE is not a group of outside agitators, a third party who has come in to disrupt,” emphasized Maynard-Elliott, “We are your neighbors, your classmates, we are people from within in the community who are looking to help the town of New Castle become its better self, I think we all aspire to do and be better but sometimes we need a little help and that is what the CRE is here to do.”