Enriching History and Ourselves

Members of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington gathered at Waxy O’Connor’s for their January social. Clockwise from left: ABCL Historical & Cultural Events Chair Martha Byrd, Georgia Swann, Marie-Rose Romain Murphy, Hope Klebenov, Robert Bellinger, Dotun Osoba, Moby Osoba, Kieran Murphy, ABCL President Sean Osborne, and Daniel Joyner, Jr. COURTESY PHOTO

By Jeri Zeder, with research assistance from Dylan Pato

Some four years after his 1963 visit to Lexington High School, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., published his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? Amid its call for justice for the poor throughout the world, the great theologian, philosopher, strategist, and tactician touched upon the importance of history.

He did so through a story.

He and Coretta, he recounted, had attended a program at their children’s integrated school in Atlanta called “Music That Has Made America Great.” The schoolchildren performed songs from the many immigrant cultures represented in the United States. As the evening drew to a close, King thought that surely the program would culminate with “the most original of all American music, the Negro spiritual.” But no. The musical contributions of Black Americans were entirely ignored. “Instead,” King wrote, “all the students, including our children, ended the program by singing ‘Dixie.’”

“I wept within that night,” King wrote. “I wept for my children and all black children who have been denied a knowledge of their heritage. I wept for all white children, who, through daily miseducation, are taught that the Negro is an irrelevant entity in American society; I wept for all the white teachers and parents who are forced to overlook the fact that the wealth of cultural and technological progress in America is a result of the commonwealth of inpouring contributions.”

More than fifty years on, our awareness of how people of African descent have shaped America remains stunted. Even here, in history-steeped Lexington, too many of us don’t know that, along with Prince Estabrook, at least two other Black Lexingtonians also served as militia men on the Battle Road on April 19, 1775: Eli Burdoo, 19 and an indentured servant, and his cousin Silas Burdoo, 27, a free man. Too many of us don’t know that they were among the 5,000 Black Patriots who fought to liberate the American colonies from British tyranny during the Revolutionary War.

In an initiative called the Black History Project of Lexington, members of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL) have been researching Black Americans of note with historic links to Lexington and Massachusetts. A selected roster of these luminaries will be celebrated this coming Martin Luther King Day and through Black History Month with the inaugural unfurling of twenty-four Black History Portrait Banners along Massachusetts Avenue in Lexington Center.

“The idea is to shine a light in places where it hasn’t been shined before,” says ABCL president Sean Osborne, who initiated the banners project and curated the final list of banner honorees with ABCL’s Historical & Cultural Events Committee Chair Martha Byrd, a marketing communications manager, and Boston College Professor Zine Magubane, a historical sociologist. Osborne, a civil engineer and history buff, was inspired by the Cambridge Black Trailblazers bookmarks, which commemorate the lives of notable citizens who have been overlooked, and by a Black history banner project in Arlington. Lexington’s banner project will be accompanied by an informative website that will delve deeper into the history and serve as a permanent resource for educators, students, and researchers. “I want little Black boys and little Black girls and their parents to see themselves in these banners, and I want little boys and little girls and their parents who are not Black to see themselves and their connections,” Osborne says.

Boston College Associate Professor Zine Magubane has provided her expertise as a historical sociologist to ABCL’s Black History Portrait Banners project. COURTESY PHOTO

Osborne’s favorite banner honoree is the abolitionist David Walker, a free man whose 1829 pamphlet Appeal…to the Colored Citizens of the World chastised White Christians for supporting slavery and urged the enslaved people of the American South to rise up and fight for their freedom. To disseminate his pamphlets, Walker mailed them and also sent them south with traveling preachers, sailors, and laborers. It was dangerous work, and he eventually lost his life for it. Frederick Douglas, William Lloyd Garrison, and Malcolm X were all influenced by Walker’s ideas, Osborne says.

ABCL’s Martha Byrd hopes that the public installation will spur people to learn more. “Finding out that Black people have been in Lexington for more than a hundred years, and even fought in the Revolutionary War—all of that has been eye-opening for me,” Byrd says. “I hope that when the banners go up that everyone will be excited to see them, and see it as something that is meant for the town as a whole.” Her favorite banner subject is one of the “contemporaries”: Leona W. Martin. Martin is the first—and currently, only—African American in Lexington history ever to be elected to town-wide office, serving for twenty-five years on the Lexington Housing Authority. She has served on numerous committees, helped to launch the Cary Memorial Library Foundation—one of Lexington’s most cherished institutions—and so much more, earning her wide regard as a great Lexington matriarch. Martin has an unassuming demeanor, but, Byrd says, “she’s quite the powerhouse.”

For Professor Magubane, elevating this history can advance social justice:  “The contributions of peoples of African descent, as a group, have oftentimes met with resistance and don’t reflect the enormity of the contribution that we have made to the making of America,” she says. “I think that’s important because, in common sense thinking for a really long time, the idea was, well, people are subject to unequal treatment because their culture or their society or their practices are not up to snuff, that people are treated poorly because they haven’t really contributed anything. Or they have mainly contributed as people who have taken from the system, taken from welfare or the overall detriment through crime, unwed pregnancies, and so forth,” she says. But: “Lexington is a town that is older than America itself. And then when you factor in that people of African descent have been part of the making of Lexington which was part of the making of America, you see that people of African descent are part of the making of America,” she says. She hopes that the banners will foster a feeling of belonging. “When we think about a New Englander, a particular image comes to mind,” she says. “I think it’s important for people who are not of African descent to see that we have a shared history.”

Magubane’s favorite banner honoree is Adelaide McGuinn Cromwell, the renowned academic sociologist who helped found Boston University’s African Studies program in the 1950s (among the first of such programs in the nation), and who was a pioneering scholar in the fields of international relations and women’s studies.

The banner project is one of three programs of ABCL’s Black History Project of Lexington. The first, launched in February 2020, is the Oral and Visual History Project of Lexingtonians of African Descent, which is archived at the Lexington Historical Society. The other, currently in the works, is the Lexington Black History Trail. ABCL seeks to raise $25,000 to fund the costs of graphic design, web design, and printing for the banners project, and for memorial benches and historical markers for the history trail.

Osborne hopes that the impact of these efforts will be two-fold. “If you are someone who needs to see your place to feel comfortable, then you can say, as a random Black person living in Lexington, ‘Yes, since colonial times, Black folks have lived here. I can relax,’” he says. “And for others, they can say, ‘What about me?’ That’s the beauty of it. You start looking, and you start saying, ‘What else has always been here that I’ve missed? Who were the other folks who were here? There were Native Americans here, so who were they? Where were they? What did they do? There have always been Asians on the continent. Who were they in Massachusetts? In Lexington?” Osborne issues this invitation to all of Lexington, in all its diversity: “Dig deeper!” he says. “Find out!”


Banner Honorees:

Black History-Makers from Lexington and Massachusetts

 

 

18th & 19th Centuries
Isaac Barbadoes, Revolutionary War soldier
Paul Cuff, marine merchant, activist
David Walker, abolitionist, author
Quock Walker, plaintiff whose lawsuit ended slavery in Massachusetts

 

19th & 20th Centuries
Frederick Douglass, abolitionist leader
Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, poet, author, lecturer
Eli George Biddle, soldier, Massachusetts 54th Regiment
Charlotte E. Ray, lawyer, teacher
Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, feminist, civil rights leader
Ida B. Wells, journalist, anti-lynching crusader
Granville Tailer Woods, inventor

 

20th & 21st Centuries
Edward Brooke III, US Senator
Shirley Chisolm, Member of Congress
Adelaide McGuinn Cromwell, scholar, sociologist
Alan Dawson, jazz percussionist
Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, non-profit and social justice leader
Martin Luther King, Jr., Nobel Peace Prize-winning civil rights leader
Hattie T. Scott Peterson, civil engineer
Florence Price, symphonic composer

 

Contemporaries
Bernard Harleston, university administrator
Mae C. Jemison, MD, scientist, technologist
Leona W. Martin, civic and community activist
Deval Patrick, Massachusetts governor
William Ridgley, Sr., civic and community leader

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, who lived in Lexington for more than two decades, was a leader in Boston’s non-profit world. She served, among other things, as the president and CEO of YW Boston. A Boston Globe article covering her passing in 2017 noted, “She helped bridge divides that split racial and ethnic populations…and did so through the power of her own presence and through programs such as YW Boston’s Stand Against Racism campaign.” COURTESY PHOTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A young William Ridgley, Sr., when he served in the US Army, circa late 1950s, early 1960s. Ridgley moved to Lexington from Cambridge in 1968. He was the first Black person elected to Lexington’s Town Meeting, and was the first president of the Concerned Black Citizens of Lexington. His image will appear on a Black history banner this winter. COURTESY PHOTO

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leona W. Martin is the first—and currently, only—African American in Lexington history ever to be elected to town-wide office, serving for twenty-five years on the Lexington Housing Authority. She has served on numerous committees, and helped to launch the Cary Memorial Library Foundation—one of Lexington’s most cherished institutions. COURTESY PHOTO

 

 

 


Support the Black History Project of Lexington!

The Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL) seeks to raise $25,000 to cover the costs of graphic design, web design, and printing for the Black History Portrait Banners project, and to cover the costs of memorial benches and historical markers for the Lexington Black Heritage Trail.
ABCL is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Tax-deductible donations can be made online at https://www.abclex.org/donate-to-the-black-history-project-of-lexington/. Or, checks made payable to the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington can be mailed to:
Black History Project of Lexington
c/o ABCL – 822 Mass. Ave. – Lexington, MA 02420

 

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Community Conversation on Race and Social Equity, Diversity, and Policing in Lexington

Activists and police join together at Cary Hall to address the crowd of protesters after the murder of George Floyd.

By Denise J. Dubé

 

A few months ago, four Minnesota officers stopped George Floyd by the side of the road. As he lay on the pavement beside a police cruiser, wrists handcuffed behind him, former Police Officer Derek Chauvin shoved his left knee onto Floyd’s throat. Another officer held a knee on his lower body. Two other officers watched as Chauvin continually pressed his knee on Floyd’s throat. Less than nine minutes later, after Floyd repeatedly told the officers he could not breathe, the 46-year-old man called for his long-dead mother and died, killed by Chauvin over allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill.

Less than two months later, a birdwatcher in New York’s Central Park asked a woman to contain her unleashed dog. She told the man she was calling authorities and would, she said, tell them he was attacking her. The man was black; the woman was white.

Authorities charged Chauvin with second and third-degree murder and the woman with making a false report. Other racists videos are now surfacing as more and more people, armed with cell phones, are videotaping acts of racism – not just with police – but between neighbors and strangers, in stores, parks, neighborhoods, and parking lots.

Although the incidents elicited outrage, Floyd’s murder caused world-wide protests and the immediate demand for change.

Lexington is no exception. A Black Lives Matter protest occurred a few days after Floyd’s death. People in and around the Battle Green held signs that read, “Black Lives Matter,” and, “It could have been me.”

On September 29 at 7 p.m., officials gathered via Zoom for a Community Conversation on Race and Social Equity, Diversity, and Policing.

Those officials included: Chief of Police Mark Corr; Police Lieutenant James Barry, who serves as a liaison between the Human Rights Committee and the police department; Town Manager Jim Malloy; Select Board Chair Doug Lucente; Select Board member Jill Hai; Human Rights Committee Chair Mona Roy; Vice-Chair Human Rights Committee Tanya Gisolfi; and Moderator Melissa Patrick, an educator and the founder and principal consultant of Equity Expectations, LLC, a diversity equity and inclusion firm.

The public provided questions before the event, which those attending would answer. According to Lucente, they received more than 40 questions. Corr stated later that he received about 20 more and was answering them all. These Frequently Asked Questions will appear on the town and police website soon, Lucente and Corr said.

“The community conversations are important,” Corr said later, after the virtual meeting. “In hindsight, it should have been taking place long ago. George Floyd’s murder was a horrible video to watch. His death over an alleged $20 bill should never have happened. It was grossly excessive force that made the public and police professionals very angry.”

Lucente opened the meeting by referencing Floyd’s death and telling those watching that this is the first of many conversations to help Lexington move forward.

“I want to acknowledge that individuals in our community are not feeling respected, and some are feeling marginalized. These are our friends, these are our neighbors, and it’s a problem,” Lucente said. “Our objective this evening is to create a space for dialogue with our town government and police department to advance understanding and provide a meaningful pathway forward on racial and social justice issues.”

Patrick asked Corr the first question. “Would you please share what steps the Lexington Police department have been taking already toward promoting equity and policing in Lexington?”

“We want to work with community groups, and we want to attend cultural events or work with the Human Rights Committee or Select Board,” Corr said. “We want to work with those who have suggestions who want to help us get better.”

Patrick, too referenced the murder of Floyd and noted “the civil unrest that has been going on and the obvious anti-black racism in this country. It’s clear we have to do things differently. Things have to change,” she said. Patrick then asked about the Police Department oversight, which Hai explained, is provided by the town manager, with input from Chief Corr. Similar questions appeared throughout the ninety-minute meeting. Although there were no examples, Patrick noted there are problems in town, and there have been complaints.

“A lot of the questions that did come in were in reference to what Doug alluded to in terms of not feeling safe or feeling marginalized in Lexington. A lot of the questions have to do with racial profiling,” Patrick said.

“How does the Lexington Department define racial profiling. What is it?”

“We, throughout our policy manual, prohibit the use of anything that would discriminate against somebody, and we require that everyone is treated fairly and equitably,” Corr said. Policies, he said, are online. Town Manager Jim Malloy indicated that the town will be doing a comprehensive review of all bylaws, policies, and regulations in Lexington to make sure they are unbiased and anti-discriminatory.

He also emphasized later that, according to Massachusetts law, an officer must have cause to detain a person or stop a vehicle. Later he clarified further. If that’s not happening, he said, then Lexingtonians should call him. If they don’t feel satisfied by his response, he urged citizens to contact the Select Board or the Town Manager or both.

“In a nutshell, a police officer must articulate reasonable grounds to make a motor vehicle stop. They can’t do it on a hunch. They can’t do it out of curiosity. A traffic violation is considered reasonable grounds. An officer must be able to articulate why they have reasonable suspicion that a crime has, is, or is about to be committed for them to make a stop.”

If that isn’t happening, he again asked that people reach out. “We encourage the public, who may have a complaint, to contact the police department in a timely manner. If people are uncomfortable speaking directly with the police, they can call, write, or email the Town Manager’s office, the Select Board, or the Human Rights Committee,” Corr said. Lucente echoed that. The Human Rights Committee is taking a leadership position in town to help educate and mediate equity issues. Although they currently operate without a budget, they have developed collaborative relationships and effective programming with the help of other agencies in Lexington. All the departments are directly linkable on the town website: (www.lexingtonma.gov)

Sean Osborne, formerly the Chair of the Human Rights Committee and co-creator of the Association of Black Citizens of Lexington (ABCL), founded three years ago, spoke after the meeting. He has reached out to the police department and hopes that they will work together in the future. The ABCL, Corr, and Lucente have held meetings already, he said.

Osborne only watched a portion of the meeting and was, so far, skeptical and noted, as did everyone else, that there are incidents in Lexington.

However, if everyone works together, he hopes to see change. “I don’t do what I do without hope,” Osborne said.

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Key Deadlines for the 2020 Presidential Election

The deadline to return your vote-by-mail application to the town clerk’s office is Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 5 p.m. Scanned applications can be emailed to clerk@lexingtonma.gov

The deadline to submit your mail-in or absentee ballot is Election Day (Tuesday Nov. 3) at 8 p.m. It must be returned to the town clerk’s office or the blue and yellow depository outside of the Town Office Building.

How to Vote Early by Mail
This year, due to the coronavirus, any registered voter in Massachusetts who wants to vote by mail is allowed to do so. Under normal circumstances, voters can only vote absentee if they are out of town when the polls are open on Election Day, are unable to vote at the polls due to physical disability, or cannot vote on Election Day for religious reasons. Here are the steps to voting in person. (Qualifying voters can instead request absentee ballots, if they prefer.)
-Register to vote.
-Sign and return your mail-in ballot request postcard, which every Massachusetts voter should have received in the mail.
Once you receive your mail-in ballot, fill it out, following the instructions precisely.

Return your ballot:
-By mail (must be postmarked Nov. 3 and arrive at the town clerk’s office by Nov. 6)
-Via the town clerk’s depository in front of the Town Office Building
-Directly to the town clerk’s office, on the main floor of the Town Office Building
-Early Voting in Person
Lexington’s registered voters can vote early in person every day from Saturday, Oct. 17 through Friday, Oct. 30. Early in-person voting takes place at Cary Memorial Building, 1605 Massachusetts Avenue, Lexington. When voting in person, all voters must wear a mask and follow social distancing (voting booths will be placed six feet apart) and other measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Early Voting Hours

-Friday, Oct. 30: 8:30 AM — 1 PM

Pandemic Protocols for Voting in person (early and on Election Day)
-All election workers will wear face coverings.
-All voters are required to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
-Hand sanitizer, gloves and masks will be available at each polling location.
-Voting booths will be placed six feet apart.
-Surfaces and voting booths at polling locations will be sanitized throughout the day.
-Social distancing protocols, including voting booth placement, could mean that voters will have to wait to vote.

Election Day Poll Hours
In Lexington, the polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 3.
The town clerk’s office has received an outpouring of offers to work at the polls on Election Day. Rice expressed gratitude while noting that they have enough workers for the 2020 presidential election.
For more detailed information, please visit the town clerk’s website (https://www.lexingtonma.gov/town-clerk).

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Lexington and the 2020 Presidential Election: An interview with Town Clerk Nathalie Rice

 

“The biggest thing is to get us your ballot well before the deadline.”

 

By Heather Beasley Doyle

Two years ago, as the midterm elections approached, 85% of registered voters in the United States thought voting would be easy, according to a Pew Research Center poll. By the time the center polled with the same question this August, sentiment had changed significantly: While 50% of registered voters said it would be very easy or somewhat easy for them to vote in upcoming elections, 49% expected “to have difficulties casting a ballot.”

With November 3rd, Election Day, fast approaching, Lexington Town Clerk Nathalie Rice is familiar with this concern. Her office has fielded hundreds of calls and emails from concerned residents over the past weeks. But with the September primary behind Rice, her staff, and their corps of election workers, the town clerk feels well prepared to handle the demands leading up to, on, and following the November 3rd election.

Of the town’s 22,529 registered voters, 11,581 voted in the September primary. And of those, roughly 3,000 voted in person. The rest voted by mail. Preparations for the first pandemic-time election in recent history included urging people to vote early by mail and implementing protocols to help prevent the coronavirus from spreading at the polls. Through it all, Rice and her team took notes on how to refine their new processes for the general election.
“I think the benefit of the primary, is this is our dry run for the presidential. And it was a very effective dry run,” Rice told the Colonial Times in late September.

“Now we know what to expect, and there’s a lot of power in that, and there’s a lot of understanding that we now have. And I think we are much better positioned for the November election having understood and done well in the primary election.”

That understanding could help as Lexington voters flood the town clerk’s office with questions. According to Rice, people most frequently ask when they will get their mail-in or absentee ballot. Residents’ second most common question is if they can vote in person if they’ve already applied for an early vote-by-mail ballot.

Rice mailed out more than 14,000 absentee and early mail-in ballots for the presidential election in early October, with additional residents likely planning to vote in person. Ballots arrived at the town clerk’s office on October 2nd. The town subsequently sent these to registered voters who’ve applied for a mail-in or absentee ballot; they should have received them in their mailboxes by October 13th. Knowing that many voters worry that their filled-out ballots won’t reach the town clerk’s office in time to be counted, Rice encourages Lexingtonians to drop their ballots in the town clerk’s depository near the town building. “It’s blue with yellow lettering and it has the town seal on it,” she said. “So we’re asking people to put their voted ballots and applications there. That way it bypasses the postal service—I’m not trying to make judgments about the postal service, but we get the ballot that day. We can get it processed sooner, we can get it ready for central tabulation sooner, and we can let the voter know, because we check it in.”

Whether a voter mails their ballot, drops it in the depository, or takes it to the town clerk’s office, Rice has one critical suggestion: “The biggest thing is to get us your ballot well before the deadline.”

At the same time, she praised Lexington’s post office for its proactive approach to this fall’s elections. “The post office is being very responsive; we have been very pleased with their service,” she said. Ballots and applications mailed from Lexington are likely to reach the town clerk’s office within a day or two. Rice suggested that voters wanting more clarity on the status of their mail-in ballot application and ballot can see the status of their voter registration, or ballot via the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s Track My Ballot page. (https://www.sec.state.ma.us/wheredoivotema/track/trackmyballot.aspx)

With the state’s COVID-19 cases again on the rise, Rice encourages people to vote by mail rather than in person. “COVID is an overriding concern in the town and in the state, and I think we need to be really smart about how we vote. And we’re encouraging people to vote by mail,” Rice said.

Rice acknowledged that many people are considering voting in person, and voting in person early or on Election Day remains an option, with the same protocols used during the state primary in September (see sidebar). And to answer Lexingtonians’ second-most common question: Registered voters who have already requested a mail-in or absentee ballot can vote in person—but only if the town clerk’s office hasn’t yet accepted their ballot.

Once the town clerk’s office receives a voter’s mail-in ballot, that voter can no longer vote in person. But if a voter receives their mail-in ballot, doesn’t send it to the town clerk’s office, and decides to vote in person, “It’s not simply like, ‘Oh, gee, I’m just going to go vote,'” Rice said. The precinct warden must authorize a voter with an unreturned absentee or mail-in ballot to vote at their polling place; the voter’s mail-in ballot must be rejected by someone on the town clerk’s staff via a phone call. And the warden then explains to the election worker at the check-in table that the voter is now authorized to vote.

Noting that some people are worried about voters casting two ballots, Rice said: “Double voting is not possible, because there’s no voter who would be checked in,” if they’re listed on election rolls as having early mail-in or absentee ballots. “They’re always stopped, and they’re asked to go to the warden to authorize, to enable them to reject that previous ballot and vote.”

This year, Lexington will employ the same voting tabulators they have used for the past several years. No new technology will be introduced.

Rice explained that the electronic voting tabulators at each polling place print out the results after the polls have closed at 8:00 p.m. “It produces a paper tape. There’s no wi-fi connection back to our office,” she explained; election workers take the paper tapes to the town clerk’s office by hand. “We don’t enter anything that comes to us electronically through wi-fi or any other means. We take that tape, we enter that tape data in our spreadsheet, and then, subsequently, during the night, we check that again to make sure it’s accurate. …There is no opportunity for corruption at any electronic level.”

Rice and her staff will begin tabulating ballots mailed in ahead of Election Day starting Sunday, October 25th. Those that haven’t yet been run through the tabulating machines by November 3rd will be counted on Election Day (this is called central tabulation). The process necessitates 19 memory cards, two per precinct plus a spare, to save the results until after the polls close on election night and the tapes are run.

Thinking ahead to the presidential election, Rice reflected on a particular primary election success that she hopes will carry over: “One of the things I’m really proud of is that…We did not have one case of COVID in a voter, in any of my election workers, and I’m really proud of that,” she said. Her office’s job is “protecting a really important right, to vote, amidst a set of… scientific challenges that make that process more difficult.” She credited state officials with making mail-in and early voting particularly easy this election cycle.

The upcoming presidential election has presented an unprecedented number of challenges for town officials and election workers around the country. As Lexingtonians prepare to cast their votes, Lexington’s Town Clerk Nathalie Rice is confident that voting will proceed smoothly. She and her colleagues have worked diligently to protect the process—both the integrity of the process and the health of voters, workers, and volunteers.

“You just have to separate yourself from some of the background noise and do your job. And I think all of us feel that way; we never talk about politics in our office,” Rice said. “We come in, and we do our job. And that’s what everyone expects of us. You know, we’re not filled with a lot of hoopla; we just work. We work hard.”

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Learning To Persevere: Talking To Children About The Pandemic & Racism

By, Anastasia Galanopoulos, PhD

We are living in dangerous, sad, but also hopeful times. When the global pandemic began months ago, we didn’t know how long we would have to endure changes to our way of living; now we know that these changes may be longer lasting.  Similarly, though many of us in White communities may have known that racism still exists in America, the fact that it was not overtly visible or affecting us directly allowed us to think that it was not our problem to address. Now we know differently.  Maya Angelou had many beautiful and wise sayings but two that come to mind and seem most relevant for our collective, current life moment underscore the fact that if we want action toward change, emotions must go hand in hand with knowledge.

People remember not what you say or do but how you make them feel, and when we know more and simultaneously are made to feel empathy toward one another, we must do better.  The best way we can take action is to start at home.  Let’s have the difficult conversations with our children. Even in a place like Lexington, where we strive for equity and justice, we can do better.

I was almost 10 years old when I arrived in the United States with my parents and sisters, emigrating during the political turmoil of Greek dictatorship. I grew up in a working- class family that valued tight family bonds, education, and democratic ideals.  My dad was born during the Great Depression and both my parents lived through German occupation and the famine of WWII.  Parenting with those sensibilities of adversity and loss, our parents instilled in us the notion that things could always be worse than they are at this moment but also with the hope that we would get through things together. My Greek heritage is something sacred to me but when I was younger, I did not know how significant the upbringing in my particular family and culture would prove to be as I grew into adulthood navigating parenthood, work, and life events, not least of which are the Coronavirus pandemic we are all living through and the witness-bearing of racism.

Anyone who can check the box of otherness, for whatever reason, can tell you that they have developed more empathy and resilience as a result of their not belonging to the dominant group, however that may be defined.  Just ask any Asian-American what their experience with racism has been in the wake of the pandemic. The thread that can bind our earth-shattering life events together and lead us through to the other side is perseverance: it is through perseverance that we develop empathy and resilience and can become agents of change. I learned and honed this skill growing up in my family and studied it in my chosen field of human development. I know many of you are hard at work doing the same thing in your own families. My hope in this piece is to empower you to continue to do the hard work, to have the uncomfortable conversations, and to help your children persevere in the face of adversity through action. You will be actively making them not only stronger but better human beings.

When we look at adversity and resilience research that examine how children fare in times of war, illness, or natural disaster what we find is not only that relationships are key but that leveling with kids is also crucial.  Depending on the age of the child, parents need to balance how much information to provide without pretending that all is well.  When we lie to children, they know it even while acting normally.  Adults may be subconsciously using non-verbal cues to communicate their own anxieties and fears about the pandemic, police brutality, or even the possibility that schools may not reopen in the fall.  Most of our thoughts and feelings are communicated non-verbally and when we say one thing but believe another, that is also being conveyed to our kids.  So, a good rule of thumb is to answer kids’ questions with as little information as necessary to satisfy their curiosity while assuring them that you are always there to talk about their feelings and to keep them as safe as possible. With younger children, parents should limit exposure to the news and aim for conveying facts pragmatically and calmly.  With all children, there can be conversations of personal responsibility to protect self and others by wearing masks, washing hands, and avoiding facial contact.  Some kids and teenagers will be more cooperative by virtue of their temperament, so parents will need to use different tactics for kids with different personalities; you already know what works for each of your children.

Optimize the goodness-of-fit, as we say in human development, between your parenting and the needs of the child at this moment. Kids who have lower thresholds of response and are more intense may need more reassurance, more practice with deep breathing or other calming techniques, and more help holding and expressing their strong feelings.  Those who are already biologically predisposed to positive mood, persistence, and adaptability will need less coaching and modeling from you.  Three popular Greek sayings that echoed in my childhood home and I use often in my own parenting and teaching might be helpful here.  They remind me that hard work and patience, the definition of perseverance, may be two sides of the same coin.

That’s Life (“Έτσι Eίναι η Zωή”)—Life is full of ups and downs; go with the flow.  Work on yourself, your own anxieties, and speak with your children when you are calm. Be patient, work hard for what is right and just, persevere toward your goals, keep moving forward even through life’s big and small disappointments and obstacles. This too shall pass.

It Can Always Be Worse (“Μη Xειρότερα”)—Find and practice gratitude with your children. Slow down and discover joy in the little moments you ordinarily take for granted.  Make a list of needs and wants and notice that you already have all you need to survive. Take in some nature, declutter, create projects you can do together as a family.

Never Say Never (“Μη Λες Μεγάλα Λόγια”)—No one can predict the future so let’s not try.  Focus on today and on your family’s mental health.  Use flexibility.  Relax rules.  Redefine productivity and success. Anxiety lives in the future and depression in the past. Happiness is found in the awareness of now.  Stay present and hopeful.

Hope, I was reminded a few weeks ago by Marc Lamont Hill, a BET news anchor, is different than optimism. Optimism may be more idealistic in nature whereas hope intrinsically contains struggle in the context of progress, while on the path to positive change toward social justice. The witnessing of George Floyd’s death has reminded us of the systemic and institutional racist beliefs and practices that are imbedded in American culture, whether we like it or not. That is the truth. But let’s not forget that we have come some way from segregation and Jim Crow to today, albeit slowly and painfully. Mr. Floyd was not the first African-American human being to die at the hands of police in modern society. Police brutality and racist policies in law enforcement are not new nor are they the only institutionalized policies that create and maintain white privilege. There is indeed generational trauma in black and brown families in this country as Massachusetts Representative Ayanna Pressley so eloquently described recently, and until white parents and white adults fully see their privilege as a contributing factor and actively act to change that, we will never move toward equity under the law for all people.

To get at equity under the law, we must also face inequity in health care, in housing, in education, in hiring practices, in all facets of society. This is why talking to children about racism right now through the lens of what is currently happening in the country is crucial. I’ve heard many scholars and others talk about the present time as a tipping or turning point in American culture and I agree. The largely peaceful protests that occurred in major cities and small towns across the world in the wake of George Floyd’s death are multi-generational and racially diverse, in contrast to the protests of the 1960s. Though those peaceful protests are growing and continuing, we are also witnessing increasing unprovoked violence at the hands of federal agents dispatched in the name of protecting federal buildings. All eyes who do not fear seeing the truth, especially the eyes of young people, can see what is plainly in front of them. There is systemic racism in all American institutions, including government, policing, and education.

Parents must seize this historical moment and begin or continue their conversation about racism in developmentally appropriate ways. They can read books, watch documentaries or movies but also have uncomfortable conversations at the dinner table. When the Attorney General of the United States can say that he does not agree there is systemic racism in police departments, we as citizens, parents, educators, and human beings must notice this discrepancy between facts and conclusions and discuss it with our children helping them to develop critical consciousness. We must use Representative Sheila Jackson Lee’s calm and inviting response to him at his July 28th House Judiciary Committee hearing as an example in our conversations with family, friends, and others: “That’s what we need you to join us on Mr. Attorney General, [substitute anyone’s name here, child’s, neighbor’s, colleague’s, etc.] and to recognize that institutional racism does exist, and until we accept that, we will not finish our job and reach the goals and aspirations of our late iconic John Lewis.” But conversations are not enough. Civil Rights leader John Lewis’s legacy has left us with instructions to do something when we see injustice, to stand up for what is right, to get into “good trouble.” Let’s talk to and model for our kids, then, about getting into good trouble not only by standing up for their friends but also for those they don’t know so well when they’re in need, by teaching them about democracy, about asking the right questions, about speaking up and using their voice, about calling their representatives, about writing letters, about starting and signing petitions, about supporting businesses owned by people of color, about voting.

RESOURCES

Several organizations and websites (e.g., Barnes & Noble, Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, etc.) have compiled wonderful resources for adults talking to children as well as for ones’ own journey towards understanding racism. Some of my favorites are the works of Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds (Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You), Debby Irving  (Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race), Ava DuVernay (13th), Ronald Takaki (A Different Mirror) and the following list compiled by The Children’s Trust Fund (https://onetoughjob.org/articles/statement-of-solidarity):

Teaching Tolerance — tolerance.org

Parents – “How to Wipe Out Prejudices Before They Start”

CNN — “How to Talk to your Children About Protests and Racism”

USA Today — “George Floyd. Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. What do we tell our Children?”

National Museum of African American History & Culture – “Talking About Race”

NY Times – “These Books Can Help You Explain Racism and Protest to Your Kids”

For a more academic collection of books recommended by Harvard University faculty exploring the history of racism, white privilege, and otherness, see The Harvard Gazette’s 6/15/20 article by Liz Mineo, “A Reading List on Issues of Race.”

In order to be able to talk truthfully and openly to children about injustice, we must first start inward. I hope the above resources will help you and your family on your journey, and I hope the focus on perseverance will serve as your guide.

 

Dr. Anastasia Galanopoulos

About the Author – Dr. Anastasia Galanopoulos has over 25 years of experience as a professor, facilitator, trainer, and coach. She holds a B.S. in Psychology, B.A. in French Literature from Tufts University, and a M.S. & Ph.D. in Human Development & Family Studies from The Pennsylvania State University. She has taught at Wheelock College and Penn State, and has worked with the Freedman Center for Child and Family Development at William James College. She offers education and coaching to families, professionals, and institutions at her practice in Lexington.

Galanopoulosanastasia@GETnewperspective.com

Education & Training

+1 781.968.5013

 

 

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Navigating College Admissions in a Covid-19 World

COVID-19 has upended college admissions.
Here’s some advice for the Class of 2021.

By Kim Siebert MacPhail

Everything under the Sun has been affected by Covid-19, so it comes as no surprise that the college application process has also had to adapt to a new set of circumstances.

Traditional stand-bys—standardized tests, campus tours, extracurricular activities, summer internships, travel plans, numeric grades (rather than pass/fail)—have been sidelined or rendered impossible, at least temporarily. For the Class of 2021, the timing of this disruption has created even more anxiety during an already stressful time.

If upheavals to the college application process strike you as unsettling, you are not alone. Compounding the issue is that colleges and universities have continued to make changes to the application process throughout the summer. It takes time and effort to keep up with all of these moving parts.

Luckily, college consultants, admissions officers, test prep companies, and institutions like the Harvard Graduate School of Education are eager to help. They recognize that additional support is warranted to understand the changes COVID-19 has compelled.

THINGS YOU CAN STILL COUNT ON

Jill Smilow

College Consultant Jill Smilow, of Smilow & Associates LLC in Lexington, sees reassurance for students and families in the elements of college application that have not changed.

“I feel good that I can take my students through a known process,” Smilow explained. “There’s going to be an application cycle. Students still need to express themselves through essays. They will need to show what they’ve been able to accomplish— not just in the last four months but over the course of their high school experience. There’s normalcy to this. It’s a process: you do this now, and you do this next. That won’t change dramatically.”

Smilow continued, “No college is going to expect a student to have accomplished something that was not possible for them to accomplish in this moment.”

Kelly Bellevance, Associate Director of Admissions at Boston College, put it this way during a recent webinar about applying to college during the Covid-19 era, hosted in May 2020 by Summit Educational Group: “We will look at a student’s entire academic history, their extracurricular activities, their letters of recommendation. We will use whatever tools your school provides in order to understand your educational journey. We will think about things like what you’re going to be like on our campus as a roommate, as a classmate. You will not be judged in terms of what has happened in this short amount of time. We totally understand. Everyone is going through the same thing right now.”

Bellevance continued: “The process is the same as it was pre-COVID. There are three big questions for a student: Where will you apply? Where will you be admitted? Where will you enroll? You have control over the answers to two of these questions. The process can be a lot more empowering than you think it will be.”

On the subject of standardized tests, most colleges – including the Ivies— have at this point deemed them optional this year, meaning there is no penalty for those who do not provide SAT or ACT scores. As of this publication deadline, rolling cancellations of in-person test dates continue, and the College Board has scrapped plans to administer tests online.

“Trust what the schools are saying,” assures Jill Smilow. “Understand that [college admissions officers] understand. They are part of this world, too. They aren’t living in some alternative universe.”

As Jan Suter, Senior Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Vanderbilt University, emphasized during the Summit webinar, test-optional colleges—indeed all colleges—are looking for reasons to admit students, not reasons to deny them.

“We are quite adept at dealing with students who come to us from a variety of backgrounds. In terms of building our classes, we look for a diversity of experiences and diverse learning. We are experienced at looking at students as individuals.”

POSSIBLE BRIGHT SPOTS
Many see positives in the elimination of test scores as an admissions metric because it forces colleges to look more closely at essays and letters of recommendation.

In 2016, well before Covid-19, the Harvard Graduate School of Education launched a project called “Turning the Tide” in an effort to push back against perceived toxicity in the college application process, such as “padded resumes” or so-called “brag sheets.” The Harvard initiative hopes instead to re-focus the spotlight on “meaningful learning.”

Once Covid-19 accelerated changes to how applications would be evaluated, Turning the Tide’s publication— “What We Care About in This Time of Crisis: A Collective Statement from College Admissions Deans”— was quickly endorsed by over 300 college admissions deans. It emphasizes five categories it believes matter most when reviewing an application:
Self-care: Especially in this time of crisis and because of changing circumstances;
Academic work: Assessed in the context of the obstacles present in a student’s life. “No student will be disadvantaged because of a change in commitments or a change in plans because of this outbreak; their school’s decisions about transcripts; the absence of AP or IB tests; their lack of access to standardized tests (although many of the colleges represented here don’t require these tests); or their inability to visit campus.” Service and contribution to others: Encompasses a wide variety of activities while acknowledging that not every student has the ability to participate; Family contributions: Students are encouraged to report these in their applications. “Many students maybe supervising younger siblings, or caring for sick relatives, or working to provide family income, and we recognize that these responsibilities may have increased during these times.” Extracurricular and summer activities: By signing on to the “What We Care About” statement, the deans affirm that they “have never had specific expectations for any one type of extracurricular activity or summer experience and realize that each student’s circumstances allow for different opportunities.”

Additionally, in the midst of all the disruption, the pandemic has created, the gift of time has been bestowed. Classes and activities now occupy less of the day than they would normally. Because students have more time and essays and letters of recommendation remain hugely important, the experts recommend putting extra effort into making them the best they can be. Carefully consider which teachers and adult friends know you best. Make use of the writing prompts provided by the Common Application and write as many drafts as it takes to produce a polished submission.

Rick Hazelton, Director of College Counseling at The Hotchkiss School (Summit webinar), says it’s also important to focus on less conventional concepts of productivity.

“Use the time in a positive way to take stock. When else are you going to have time to go for walks and reflect? It’s a time to get healthy and work on your relationships. You don’t have to feel like you have to start a non-profit from your home. Let you be you.”

Susan Davidson, Associate Director of College Counseling at Rye Country Day agreed during the webinar. “You don’t have to read the complete works of Shakespeare, but if you want to, go ahead.”
Lexington’s Jill Smilow said, “I try to empower students to first think about what’s important to them. Be true to yourself. Be self-reflective. ‘What has made me happy? What have I enjoyed? Then, in their research, see whether a school is the right match. You don’t need to know exactly what you want to be when you grow up.”

About letters of recommendation, Smilow stressed, “Many schools allow for at least one outside recommendation and they always have. Someone besides a classroom teacher or guidance counselor. I always recommend a student have at least one, if they can. At this moment, if a student has someone who knows them well— and can speak to character, work ethic, responsibility, humor, talent, and/or skill development within the context of working hard— then the student should ask that person to write a letter on their behalf and send it to the schools that allow for it. This is a good way to help an admissions officer get as broad and deep a perspective on the student as possible – and this is exactly what they are trying to do in the admission process.”

COLLEGES ARE DESPERATE TO CONVEY WHAT THEY HAVE TO OFFER
“Please know that we miss you,” said Vanderbilt’s Suter. “We love talking about our institutions. We love people and our campuses are way too quiet. We’ve had to pivot to ‘how do we reach students now?’ so, yes, everything is online on our websites: all kinds of virtual visits (often hosted by current students) and webinars and faculty talks and student panels plus some things we’ve always had, like being able to contact your admissions counsellor. You can also talk to a real-live Vanderbilt student. Sign up for an informational interview. Please reach out to us.”

Jill Smilow concurs: “I guarantee if you call your admissions rep and say ‘I really want to learn more about your acapella group’ the admissions rep will be happy to talk to you [or connect you with a professor or student.] Schools are working very hard on getting their information out there.”

Henry Marrion, Senior Admissions Counsellor at Tulane University, another Summit panelist, said that one of the silver linings of having to rethink admissions during Covid-19 is the improvements made to the technological outreach.

“It’s forced us to get creative. [For example], Tulane has released a series of 20-minute Coffee Chats over Zoom. Demonstrations of interest for selective universities [such as this] are very important and, in some situations, can be just as good as a college tour.”
Hazelton from Hotchkiss stressed another positive of virtual visits and online communication: “The child can be more in the driver’s seat than they would be during an in-person campus tour. They can ask a question without parent interference or fear of judgment in a group tour setting.”
He also encouraged families to use the Net Price Calculator, available on every college website and on the Common App, especially now when many people have experienced recent financial reversals. “The results are reliable, assuming the information you plug into it is accurate,” Hazelton said.

FINAL WORDS
Jill Smilow asks parents to remember, especially when application anxiety mounts: “Just stay true to who your child is. Your child hasn’t changed very much since March 2020. If anything, he or she is just a little more resilient because junior year of high school was different from what was expected. That should be honored by the colleges and universities, and it should be honored by families. Yes, take the process seriously, but this is an unprecedented moment, and admissions officers are there with us…There’s more than one school out there for everyone.”

 

CITED RESOURCES:
Summit Webinar: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/801301391288064270
Fill out the information to be redirected to the webinar.
Harvard Graduate School of Education “Care Counts In Crisis: A Collective Statement from College Admissions Dean”: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5b7c56e255b02c683659fe43/t/5f0deed10aa54222ebe4e9cc/1594748626173/FINAL+Statement_+TTT+Deans+20200629a.pdf

 

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The Future of Natural Gas in Massachusetts

Mark Sandeen is the chair of the Sustainable Lexington Committee

By Mark D. Sandeen

Q: What is the future of natural gas in Massachusetts?
A: The Attorney General’s Office just asked the Department of Public Utilities the same question. The Attorney General expects the Commonwealth’s legally binding greenhouse gas emissions target of net-zero by 2050 will soon have a “profound impact on gas distribution system management, operations, and rates.” Both the Patrick and Baker administrations determined that the primary strategy to achieve the state’s net-zero emissions goal is to switch all of our homes and businesses to electric heat pumps powered by zero-emission electricity sources.

Q: How are natural gas companies responding?
A: The natural gas utilities have suggested that the Commonwealth should instead invest in energy efficiency as the primary strategy to reduce emissions. They are asking ratepayers to pay the utilities additional fees for emissions reductions. The problem is that no matter how efficient your Massachusetts home is, you’ll still need some energy to heat it. The Commonwealth will never achieve its net-zero emissions goals if that energy is coming from natural gas.

Q: Could we switch to renewable biogas?
A: There just isn’t enough biogas. Even if we switched the nation’s entire corn production to produce biogas – we’d only have enough biogas to heat one-sixth of our buildings. And biogas is expensive – about 7 times the cost of natural gas. And since biogas is produced primarily in the Midwest – billions of dollars a year would flow out of the state. You’d also be right to wonder what we’d eat if we decided to burn our food to stay warm.

Q: What does this mean for Lexington?
A: Lexington has begun the transition to all-electric buildings. Every one of the Town’s newest buildings are heating and cooling with high-efficiency heat pumps. Hastings School, Lexington Children’s Place, the Fire Station, and the Visitor Center are all running on 100% renewable electricity and with lower total cost of ownership. Homeowners are also making the transition to heat pumps for the same reasons. Over the last two years, 10% of Lexington’s natural gas customers have switched from heating their homes with natural gas to heat pumps.

Q: What happens when gas companies lose customers?
A: It won’t be pretty. Lexington residents spend $6 million a year just to maintain our local natural gas pipeline. When gas customers switch to heat pumps, the remaining customers’ rates will be forced to rise to cover those fixed costs. That will only encourage more people to switch to heat pumps, and the cycle accelerates quite rapidly.

Natural gas delivery rates are expected to rise by a factor of 8 from 2030 through 2040 as heat pump adoption rates accelerate. The years from 2040 to 2050 will be even worse – with expected distribution rates in 2050 rising to 66 times higher than 2030 rates.

Q: What does this mean for homeowners who are heating with natural gas today?
A: About 1,000 Lexington homeowners currently have boilers, furnaces, or air conditioning systems that are close to the end of their useful life. Is your furnace or air conditioner old enough to vote? Are you on a first name basis with your maintenance folks? If so, you might want to begin by deciding what technology you want in your home for the next 15 or 20 years.

The easy way out would be to just replace your heating or cooling system with exactly what is there right now. But ask yourself, would you buy the same phone today that you bought 15 or 20 years ago, or the same computer, or the same car? Of course not.

And you certainly wouldn’t knowingly chose a system whose fuel costs were expected to increase much more rapidly than the alternative over the next 15 or 20 years.

Q: What do air conditioners have to do with the future of natural gas?
A: 20 years ago most New England heating systems were designed to be completely independent of the home’s air conditioning systems. Today’s heat pumps provide both heating and cooling in one integrated package that far outperform both the heating systems and the air conditioners of just 5 or 10 years ago.

20 years ago if you wanted a phone and a camera, you bought a Nokia and a Nikon. Today most people just buy a phone. You can buy a heat pump today for about the same price as a high efficiency air conditioner. When a heat pump is a better air conditioner and provides heat as a bonus, why would anyone ever buy another air conditioner? Air conditioners are going to go the way of handheld cameras. I’m sure some people will still buy them 20 years from now, but most people will wonder what they were thinking.

In Lexington we pride ourselves on being ahead of the curve. You won’t want to be left behind this curve and find yourself locked in to yesterday’s technology for 15 or 20 years when the market has moved on.

Send your sustainability questions to questions@sustainablelexington.org

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Signs of Suport

Driving down Bedford Street in Lexington got even more colorful this spring as encouraging handmade yard signs blossomed throughout the Tewksbury and Shirley Street neighborhood. The idea started with Shirley Street resident, Christie Leitch. Soon into the stay-at-home order, “I would look out the window from my makeshift home office and see a neighbor walk to work at Stop and Shop, our postal carrier, Cecil, our garbage collector, Pedro, and several neighbors on their way to work in hospitals. They just kept on going and I wanted to do something to brighten their day and something fun for my 5-year old son”.  

Soon after, Leitch thought of a yard sign but wasn’t sure where to start. “Then I ran by my friend’s house on East Street whose neighborhood made gorgeous lawn signs and was inspired. I asked her where she got blank yard signs and it was as easy as ordering them from Amazon”.  From there, Leitch asked a group of neighbors if they wanted to do it as a fun idea with their kids ranging from preschool to high school. All of them were an enthusiastic yes!

Quickly, colorful, thoughtful, and inspirational signs popped up and the busy road became a beacon of hope for everyone who passed.

Signs with “Thank You All Essential Workers”, “You Rock”, “Stay Happy, Stay Safe, Stay Healthy”, “After every storm comes a rainbow”….were lining the street. “Then more neighbors wanted a sign,” says Leitch, “it was such a wonderful domino effect”.

Diamond 8th Grader Abby Myerberg made three lawn signs for older neighbors saying, “It was such a good idea, such an easy way to say thank you to everyone who is helping us move through this difficult time”. Our children may be out of the classroom these days but they are certainly still learning. They are learning about compassion, respect, and appreciation all through art.

And these homemade signs of love did not go unnoticed. Notes, texts, and words of thanks came in from those who found encouragement in the small but well-meaning gesture from this close-knit neighborhood. Community has always been a strong part of what makes Lexington great and driving or walking around this Bedford Street neighborhood is a sure sign that it is alive and well.

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Real Estate Insights & Advice In Uncertain Times

BY KIM SIEBERT MACPHAIL

Life has changed abruptly. Much is uncertain. How long will the pandemic last? What does the future hold?

There are few, if any, clear answers. But for those anxious about the real estate market, a snapshot of the moment offers some useful guidance.

How is the Lexington Real Estate Market Faring?

Judy Moore

Judy Moore, of Barrett-Sotheby’s International Realty, counsels everyone to remain calm. Based on her 30 years of experience as a local realtor, Moore emphasized that Lexington remains in a strong position.

“This is the right place to be if you’re going to go through something like this,” Moore said, noting that the 2008 economic crisis was based on the mortgage industry, while the pandemic crisis is not. “Lexington is amazingly resilient. We are close to Boston— and obviously the schools are a big asset. Real estate has always been one of the best investments you can make here. I don’t think that’s going away any time soon.”

Joyce Murphy

Joyce Murphy of The Murphy Group/William Raveis has been in the Lexington real estate business for 25 years.  She believes that Lexington’s historic qualities, proximity to area hospitals, and convenient location to the city and Logan Airport maintain the town’s appeal.

“I’ve been through a number of these drops in the market,” Murphy recalled. “Lexington historically has not had the same drop prices as many of the other communities inside Rte. 95 have.  Lexington is a great place to live. It will always be desirable. It’s like a blue-chip stock”

Current data shows that the early April 2020 market remains a seller’s market. Residential prices have not softened, although what happens in the future will depend on how long the pandemic continues.  For the moment, realty web traffic seems to indicate that buyers are still looking from afar, even if much of their bandwidth is being consumed by world events.

Murphy said she was somewhat surprised by the number of listings that came on the market and sold during early and mid-March. “People that had the momentum and were ready went ahead, especially with properties in that highly-sought Lexington price point of about $1.3m,” she said.  “They might not have had 10 offers but, nevertheless, they sold right away. The number of new listings [during that timeframe] was lower than usual— but they all sold or are under agreement.”

Moore’s perspective matches this assessment. “We’re still getting multiple offers on Lexington properties. What I am telling buyers who are willing move forward is that this may be their opportunity to have less competition and they could take advantage of that. Once this [uncertain time] is over, we will have a lot of pent-up demand and there will be lots of competition. I anticipate a huge [upward] blip in inventory as well. There will be a buying frenzy.”

Murphy foresees the same quiet-to-busy trajectory. She speculated that having so much time uninterrupted time together as a family unit might kindle forestalled discussions about downsizing or upsizing.  Additionally. city dwellers who have so far rejected the idea of moving to the suburbs might reconsidered after being cooped up in close quarters for so many weeks.

“People I’ve been talking to tell me how appreciative they are of the space they have in Lexington—how glad they are not to live in a congested city right now,” Murphy reported.

Moore counsels both buyers and sellers to remember their long-term goals and to embrace strategic thinking, rather than to make reactionary decisions. Murphy advises buyers to contact a good mortgage broker and to and work with him/her to understand the newly revised credit scoring system, which has an impact on how low their interest rate will be.

What’s Been Lost? What’s Been Gained?

Moore and Murphy both reported that they now meet several times a week with their colleagues and counterparts to stay aware of how the pandemic is affecting the real estate landscape. The industry is taking pains to adapt and adjust. Companies like Barrett-Sotheby’s and William Raveis are making use of technological enhancements and they have devised new safety protocols. Although transactions have slowed, mortgage interest rates are favorable and deals continue to go through.

As a marketing tool, on-premise, en masse open houses were eliminated by mid-March. Losing this tried and true option has forced the real estate industry to innovate and adapt, largely by making enhancements to technology. Things once done in person can now be done, out of necessity, from a distance. Visual platforms such as Matterport; virtual showings via Zoom or Facetime; and E-filings for Purchase and Sale and closings are all examples of industry alternatives that make it possible for business to continue.

Moore noted that even before Covid-19, most buyers were already “visiting” properties online before attending an open house or calling to book a showing. The difference now is that everyone must access properties this way.

“Matterport is a [rich, interactive] 3-D experience,” Moore explained. “You can literally walk through every room yourself. You can take the automatic tour, you can walk into each room, or you can look at the ‘dollhouse’ view. You can choose which floor you want to be on and walk through that floor. It’s a wonderful tool. You feel like you’re right there.”

William Raveis uses Matterport as well, although Murphy reported that the platform works best for larger homes. The process for capturing data to create a Matterport visual is time-consuming, Murphy said. For new listings, she is mostly uses it when the owners can be absent for an extended period.

If a house is unoccupied, an in-person house tour can still be possible, although strict guidelines require the realtor to be the only person to touch anything. If this option is available for a particular property, the realtor wears gloves and wipes down all surfaces afterward.

But Moore strongly encourages buyers to take advantage of the virtual tour enhancements to help winnow down the properties they are interested in. “If you’re stuck at home, you can do the whole thing virtually…[From our end,] we know there’s a lot of shopping and inquiring going on…If you find the property you really love, we’ll get you in to see it, if we can… If your long-term goal is to find a house in the neighborhood or the town where they want it to be, keep the goal in mind and act strategically. You’ll find your house.”

Although business continues, buyers and sellers should anticipate delays in the closing process.  Legal work is slower to complete. Mortgages may take longer to approve— in part because of a brisk re-finance business due to lower interest rates.  Coordinating visits to properties by assessors, repair personnel, surveyors, fire inspectors, etc. are apt to take longer than they traditionally have. Final walk-throughs can still be arranged, but only in a highly-choreographed manner so that not too many people are inside a house simultaneously.

“Lenders are still lending, although carefully, and they are also doing virtual appraisals,” Moore explained. “Documents can be signed electronically. Contingencies can be included in the Purchase and Sale agreement to allow for delays.”

Moore sees a potential upside in these changes of necessity. “If anything, I think some interesting new business models will come out of this. I’ve always believed in the power of virtual marketing. Whatever tool is out there, believe me, we’re taking advantage of it.”

 “Not the Spring We Expected”

Statistics drawn from The Warren Group show that Covid-19 interrupted what had been a robust local and regional real estate market.  A very active spring market was anticipated, based on the sales trends at the end of last year and the beginning of this year.

To illustrate, in Lexington the 2020 January/February timeframe saw 30 single-family residential closings with a median sales price of $1.1 million and 7 condominium closings with a median sales price of $969,900.  MLSPIN, a real estate listing service, reports that although the for-sale inventory was about the same year-to-year, January/February 2019 saw only 18 single-family closings (median price $887,500) and 5 condo closings (median price $515,000). Both prices and number of sales increased significantly from 2019 to 2020.

Median prices vary, depending on the sale prices of homes in a particular time period. For-sale inventory remains low, as it has been over the past couple of years, meaning that it is still a seller’s market.  Currently, there are 43 homes for sale in Lexington; 3-4 years ago, the number was closer to 100.

Moore reported that some sellers have decided to postpone putting their houses on the market, but they are poised to do so once the Covid-19 crisis has abated. To accommodate this group, she plans to add a “Coming Soon” page to the Barrett-Sotheby’s website that will include properties available in the future.

Murphy and Moore both emphasized that web traffic remains active and, while slower than usual, inquiries are still being fielded. Interest rates are low— and likely to rise— so buyers are motivated, although cautious.

Moore summarized, “We are able to function. It may be at a more creative level than we were before but it’s still effective and we’re still able to make things work. There’s no reason why a transaction by motivated parties can’t come together.”

Two More Perspectives

“The people part is the hardest”

In 1982, Doug and Kate Townsend moved to Perham Street in Lexington Park, just over the Bedford line. They made a life there, raised two daughters, and developed strong friendships with their neighbors. When the Townsends put their house on the market in February, they considered themselves lucky to be able to decamp to their new home near Buzzards Bay as the sale process unfolded. An open house during the first weekend in March yielded 5 offers and the Townsends accepted one of them. Then the process slowed down due to complications from Covid-19: the mortgage appraisal was delayed; the registry would not accept couriered documents; homeowners’ insurance became complicated; the non-profit in Acton they intended to donate their unwanted furnishings to closed its doors.

Kate Townsend expected her family home’s sale would have emotional ups and downs. They are always a part of the territory.  She was even able to take the additional Covid-19-related challenges in stride.

But there was something else she did not anticipate.

“I can’t say a proper good-bye to my neighbors. I can wave from a distance—and I’m sure we can go back at some point—but to leave this way feels really unsettling. We saw one household of neighbors from a distance and when we told them we were leaving, they started to cry. I couldn’t give a hug to the eleven-year-old girl who lives on the other side of our back fence. I’ve played games and done puzzles with her ever since she was four.”

A good time to buy that ski house?

Holly Bancroft Brown, of The Bean Group’s western Maine office, reports that due to the governor’s decree on March 15, the ski season at Sunday River was abruptly over, four to six weeks earlier than usual. Inventory was already slim but houses that would have sold in that timeframe remain on the market, although she noted that some people are still making inquiries. In some cases, prospective buyers are even defying the spirit of the “stay home” recommendations to come up and see properties.

“For about 12 hours, real estate was considered non-essential in Maine,” Brown reported. “Now, I can show houses but I’ve decided to only show vacant ones. Usually, this isn’t a problem with second homes. I wear a mask and gloves. I meet people at door and I ask them to put their hands in their pockets because I’m the only who can touch anything. Then we go through the house doing what I call “the ballet”. I open the closets, then retreat 10 feet away.  They look inside. When they’re done, they back away. I come back to close the closet door.”

Brown acknowledged that a good deal of paperwork processing for real estate transactions in Maine has changed as well. The state now encourages “mail away closings”. Brokers and lenders cannot attend closings. Buyers can’t be at home inspections. “It’s challenging to develop and adapt to the changes but business is still getting done.”

Brown speculated that current ski home owners might decide to liquidate this asset in the coming months, due to the vagaries of the stock market and income interruption.

“Because of our second home aspect, we may have gone, overnight, from a really strong sellers’ market to a buyers’ market,” Brown said. “But we don’t know yet.”

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Takeda Pharmaceuticals Donates $250,000 to Support Lexington Families in Need

The Town of Lexington has received a donation from Takeda Pharmaceuticals in the sum of $250,000. These funds will be used to provide aid to families in need who are impacted by COVID-19.

The funds will be segregated from all other donations to be used solely to provide financial assistance to Lexington residents experiencing unforeseen and unexpected financial crises related to COVID-19.

“We are deeply grateful for this generous donation by Takeda and for their commitment to helping Lexington residents during these uncertain times,” said Town Manager James Malloy. “These funds will help support those in our community who have felt the financial impacts of this pandemic. This thoughtful donation to the community demonstrates the quality business citizen that Lexington has in Takeda, and this is deeply appreciated.”

“As a company dedicated to the health and well-being of people around the globe, we recognize our responsibility to do as much as possible to help people in need due to the Coronavirus outbreak,” said Ramona Sequeira, President of Takeda’s US Business Unit. “The negative impact of this outbreak on our economy, healthcare system, families, and communities can’t be overstated.  We are proud to support the Town of Lexington, and to help them serve those in need during this critical time.”

Takeda Pharmaceuticals’ US Headquarters is located in Cambridge, Mass., and their Lexington campus employs approximately 3,000 people.

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