Lexington Native’s mRNA Research Leads to Coronavirus Vaccine

 

Drew Weissman, M.D., Ph.D. in his lab at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

By Bridget Velasquez

Like most young kids in Lexington, Drew Weissman grew up in Lexington playing with friends in the neighborhood, avoided trouble, and moved through the Lexington school system graduating with the Class of 1977.  While his years in Lexington were seemingly unremarkable, everything he has done since has been nothing short of miraculous.  Searching for a cure for a nephew’s affliction, Drew’s research has become the cornerstone in the development of vaccines that will save millions of lives.

Lexington High School Class of 1977.

Weissman’s research as a professor of medicine at UPenn is the foundation for the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines developed by both Moderna and Pfizer. But, Dr. Weissman’s original motivation was not to cure a future pandemic, it was to cure his nephew.

His nephew, Max, has something called X-linked agammaglobulinemia (XLA). This is a genetic disorder caused by a mistake in the Bruton’s Tyrosine Kinase (BTK) gene. Although it’s a mistake in a single gene, it has catastrophic consequences – Max cannot properly develop his own B cells, which means that his immune system cannot properly develop antibodies. To protect himself from everyday viruses and bacteria, he has to get immunoglobulin infusions made from serum from donated blood. These infusions give Max antibodies, and he has been dependent on these infusions for almost his entire life. XLA is on the X chromosome, so if Max has sons, he won’t pass it down. But he will pass it down to his daughters. His daughters will become carriers – meaning that they won’t express the genetic defect and need immunoglobulin infusions, but they will have the defective gene and could pass it down to their children. If their sons get the gene, they will express it and will need immunoglobulin infusions like Max.


This genetic disorder could last for generations, and there is no cure.

No cure yet, anyway, but Drew Weissman plans to change that. When Max graduated high school, Drew approached Stephanie Weissman (his sister and Max’s mother).

“Drew would never tell me anything unless he knew it was going to happen or was very sure,” Stephanie said, “and he told me, ‘I think I’ll be able to cure Max.'”

Stephanie believes in her brother.

“I don’t know how long it will take, but I believe he will come up with a cure for my son,” she said.

__________

According to Stephanie, Drew was a very responsible child who “never got into trouble in his life” (he actually got into some mischief at least twice). When he was only six years old, their mother trusted him to bike to the library without being distracted and going elsewhere – even at six years old, Weissman enjoyed the library.

They had typical childhood experiences. Their mother would get on them to clean their rooms, and they would shove things under the bed to make things look clean. They would argue, but only when their mother was watching. They would accidentally get locked out of their house and have to climb in through the window to get inside after school. But even as a child, Weissman showed great promise.

“I don’t think I ever questioned what he was going to do,” Stephanie said, “I knew he was going to do something big that would change the world.”

Weissman was always interested in all sciences, but he also had great potential as an engineer. His father was an engineer, and he often did personal projects with his children. Weissman was a natural, but unfortunately, one of these projects would put him at odds with the local constabulary.

When Weissman was around 12 years old, he, his dad, and his sister built a hydroplane boat. It was small (built only for a single person) and was powered by a motor. They took it to a lake in New Hampshire, and the police caught Drew the very first time he used it.

“It was a minor thing,” Stephanie said, “We did not have a New Hampshire boating license. In Massachusetts, you did not need a license for a motor less than 10 hp.”

A minor thing, indeed. It had no long-term impact on Weissman. And today, it’s a story that Stephanie enjoys telling journalists when they ask for fun stories about her brother. It was one of two times she said he got into trouble – the other time was when she knocked over the Christmas tree and blamed her brother.

Despite his promise as an engineer, Weissman’s mother tried to dissuade him from studying engineering. By the time he graduated from Lexington High School in 1977, engineers were being laid off in big numbers throughout the country. So, he changed course and chose pre-med. He earned both his Bachelors in Biochemistry and Masters in Enzymology from Brandeis University in 1981. Master’s degree in hand, he attended Boston University and earned a medical degree (M.D.) and Ph.D in Immunology in 1987. Afterward, he got a fellowship researching HIV at the NIH under Anthony Fauci (for reference, 1987 is when WHO launched The Special Programme on AIDS, President Ronald Reagan gave his first speech regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis in the U.S., and the first AIDS medication gained FDA approval. More than 50,000 AIDS cases had been reported in the U.S.).

Not long after graduation, Dr. Weissman accepted a position at the University of Pennsylvania and has been there ever since. It was here that he met Katalin Kariko, and the two would begin their mRNA research in earnest. The two of them met entirely by happenstance – there was no formal introduction, no third party who thought their research would complement each other.

The two met by arguing over the photocopier.

“This was back in the old days when the only way you could read an article in a journal was to photocopy it,” he said, “So [Kariko] and I used to fight over the machine.” For the next few months, the two chatted while waiting for their turn with the photocopier. The two learned about the other’s current research – Kariko was working with mRNA and Weissman was working with a cell of particular importance in vaccines. Realizing the complementary nature of their research, the two teamed up for experiments and research.

Their research was riddled with challenges. It wasn’t necessarily that mRNA is unusually difficult to work with – it’s that it killed the mice upon injection. The mRNA caused intense swelling and a catastrophic immune system response. The issue was that the regular mRNA looked too much like a viral genome. When injected, the regular mRNA elicited pathways that shut down protein translation – and if the immune system response was aggressive enough, it would kill the cell.

The research was slow.

A few years later in the early 2000s, Weissman’s and Kariko’s work paid off. They discovered how to keep the mRNA under the immune system’s radar by slightly editing one of mRNA’s four nucleic acids. It no longer looked too much like a viral genome and, as a result, the immune system no longer attacked it. Weissman and Kariko published their findings in 2005.

mRNA and Regenerative Biology

Weissman’s and Kariko’s findings have had far-reaching impacts. In 2008, a team of stem cell biologists, including Dr. Derrick Rossi, were trying to use mRNA to induce pluripotent stem cells from adult stem cells. Pluripotent stem cells are incredibly valuable and promising in regenerative biology research, because they can give rise to any body cell, including neurons and heart tissue. However, at that time, these cells were found only in human embryos, so research was highly controversial. If the team could induce pluripotent stem cells from adult cells, scientists would no longer need to rely solely on embryonic tissue. The research was frustrating because when the team injected the mRNA into adult cells, the adult cells died. The team was at a dead-end – that is until they found Weissman’s and Kariko’s 2005 paper.

“Finding Kariko and Weissman’s paper was really the key moment,” Dr. Rossi said, “What I recognized is that we could use this technology to synthesize any protein and have the cell synthesize any protein.” Dr. Rossi co-founded Moderna in 2010 to use this technology to develop therapeutics. Today, Moderna has 20 mRNA vaccines in development and is one of the leading manufacturers of the COVID-19 vaccines.

mRNA and CRISPR-Cas9

mRNA is not limited to vaccines – it also shows promise for gene therapy. CRISPR-Cas9―a genome editing technology― also shows promise, however mRNA and Cas-9 have some fundamental differences. According to Dr. Weissman, CRISPR-Cas9 is primarily used to remove parts of a gene, while mRNA is designed to add to a gene. CRISPR-Cas9 also edits and alters the genome itself, but mRNA does not.

“With CRISPR-Cas9, the good thing is that it alters the genome, but the bad thing is that it alters the genome,” Dr. Rossi explained somewhat tongue-in-cheek, “And I would argue that mRNA is almost surely going to be a safer therapeutic paradigm because it doesn’t alter the genome.”

When directly editing genetics with CRISPR-Cas9, scientists must be careful of unforeseen consequences and off-target effects, such as unintended genetic deletions or unintended genetic insertions. Genetic deletions or insertions cause frame shift mutations, and these mutations can contribute to the development of a variety of genetic disease, including Tay-Sach’s disease and Smith–Magenis syndrome (there is a beneficial deletion though – a particular deletion decreases the risk of getting a certain strain of HIV).

Genetic deletions or insertions cause frame shift mutations, and these mutations can contribute to the development of a variety of genetic diseases.

 

Dr. Rossi explains that mRNA doesn’t have this concern, because it’s transient and degradable – the mRNA creates the protein that you want it to create, then the mRNA degrades, and then the protein would degrade as well. Although this requires multiple injections, it is much safer.

 

mRNA and the COVID-19 Vaccines

The COVID-19 pandemic and mRNA vaccines threw Weissman and Kariko’s work into the center of public attention.

The mRNA vaccines differ from traditional vaccines. In a traditional vaccine, you get injected with a weakened or inactive strain of that particular virus. Your immune system sees the invader and creates a new, specialized antibody to destroy it. Your body learns how to destroy the virus before you encounter it in real life, so that if you do encounter it, your body knows what to do. Unfortunately, it can be difficult and expensive to manufacture weakened or inactive viruses to use in vaccines.

In a modified mRNA vaccine, the modified mRNA is designed to slip into cells and instruct the cell to make specific, desired proteins. For the COVID-19 vaccine, the mRNA will instruct your cells to create a “spike protein” – a harmless protein found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. Because mRNA is transient, it gets broken down when your cells make the spike protein. Your immune system recognizes that your cells aren’t supposed to have the spike protein and creates antibodies to destroy the cells. You will now have COVID-19 antibodies.

Weissman and Kariko’s work is the fundamental foundation for the mRNA vaccines. Without their work, we would not have the vaccines.

“I believe that Weissman and Kariko deserve the Nobel Prize in Chemistry,” Dr. Rossi said, “Without their key discovery, we wouldn’t have the COVID vaccines right now.”

If they hadn’t made their discovery then, maybe it would’ve been found eventually by another researcher. But that hypothetical researcher would’ve made the discovery later, and so subsequent research would have happened later, and so the technology required to make a COVID-19 mRNA vaccine would have happened later as well. According to Dr. Rossi, overcoming the pandemic would be on an entirely different timescale.

__________

Weissman has been incredibly busy since the pandemic started. While he is not directly involved with making American COVID-19 vaccines, he is working with Thailand to develop theirs (Weissman has a history of collaborating with Thai scientists going back several years).

According to Weissman, Thai scientists are concerned about vaccine accessibility – they’re concerned that it could take years for them and their neighbors to see the arrival of a Western vaccine.

“The U.S. is trying to grab as many [vaccine] doses that they can, and Europe is doing the same thing. The pharmaceutical companies sell the vaccine to the people who are able to pay the most,” Weissman says, “That leaves Thailand, Burma, Vietnam, Pakistan – all of those countries with very limited access and difficulty getting the vaccines.” Population is also an issue. China has a population of about 1.4 billion, and the U.S. has a population of 328 million – a vaccine developed by a country is likely to go to its own citizens first, and then exported.

Weissman is committed to helping Thailand.

“He shared his technology with us because he wants Thailand and low-income nations to have access to the crucial vaccine,” said Dr. Kiat Ruxrungtham, chair of Chulalongkorn University’s Chula Vaccine Research Centre, explained to Thai PBS World in June, “Dr. Weissman has been a true partner, also attending online meetings with us every week.”

__________

The pandemic has kept Weissman both very busy and very sleep deprived. He used to enjoy martial arts, going to the theatre, and kayaking, but has not had time since the pandemic began.

Still, Weissman enjoys working in science and doing research and the creativity is his favorite part.

“It’s the creativity –  with research, you have to evaluate all of the data and then the trick is to figure out what is going on and then develop your own hypotheses to test and see if they’re correct, and see if they make a new, interesting finding.”

__________

Despite being a doctor for humans, Drew Weissman’s office at the University of Pennsylvania is located at the  Hill Pavilion Veterinary Medicine Teaching Research Building. Several other medical research buildings are nearby, probably because of the close association with animals in medical research. There are no framed accolades in his office – just a photo of his family and a sculpture his oldest daughter made for him.

Weissman’s goal for 2021 is to continue his mRNA research and advance the research he and his team are working on to find a simple-to-deliver cure for sickle cell anemia.

While his research has spawned vaccines that will no doubt save millions of lives, he keeps his focus simple and true. “If we can develop this, curing Max will be much easier,” he said.

To that, we say amen.

 

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Town of Lexington DPW Engineering Division awarded the Prestigious James B. Sorenson National Award for 2020

The DPW Engineering Division has been awarded the prestigious 2020 James B. Sorenson National Award for Excellence in Pavement Preservation. This award recognizes superior preservation practice and is awarded to only one entity per year. A quote from the award site states, “This is a very prestigious National Award and is the ultimate recognition to an agency for their excellence in exhibiting an outstanding program of pavement preservation and pavement management.” Some previous winners include Los Angeles, CA, New Hampshire DOT, California DOT (Caltrans), Nashville, TN, Charleston County, SC, and the Ohio DOT.

 

This award encompasses the activities of all DPW Divisions and especially the Engineering Division of JohnLivsey, Mike Sprague, Matt Weisman, Wayne Medlin, David Pavlik (now W/S Supt.), Tricia Malatesta, Marissa Liggiero, Meghana Shah, and Ross Morrow. Continued great work on behalf of the citizens of Lexington.

 

We have a dedicated, professional, and hardworking staff. On each road project, they take into account need, priority, and cost to deliver effective and efficient solutions that extend the useful life of the pavement in Lexington. Under this roadway preservation program, the Town’s Roadway Surface Rating (RSR) has increased from 68 in 2010 to its current rating of 85. This translates to improved pavement surfaces for driving, biking, and walking.

 

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Kitchens by Lombco Opens New Showroom in Lexington

John Marchese, Jr. of Kitchens by Lombco.

By Devin Shaw

“It was six years after the work we did on this building that we ended up opening a showroom here,” John Marchese, Jr recently told me in Kitchens by Lombco’s new showroom location at 311 Marrett Road in Lexington. Six years prior to their July opening, they had done construction work in the back of the building.  At the time, they never thought they would call this home. While they wanted to eventually expand closer to the city, there seemed to be other plans for the location.  John told me, “We kind of just dropped the idea and then never really thought about it again. And then last year, I was thinking, ‘now is a good time to expand down closer to the city.’ I was looking at spaces in Burlington and my father reminded me, ‘what about the space in Lexington? They never did anything with it.’ Now we are lucky to call it home.”

 

John grew up surrounded by the remodeling industry. His father, and now business partner, John Marchese Sr, had owned a company called Positive Improvements. John told me, “My father has been in the remodeling business my entire life. So, during summer vacation when other kids were working in a grocery store, or other typical summer jobs, I was working as a carpenter. So, I’ve been a carpenter, on-and-off, the last 20 years. So that is how it started for me.”

 

John had an incredibly interesting journey to his new Lexington location. He explained, “I spent my 20s just traveling all over the world. After college, I didn’t know what to do. I graduated during the 2008 recession when there weren’t many job opportunities. So, I bought a one-way ticket to Spain and spent a year traveling through Europe. After that, I got the travel bug. I then spent the next decade traveling the world. I was volunteering a lot, and doing lots of backpacking—it was the best time of my life!” He continued, “I would occasionally come back to the US, and every time I came home, I would work for my father’s company. Luckily I didn’t have to get rehired every time. I would just show on up on Monday morning. I would save money, then do more traveling.”

 

John had one last detour before starting his business with his father. After settling in Lowell for a few years and working in the insurance industry he met his wife. She was getting her Master’s degree at UMass/Lowell and John had remained active on a website he used while traveling—it introduces hosts to travelers in need of a place to stay while visiting their city. John had become a host and a friend for people visiting the Boston area and he told me, “She reached out to me and was just looking to meet new people outside of the University. And, when she reached out we met up and hit it off.”

 

For John, that meant one last trip! He said, “My wife is from Malaysia, so when she finished her degree we went to Malaysia for a year and a half. Being from New England, I have pretty thick blood, and it was just such a hot place. After about a year and a half, we decided to come back to the states.”

A beautiful renovation in Chelmsford is bright and full of roomy, accessible storage.

Perfect timing. John told me, “When [John Sr] bought this business, I was telling him I was thinking about coming home. And he suggested, ‘if you want to start and run this business with me, you’re more than welcome to come back in.’ So, he purchased the Kitchens by Lombco name and opened the first showroom in Tewksbury with all the brands of cabinets and countertops that we sell. We both knew a lot about installation and remodeling. But we both had to figure out the cabinet end of things together. So that’s what we’ve been doing for the last six years. We do most of our projects up in the Tewksbury, Lowell, and Andover area because the residents know the name Kitchens by Lombco; it has been a staple in that area for 30 years. But, my father also did a lot of work in Lexington and that is what drew us here.”

 

The father and son team have done a lot of work in Lexington. The amount of projects is too long to list! They vary in size and scope and include both residential and commercial. Their jobs are not always kitchens either. John explains, “We do more than kitchen remodeling. We do lots of kitchens and bathrooms every day, but we do a number of additions. We do a lot of basement remodels—we do bars and media rooms. So basically, we remodel a lot of residential homes but we also have commercial projects as well.”  Just last year, Kitchens by Lombco completed an brand new build-out for Drs. Coppe and Sears, who are well respected dentists here in Lexington.

A warm and inviting renovation in Billerica.

John tells me, “There are three parts of the business. We supply cabinets to other contractors, we supply cabinets to people that have their own contractors that just need cabinets from us, and we offer full kitchen remodeling. So if somebody finds us—they kind of hit the jackpot. It’s like a one-stop-shop, and they’re working with one company. They don’t have to go and juggle multiple people and spend lots of time searching for cabinets and other materials. We can handle it all. With a full kitchen remodel, we offer or source all the products that go into the kitchen including cabinets and appliances, and we do the labor and all the coordinating. Plus, we do more than kitchens. We can do bathrooms, game rooms, and just about anything you need ”

 

Kitchens by Lombco provides beautiful cabinetry and state-of-the-art products from locally-sourced vendors.  They will also work with your preferred vendors. Their Lexington showroom offers a stunning glimpse of what your new kitchen could be! Give them a call and arrange a time to drop by and see for yourself.

 

In the end, after all of John Marchese Jr’s traveling, he is happy to have a new home in Lexington. He exclaims, “We are just so excited to be here. We want to become part of the community. I’d love the opportunity to work with anyone in the town. We provide free estimates and have a brick and mortar showroom right here in Lexington. So you know you’re not just hiring a contractor—you’re hiring a neighbor who is committed to providing high-quality service with the best prices, and a history of working in and around Lexington.”  John concluded, “We take great pride in our craftsmanship and stand by our work. It’s always very fulfilling to see the expressions of joy on the faces of our clients when a job is completed. To us, you’re family, and we treat our customers the way that we’d like to be treated.”


For more information, or to get local references and/or arrange a time to visit their Lexington showroom, call them or visit them on the web at KitchensByLombco.com.  Their local showroom is located at 311 Marrett Road in Lexington, and their phone number is 978-858-0700.

https://kitchensbylombco.com

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Delicious ‘Hip’ Soups and ‘Dorky’ Stews are on the Menu at Drew’s Stews

 

Chef Drew Maggiore of Lexington.

By Devin Shaw

Drew Maggiore wants everyone to know that soup can be hip. As he thinks about that, he says, “Well, I guess you would have to decide if I am hip first. Maybe you decide that soup is kind of dorky and I am kind of dorky and that works out somehow. I guess I am aiming for dorky-cool!”

 

Drew Maggiore started making soups and stews years ago for his family and friends. With Italian and Eastern European blood, home cooking has always been important to him. And, during his ten years living in the Netherlands, he discovered produce and organic meat markets that began to make their way into his home cooked meals.

 

Drew worked as a consultant and a translator for expats for 20 years. When he returned to the states, he continued working in that field, but after a while he had an epiphany. He exclaimed, “I was 10 years out of being an expat; I’m in Lexington and I have a four-year-old, a six-year-old and a husband, but something is missing in my career! I felt like I needed more fulfillment. I did some brainstorming last fall and thought about what I enjoy most—and it is cooking and talking about food!”

 

That’s when Drew’s Stews was born. He told me, “I have always been a real soup fanatic and I have always received good feedback from family and friends. I realized that must be my culinary-calling! So I thought about ‘how can I cook and talk about food?’ So, I came to the conclusion that I like being in kitchens, supermarkets, and farmer’s markets. That’s where Drew’s Stews came from.”

 

Then the pandemic happened. Drew told me, “No one knows what to do, we have no childcare, and do I start the business? I decided to start Drew’s Stews very small—small scale and small batches. I started on March 30th. Those first couple of weeks was surprising–with everyone housebound I had a ton of orders! I think people, myself included, didn’t last long before resorting to takeout. Long story short, it just evolved. I am still cooking two days a week and will probably begin to increase it into three days a week shortly!”

 

For Drew, using all natural and preservative-free food began in 2011 when his mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. His desire to find the healthiest food possible has continued with his company. He said, “More than anything, this is about fulfillment for me, but it’s also about bringing all natural, organic, and locally sourced products―the same products I use at home―to the people around me! I do really believe that soup can be both healthy and fun!”

 

Drew’s signature dish is a delicious cacciatore-style chicken stew. Drew told me, “I made that for my family for many years. My dad is always super critical of food—and this is a family recipe that his grandmother and mother made. My dad is Italian-American and always talks about stuff being ‘mezza-mezz’. If it stinks, it’s ‘south-a-mezz’, but if it is good it is ‘nord-a-mezz’! So, I call this soup the Way-Nord-a-Mezz!”

 

“À Pesca!” – A Brazilian-style moqueca packed with cod, sweet bell peppers, carrots, celery, coconut milk, cilantro, and lime.

Drew’s soups, stews, and spreads range in styles and often rotate by the week. From fish-and-foul to vegan, Drew’s products include anything from a Gazpacho, Cucumber Soup, Moqueca, to a vegan Corn Chowder. Drew’s brilliantly named “Children of the Corn Chowder” fits into a larger theme you will surely notice. He explained, “The names of my soups are allusions to 80’s television that people may or may not recognize!”

 

You can find Drew and his wonderful personality and products at Farmers Markets right now (his fall project is getting a wholesale license to sell his products in smaller stores.) Drew tells me, “I’m at the Lexington, Belmont, and Winchester Farmers Markets. Even in these times where farmers markets are not as cozy as they usually are, where everyone is hanging out and eating food and socializing, I am still having great conversations with people that provide great feedback and keep coming back for more!”

 

But farmers markets close at the end of October, but thankfully you can order Drew’s products on his website (DrewsStews.com) for delivery! Drew tells me, “You order delivery through my website. We deliver on Sunday evenings and Wednesday afternoons. I deliver to Lexington, Bedford, Winchester, Medford, Malden, Melrose, Woburn, Somerville, and Cambridge.” Drew also collaborates with the company Bread Obsession because, as we all know, nothing pairs better with a homemade stew, soup, or spread than homemade bread!

 

Drew is also in the process of launching a “soup share” program which he calls “The Soup Ally Shares: Mo’ Soup for You!” With a potentially not-so-obvious nod to the obstreperous Seinfeld character. The share will be for either four or eight weeks in November and December, and will include two quarts of soup, two spreads and a loaf of Bread Obsession bread each week, with add-ons available. The monthly share will also include a bottle of Zaazey Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Read more about it at HotSoupisCool.com!

 

Drew is a Lexington resident with a passion for making hip soup, stews, and spreads. You can taste the years of practice and passion with every spoonful. As Drew tells me, “I want people’s lives to be a little bit easier in a year that kind of stinks, and get fun and healthy food delivered to their home!” Whether you decide that soup is hip or dorky-cool doesn’t matter, just order a few pints and taste something delicious. Visit HotSoupisCool.com or DrewsStews.com to learn more, or to order some hip soup.

 

 

 

HotSoupisCool.com

Check out the Fall/Winter Soup Shares!

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Donna Hopwood Cole Retires After 37 Years of Caring for Lexington Kids

Donna Hopwood Cole enjoys a surprise combination birthday and retirement car-parade that led off with a Lexington police cruiser and included over sixty vehicles. The parade was organized by her daughter Tracy Cole Marrigan with help from her brother Steve.

By Devin Shaw

After 37 years of running a home-based day-care in Lexington, Donna Hopwood Cole has decided to retire. The life-long Lexington resident recently had a surprise combination birthday and retirement car-parade that led off with a Lexington police cruiser and included over sixty vehicles.  The parade was organized by her daughter Tracy Cole Marrigan with help from her brother Steve. The large turnout featured families of her most recent kids, former students, parents of former students, and parents of students who were once students themselves. Her son, Steve Cole, Jr exclaimed, “You know you’ve had a long and successful career when so many people show up to express their gratitude and good wishes. Especially, when that includes parents who were also mom’s students when they were children.”

 

Donna explained, “Unfortunately, I was unable to reopen my day-care due to the State’s rigid regulations in regards to COVID-19. So, it was a sudden retirement and it made the car-parade really bittersweet. I have had this business for 37 years and I’ve loved it. It allowed me to stay home with my own children when they were young. I was devastated because I had absolutely no closure. I didn’t know it was the last day back in March and I couldn’t give the kids hugs and say an appropriate goodbye.”

 

She continued, “I was planning to retire in the fall anyway, but I was really looking forward to this last summer. I would have had the closure and would have been able to say goodbye. I totally love the kids.”

Even though it was not the goodbye Donna had envisioned, the love was reciprocated with all the cars that showed up, most all completely filled with people who simply wanted the share the moment and express their gratitude. All of the vehicles were adorned with signs expressing love and thanks to a woman who dedicated 37 years to caring for children here in Lexington.

 

When the tough decision was made to close her day-care  permanently, what was originally going to be a birthday event evolved into something greater, and the guest list grew. Donna said, “There were four families in the parade that I had taken care of both the parents and their children!”  Emotions of joy and gratitude were evident as Donna greeted each of the vehicles and the families inside.  Clearly, love was the overall theme of the day.

 

The kids loved “Mrs. Cole” so much that oftentimes, when they were older, they would come back and help out over the summer. That includes her daughter Tracey, who worked at the day-care for 17 years! Donna estimates that she has cared for over 1,000 kids during the 37 years of operating her day-care.

I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Donna’s husband Steve Cole, Sr.  Steve, also a Lexington native, is the son of former longtime State Representative and Town Moderator, the late Lincoln P. Cole. Donna’s late father, Bob Hopwood was also active in the community through his longtime association with the Lexington Lions Club.

 

Of course, when I asked Donna what she is looking forward to in retirement, she told me, “I have three grandchildren and I am looking forward to helping my son and daughter with their families!”

Some things never change! Congratulations, Donna, on a well-deserved retirement.

 

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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

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