Letter: Is this who we are in Bristol?

Posted 7/15/21

“We’re showing who we are,” were the frustrated words of School Committee member Nicky Piper (Warren) on June 14, as a majority of the School Committee blocked discussion of …

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Letter: Is this who we are in Bristol?


“We’re showing who we are,” were the frustrated words of School Committee member Nicky Piper (Warren) on June 14, as a majority of the School Committee blocked discussion of her motion to reconsider accommodating Rosh Hashanah in the next school year.

Since, protests on social media and letters to officials and newspapers say this is not “who we are” as a community. Defenders of the decisions imply “we are not as uncaring as the others claim we are.” Some wanted to put it aside and enjoy the July 4th holiday, to show that we are a welcoming and patriotic community. Finally, important Jewish and educational organizations in Rhode Island publicly state we “are not being who we should be.”

So who are we? Bristol, to me, is a community that for the last year has been struggling within itself – with successes and failures – to be as inclusive as it needs to be to uphold its claim as America’s most patriotic town, boasting the oldest July 4 celebration in the world.

Summer 2020, Bristol showed support both for members of our Black community feeling the pain of the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and our law enforcement and the first responders who maintain public safety by allowing BLM and first responder flags to be flown. Both sides of public debate expressed outrage at the murders, as well as support for law enforcement and first responders, and in the end the Bristol Town Council managed to “include” both.

After this spring’s “White Boy Summer” stickering incident, law enforcement quickly acted to arrest the perpetrators, while the public and the council stepped up and openly denounced the acts to show that Bristol rejects hate. There was still debate; some wanted stronger anti-hate language, some questioned the need to make a statement. In the end we made the statement, and even proved something of a leader, as neighboring towns used our example to help work on their own.

Not so successfully, in January the town council voted 3-2 to shoot down a proposed Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee, purely advisory in nature. In the two months after it agreed unanimously to entertain the proposal, misinformation of its use to “dictate” to elected officials spread intentionally, undermining any chance of Bristol joining the many towns nation-wide that are mounting similar efforts.

Fast forward to last week when Bristol included Jewish war veterans in its July 4th Parade, days after two Bristol school committee members’ votes ensured that Jewish people not wanting to have to choose between their holiest day and the first day of school were not “included” next school year.

For the parade and school committees to coordinate at this level of detail is hard; implementing DE&I in Bristol might have created dialogue and mindfulness to identify and resolve the contradiction. Bristol could’ve avoided appearing to practice inclusion to generate tourism revenue, but not to make our own feel welcome. I hope that’s not who we are.

Bill Bullard

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.