In recent months, we have seen the town of Chestertown take unprecedented steps to recognize and begin to address the long-standing effects of racism. Under the leadership of Mayor Chris Cerino and myself as chair of the Equity Advisory Committee, the town is about to embark upon a sixteen-month plan for community engagement on race as part of the larger #chestertownunitesagainstracism movement. The Town plan lays out a series of significant initiatives that are poised to grow in importance with additional input and participation not only from the Black community but from the larger community and all its citizens as well.
These steps are a promising start to a long journey ahead as Chestertown moves to become a community that takes action against the social injustice that continues to play a role in the lives of its citizens.
However, as auspicious as these beginnings might be, Chestertown is home to only a quarter of the inhabitants of Kent County. If we are to truly tackle issues of race and social justice, we need to focus not just on Chestertown, but also on the larger issues of systemic racism in Kent County.
By now many citizens have heard about or expressed concerns about racial issues in our county, whether racial slurs being hurled at Washington College students, a high school student hanging black action figures from a noose and rope, or fights based on racial slurs and incidents at Kent County Middle School. If we are to address racism in our education system and gentrification within our county and develop cultural understanding and empathy in our community, we must demand a strong response from the leadership of our Kent County Commissioners.
Unfortunately, thus far, the three commissioners have not demonstrated a sincere willingness to lead on this issue. When asked their thoughts on racism in Kent County during their campaigns in 2018, Ron Fithian replied that he had never seen racism in Kent County. Bob Jacob equated the racial prejudices of white towards blacks to the prejudices that Chestertown residents voice toward people from Rock Hall. Tom Mason replied that he had noticed the separation of races in Kent County, but did not know how to explain that segregation.
County Commissioner Bob Jacob even joked about an African American school being demolished at a County Commissioners’ meeting on 9/29/2020 when the Kent Cultural Alliance requested a letter of support for a grant application for the building where Isaac Mason was enslaved and will be memorialized. County Commissioner Bob Jacob said, “I mean, I thought they were tearing down everything that had something to do with slaves.”
This year, on Sept. 26, County Commissioner Bob Jacob participated in a local political event where the confederate flag was unrepentantly on display. I would like to ask Bob Jacob and the other commissioners their thoughts on the implications of displaying that flag and on its, trauma which has sustained a deep-rooted impact on the Black community.
The Commissioners’ actions and comments show a lack of understanding as well as poor leadership; such actions and comments are dismissive not only to the Black community but to all citizens of Kent County.
The Commissioners need to educate themselves about issues of social and racial injustice; they also need to take concrete action to move our community forward.
The Kent County Commissioners should seek a plan of action from an intersectional coalition of leaders in our community to begin the dialogue and open the lines of communication within those communities. Then, they should establish a Board of Equity for Social Justice for the county since the county has not had anything of relevance since the dissolving of the Human Rights Commission in 2011. They should adopt a plan similar to the 16-month plan that the Town of Chestertown recently adopted but create a more expansive commission to work with county citizens of all ethnicities and cultural backgrounds.
In closing, I respectfully urge the Commissioners of Kent County not to forget this moment in history and to consider how we can move together as a community in unity.
John Queen is the director of BlackUnion in Kent County and co-founder of Bayside Hoyas