Chelmsford Selectmen Decline To Sign Onto ‘White Privilege’ in ‘Anti-Racism’ Proclamation

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Members of the town of Chelmsford’s top board have refused to sign a proclamation aimed at getting them to acknowledge their white privilege.

Chelmsford selectmen praised the town’s new Diversity, Racial Equity, and Inclusion Committee during an online board meeting this past week, but balked at signing the draft proclamation, which states in part that the town’s selectmen “promise to … Better understand and acknowledge those privileges we enjoy while others do not, simply because of our heritage, background, and experiences …”

Selectmen wanted to know who “we” is.

The answer:  Them.

Selectmen appointed 13 members to the new committee in September 2020, in the wake of unrest around the country last summer. Three committee members made a presentation to the board last week.

One selectman, Pat Wojtas, started the questioning, followed by fellow selectmen Virginia Crocker Timmins and George Dixon. Diversity committee members Latosha Dixon (vice chairman) and Tricia Dzuris (who is also the town clerk) responded. A transcript of a portion of the back-and-forth from the meeting Monday, January 25 follows:


Selectman Pat Wojtas:  There’s one phrase. Under one of the “therefores” it says, “We promise to better understand those privileges we enjoy while others do not …”  Who does that refer to? Who’s the ‘we’?  And who’s the “others’?

Selectman Virginia Crocker Timmins:  I didn’t understand that either.

Tricia Dzuris (Diversity committee member):  Well, um, and actually, and maybe, Latosha, could you maybe explain that statement a little bit?

Latosha Davis (Diversity committee vice chairman):  Yes. The most common interpretation of that is white privilege. Because there are some inherent privileges that are applied that are just known, that are commonplace, where someone of another race, someone of another ethnicity, may not be treated in the same manner. So, being aware that you have a different set of privileges than someone else, can just help you be able to speak up on someone’s behalf if you see them being mistreated in public.

[four-second pause]

Selectman Pat Wojtas:  O.K., I guess, I guess – And I’m still kind of, um, confused about the use of the word ‘we’ there. You mean “we” — the board members?

Tricia Dzuris (Diversity committee member):  Well, yes, right now our five board members, or four board members, are all white. So —

Selectman Pat Wojtas:  I understand that, yeah.

Tricia Dzuris (Diversity committee member):  So that would be you as the four of you, um, saying that, “Yes, as white people, we recognize that we were born with privileges that others didn’t have.” So it is, it is a very validating way to commit to anti-racism. I mean, it’s just, it’s a statement that would very clearly tell the community that we recognize that we have opportunities just implicitly that — because we’re white.

Selectman Pat Wojtas:  O.K.. I mean, I guess maybe I would question it, because we’re — I guess we’re supposed to be signing the proclamation for the entire town of Chelmsford, and we know the entire town of Chelmsford is not entirely white.

Tricia Dzuris (Diversity committee member):  Actually no. You’re signing it as the select board. And then in the last paragraph you’re encouraging the community to also join in the same sentiment with their words and actions, and in their business community and their churches and things like that. So that last paragraph of the proclamation invites the community to also join that momentum. That’s where the individual pledge comes in. And we have that individual pledge that we would ask individuals to, to join in, and so that they show their support for anti-racism and hatred as well.


Timmins noted that the board of selectmen doesn’t have the authority to enforce some of the goals of the proclamation in town government departments not directly under its purview. Dzuris, who is Chelmsford’s town clerk, said the proclamation was drafted by a mayor of a city, and she acknowledged that it might include language not appropriate for a board of selectmen, which in Massachusetts typically lacks as much power over local government as a mayor.

Timmins also questioned the tone of the proclamation, leading to this exchange:


Selectman Virginia Crocker Timmins:  And I was also wondering how you would feel about a proclamation that instead of condemning things, articulated what we, what we stand for and what we’re promoting. A more positive proclamation.

Tricia Dzuris (Diversity committee member):  And honestly, Virginia, I think that’s the next step. But first we have to take a step against some of the things that caused a lot of the problems that we saw over the summer. And the committee voted and agreed on that. So, I mean, I really do think that you start positive change by standing up against all of the negatives that, that exist. And that’s just the direction that we had decided to take.

If the board doesn’t feel strongly enough about that, we can go back, and I would definitely welcome your edits. But I really do feel that standing against racism and hatred is an important first step to making those positive changes.


George Dixon, another selectman, congratulated Diversity committee chairman Phil Hicks for the way he conducts committee meetings. But Dixon, 74, a lifelong resident of Chelmsford, also took issue with the proclamation:


Selectman George Dixon:  I’d just like to say, you know, that my son and my wife had a business, before the Covid, it was doing fairly well, in the greater Lowell, greater Lawrence area. And we had about 12 employees. And half of those employees were people of c–, of, of, ah – you know, they were, they were black people. O.K.? And if I’m saying something – you know, I don’t mean it that way. I just want to, ah, ah, say, these people were the nicest people I had. We treated them well. They used to come and have dinner at our house. We had a cookout at the house on an off day. And we got along like – I mean, nobody felt that they were better than anybody else, or less than anybody else. So, I mean, sometimes, people get offended when – and it’s not done intentionally, I’m sure.

But when you say the “white privilege,” I mean, there are a lot of people that would never take advantage of something like that. A lot of people I’ve grown up with, I mean through sports and what have you. I’ve participated with a lot of different races and types of –. Never really had a problem with any of them.

It’s new for me, to be very honest with you.

So, I’m not trying to put anything down. I just, I agree that maybe we should just look at this a little harder, and maybe, if you really want to put something together, give us some time to work on it with you.


The Diversity committee vice chairman, Latosha Dixon, said selectmen shouldn’t get hung up on the racism aspect of the proclamation, which she said also applies to able-bodied people acknowledging those who have disabilities such as needing a wheelchair or having impaired hearing.

Selectman George Dixon picked up on that theme, saying he appreciates what it is to have full use of limbs. The board meeting was Dixon’s first since he suffered a serious neck injury in late December.

“I came within a fraction of an inch for probably being paralyzed for the rest of my life. And I got up, and believe me I haven’t stopped praying since. And nobody could be more appreciative of a lot of things in life right now than I am,” George Dixon said. “… It could have gone either way. And I would have had to accept it. But I do see how lucky I am. And I’m thankful for it. And I hope to give as much back as I can, because I got a break.”

Dixon then said:

I’m hoping that we all work together. Because Chelmsford is a beautiful town. And I’ve lived here for 74 years. My family’s been here 130 years. And I never had that many –

And we fought a lot of things. It wasn’t just race, it was religion. It was other ethnic groups, but, you know, it wasn’t black and white. It was Italian and Irish. It was Protestant and Catholic. It was, it was so many different things. It was the English against, you know, the Irish, when they were running all the mills in town. I grew up in North Chelmsford, and everybody that lived in North Chelmsford worked in the mills, and, and they worked very, very hard for the money they earned.

That’s all I’m trying to say. You know, I appreciate your movement, and your time you’re putting in, and you’re working every week. And that’s a lot. That’s a lot of time to give up. So I respect that. And I just hope that we all work together, and things work out. Thank you.


The fourth member of the board of selectmen, Kenneth Lefebvre, the chairman, steered the discussion but did not offer an opinion.

Chelmsford’s board of selectmen (which the town charter now calls a “select board”) currently has four members instead of the usual five, because of a resignation.

Chelmsford is a largely middle-class town of about 35,000 people west and south of Lowell, and about 23 miles northwest of Boston.

Chelmsford voted for Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the November 2020 presidential election, 61.8 percent to 34.8 percent. The 27-point margin is less than the margin statewide in Massachusetts, which was 65.6 percent to 32.1 percent, or 33.5 percentage points.

The Diversity committee discussion during the selectmen’s meeting of Monday, January 25 lasted 51 minutes 34 seconds.

At the end, Diversity committee members agreed to the selectmen’s offer to submit suggested changes to the anti-racism proclamation by Monday, February 1, for future discussion.



The text of the draft of the anti-racism proclamation and an image of it are below:



WHEREAS, people across our country and within our own community are harming others by their words and acts of racism, discrimination, and hatred;

and WHEREAS, words and acts of racism, discrimination, and hatred can be both intentional and unintentional, but either way such words and acts are unjust;

and WHEREAS, Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” and it is only right and moral that we identify, condemn, and stand against all forms of racism, discrimination, and hatred;

and WHEREAS, it is important that we recognize and own our biases, that we listen, that we strive to do better, and that we take genuine action to stand against racism, discrimination, and hatred;

and WHEREAS, our community and our country must do better to take genuine action to stand against racism, discrimination, and hatred;

and NOW, THEREFORE, we the Chelmsford Select Board, promise to

  • Condemn and stand against racism, discrimination, and hatred, and
  • Better understand and acknowledge those privileges we enjoy while others do not, simply because of our heritage, background, and experiences, and
  • Enforce accountability, fairness, equity, and justice in all departments at the Town of Chelmsford; and
  • Listen and learn about how we can do better and how our community can do better to embrace, support, and lift up people who are discriminated against and marginalized, and
  • Promote and embrace diversity, equity, inclusiveness, and justice for everyone in our community and beyond.


FURTHER, WE DO HEREBY submit that residents, employers, places of worship, and elected officials in our community must engage in similar commitments to condemn and stand against racism, discrimination, and hatred and to support, foster and encourage a community spirit that reflects trust and respect for all.


Signed this __ day of January 2021:



 Patricia E. Dzuris

 Town Clerk








 Select Board



Chelmsford Board of Selectmen meeting of Monday, January 25, 2021. Screenshot from Chelmsford TeleMedia video. From left to right, top to bottom:  Selectman Pat Wojtas, Selectman Kenneth Lefebvre (board chairman), town manager Paul Cohen, Selectman Virginia Crocker Timmins, Selectman George Dixon, Phil Hicks (chairman of the town’s Diversity, Racial Equity, & Inclusion Committee), Latosha Davis (vice chairman of the diversity committee), and Tricia Dzuris (diversity committee member and town clerk).