A coalition of Black staff members in the Massachusetts Legislature published a list of demands they say will help fight a culture of racism, hostility and white supremacy they say they face while working on Beacon Hill.
“We want to be valued for the life experience that we bring into the State House and supported as we do work that is really important to us,” Senate staffer Mark Martinez told WGBH News Wednesday. “We are called to make sure that the State House is the best place that it can be.”
In a letter published online Wednesday and addressed to Senate President Karen Spilka, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Secretary of State Bill Galvin, Beacon BLOC (Building Leaders Of Color) called on senior leadership to implement a list of strategies to combat inequity.
The demands include a formal way to report incidents of racism, penalties for workplace misconduct, a talent pipeline for employees of color, a standardized format for hiring and onboarding new staff, an Office of Policy Equity to analyze proposed legislation before it gets to committee, and an expansion of online and in-person archives detailing the actions of Black legislators.
“The building is predominantly a white, cisgendered, male space,” Martinez said. “There aren't many Black staffers, which we also believe contributes to some of the issues that the few Black staffers in the building are facing.”
As the only Black man working in his office at the State House, Martinez says the lack of representation on Beacon Hill is profound. “There's no other Black man that does my job that I can turn to, that I can lean on for support or guidance or advice,” he said. “It's really hard to look around and not see anybody that looks like me or shares my life experiences. … It’s just a really isolating experience for me.”
The letter also called for a central office for diversity, equity and inclusion, and an extension of the 2019-2020 legislative session.
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That demand has already become a reality — the Massachusetts Legislature announced it will extend the legislative deadline beyond July 31, and House Speaker Robert DeLeo announced Wednesday that legislators will likely work throughout what is normally an August recess period. The Senate is expected to do the same.
A spokesperson for Senate President Karen Spilka told WGBH News that Spilka responded to Beacon BLOC to express her appreciation for the letter and offer to set up a meeting with the group.
Martinez says the coalition will meet with Spilka on Thursday.
In April, Spilka hired Diana Kasule as the new human resources manager of diversity, equity and inclusion for the Senate, in accordance with the adoption of Rule 10C, which states, “There shall be within the Senate Office of Human Resources an Officer of Diversity and Inclusion who shall promote policies to direct and guide offices to recruit, hire, train, develop, advance, promote and retain a diverse workforce, consistent with Senate Rules, regulation and law.”
Kasule, who was quietly hired as the coronavirus pandemic escalated to new heights, said in a statement at the time that she “look[s] forward to helping build a more diverse and inclusive workforce in the Senate.”
DeLeo and Secretary of State Bill Galvin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Martinez emphasized the importance of creating a central office to focus on diversity and inclusion, “so that there is an intentional focus on cultivating and supporting the Black staffers and staffers of color in the building,” he said, “as well as creating a talent of color pipeline and mechanisms where Black staffers feel truly empowered to bring up the experiences that we're having so that we know that they'll be believed and addressed in an appropriate way.”
Martinez says the letter originated in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd in and Breonna Taylor in March.
“We saw political leaders throughout the country and in Massachusetts talk about how they had this newfound dedication to centering Black voices and uplifting Black voices,” he said. “ And the kind of natural outfall from that was Black staffers saying, 'OK, well, then I think it's time that you listen to our voices and elevate our voices and hear about our experiences.'"