On a warm Sunday, 18-year-old Mercy Botchway walked through Everett’s busy Glendale Park — a striking figure in a brightly colored, patterned dress reflecting her Ghanaian origin. She’d just come from a Sunday church service and stepped confidently in her high heels.

“Years of practice,” she explained, smiling.

But the high school senior wanted to talk about a more serious subject: the sharing of a racist cartoon meme. City Councilor Anthony DiPierro apologized two weeks ago for the meme, which he shared with other city officials. He's been suspended without pay from his job at a local insurance agency, as first reported by the Everett Leader Herald. But DiPierro remains on the city council.

Botchway thinks DiPierro should resign. She said despite anger over the meme, Everett residents are keeping their “heads down.”

“Right now there’s a ton of distrust,” said Botchway, “We are so complacent and we need to get to a point where we are speaking out.”

Like Botchway, more than 80 percent of Everett’s school population are students of color, but most city officials and employees are white. This week Everett's Superintendent of Schools Priya Tahiliani, who is Indian-American, became the lone city official to call for DiPierro to step down, and called the silence on the matter from city officials “deafening.”

Two decades ago, only a quarter of the city’s population was non-white, but the city is now majority-minority. More than 50 languages are spoken in this city of 50,000, and immigrants from dozens of countries now call Everett home.

But whether you are truly “from Everett,” residents say, is waved like a badge of honor that leaves many feeling marginalized, and has helped keep the “old Everett” in power.

“You hear a lot of, ‘I was born and raised’ as if that is your ticket, you know?” said Samantha Lambert, a longtime white resident who was elected to Everett’s school committee, and still feels like an outsider.

“I always joke that I’ve been here since I was five, and I’m still not Everett enough, you know, so it's almost ingrained into our politic, into our conversations,” said Lambert.

A woman sits in a park.
Samantha Lambert, Everett school committee member and longtime resident, sits in Evergeen Park in Everett, Mass. on March 16, 2022. Lambert says “this is the time when we have to speak up.”
Liz Neisloss GBH News

Guerline Alcy, who ran unsuccessfully for a city council seat in 2019 and worked in city hall, has lived in Everett for more than 30 years.

“When it comes to politics,” Alcy said ,”When you’re running, and I’ve heard it before, ‘you’re not Everett.'“

Everett’s political scene is tough for outsiders to navigate, said Antonio Amaya, who more than twenty years ago founded the non-profit La Comunidad to help Everett’s burgeoning immigrant community. He’s watched the city grow more diverse over the years, while the levers of power stay in the same hands.

“We in the community, we don’t have enough political experience,” said Amaya, adding that many in the immigrant community are “afraid to speak” because of language, or immigration status.

He thinks DiPierro should resign and said current city leaders are part of the “old Everett” who fear change and “don’t want to see the diversity in the city.”

WATCH: Racism in Everett’s government shakes the community

If people want to see change, Alcy said, they’ll need to get involved. Political participation, she said, is what gives the white community an “upper hand.”

“The white constituents pay attention. They know what’s going on. They read the paper, they go to the meetings. So that’s the difference,” Alcy said.

Last year, Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria won re-election to a sixth term by only 210 votes. Roughly a third of registered voters cast ballots, a slightly higher turnout than Boston's.

Botchway, who has worked to register voters in Everett, said city officials' muted reaction to the racist meme shared by DiPierro will spur younger voters to shake off their complacency.

“I think we’ve reached a point where we're tired of it,” said Botchway, “Our generation is much more outspoken and much more willing to speak out, and also we have a low tolerance for these acts.”

Racist texts are just the latest turmoil over race in Everett. Everett's first Black city councilor, Gerly Adrien, last year accused the mayor and other council members of racism. And Schools Superintendent Tahiliani filed a complaint in January with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, alleging “blatant and overt acts of discrimination and retaliation” by the mayor and his allies on the school committee.

Despite the current swirl of negative stories about Everett, residents said they don’t want their city to be defined by racism. Lambert calls the city “a sociologist’s dream.”

“We have everybody here, and it’s really a beautiful thing,” said Lambert. “And I want people to know that about Everett.”