When my husband was transferred to Boston four years ago, we stumbled upon Brookline when we were looking for areas in and around the city to live. Naturally, we were drawn to the numerous green spaces and easy access to shops and public transportation that Brookline offers, but it was the voices we heard and faces we saw on the streets that sold us. For my husband who is German and only speaks to our children in German, it was important to live in a community where many languages could be heard on the playgrounds and going and coming from schools. Having grown up in Washington, DC, I did not want to live in a place where every house and household looked the same. Brookline has lived up to many of our multi-cultural expectations, but like nearly every American city and town today, it is not a diversified utopia.
This is where Lloyd Gellineau, Ph.D. comes in. For nearly two years, Gellineau has served as the Director of Brookline’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations Department. Before taking on this role, he was Brookline’s Human Resources-Human Services Administrator and worked closely with local officials to identify and fill gaps in public services, specifically in areas relating to domestic violence, hoarding, and health and food assistance services. He is just the second member of a minority to lead an official department in Brookline.
The mission of the Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Relations Department, which was created when Gellineau took the helm, is a lofty one. As stated on its website, the department aims to, “Support a welcoming environment by encouraging cooperation, tolerance, and respect among and by all persons who come into contact with the town of Brookline and by advancing, promoting and advocating for human and civil rights through education, outreach and advocacy. The mission of the department and goal of the town shall be to strive for a community characterized by values and inclusion.”
Despite its clarity of purpose, executing its mission is challenging. “Diversity is easy.” says Gellineau, “Inclusion is the hard part. For a community to truly be inclusive, everyone in it must feel a level of comfort with individuals of different races, ethnicities, genders and those with disabilities. This needs to reflect at home and in their personal and professional networks. This is the next step for Brookline.”
Today, approximately 80% of Brookline residents are Caucasian, followed by Asian-Americans, Latino-Americans, and, lastly, African-Americans. Nearly 10% of the population receives some type of public assistance. “Brookline is not homogenous, but there is still more work to be done to make the atmosphere of the town more racially and culturally friendly. Brookline does not have an African-American church, for example. Ideally, we want Brookline to be a town where African-Americans would want to open a place of worship here,” says Gellineau.
Gellineau’s strategic approach to protecting and promoting diversity in Brookline involves celebrating the positive work the town is doing in this area in hopes of converting those with less open minds. He is proud of the work his department has done to staff a Brookline Women’s Commission and to promote the town as an Age Friendly City, an honour bestowed upon Brookline by the World Health Organization. Recently, his department began an initiative entitled, Brookline is My Home, to recognize similarities and embrace differences between various cultural groups living within the community. Working closely with the Parks and Recreation Department, the project aims to inform residents about the history of different cultures and make information about town cultural events more accessible to all.
Gellineau acknowledges that specific actions need to be taken and resources need to be in place to actively create an open and fair atmosphere in Brookline, especially for town employees. His department oversees the town’s affirmative action policy and works closely with other departments to help set goals and benchmarks in this area and monitor success. The department is also a resource for town employees and local businesses for issues relating to discrimination; helping them navigate processes and procedures and, at times, mediating conflicts. “I think it is important for people who live and work in Brookline to feel that the rules of fair play do really apply here. Without this basic philosophy, we cannot expect to have a community where people feel comfortable and respected,” says Gellineau. He is also quick to point out that awareness is key and encourages residents to go to www.brooklinema.gov and fill out a Brookline Discrimination Report form if they see any discriminatory trends or feel they are being discriminated against.
Brookline may be a bastion of liberalism, but it is not immune to bias and inequality. Having a town department to address issues relating to diversity and support a local atmosphere that is open and friendly to all cultures and creeds is a critical step to empower Brookline for long-term social and economic success. It may be years to come before Brookline becomes the inclusive community that Lloyd Gellineau alludes to and strives for, but as a resident I take some solace in knowing that attention is being paid to help make Brookline a place where all of its residents feel at home.
~ Casey Hassenstein