By Cynthia Whitty
In the spring of 2020 Ashland resident Margaret Kironde Musoke (aka Maggie) said she was in pain seeing the murder of George Floyd. This tragic event was the catalyst for her to team up with other Ashland residents and found AREA (Ashland Residents for Equity and Action) to raise awareness about social injustices and make a difference within the community.
An Ashland resident for over 10 years, Musoke is a registered nurse and Human Resources Management Certified and holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in management. She has four children, ranging from a 4th grader to a recent college graduate and has already contributed much to the community in terms of volunteering for the Africa Exchange Project and Racial Justice Team through Plymouth Church, the American Red Cross, the Ashland Girl Scouts Troop 82051, and the Ashland Sustainability committee.
Serving as AREA’s president, Musoke believes “each and every one of us can sparefive minutes to make a positive change in our world.”
Ashland Local Town Pages asked Musoke about what the group has accomplished and what they hope to achieve in the year to come.
Whitty: What motivates you to do this social justice work?
My hope for systemic change motivates me. It fuels my drive to get involved, I don’t see it as a choice. Just like others, I hope for improving the lives of POC and highlighting the barriers and roadblocks that exist in our paths of trying to have an equal playing field across all institutions.
Personally, as a mother of black children, I carry an extra burden of worry about their safety: are they going to be shot at during a jog, in a traffic stop, will they make it home? I try to teach them how to interact with authority and any other encounters, but I feel it’s not enough, it’s just a band aid. In the school systems, I worry about schools: whether they are offered the appropriate level classes, and I have to continuously advocate for them beyond what I find that my white friends have to do. I would love that my children live in an environment where they don’t live in fear for their lives and are not judged by the color of their skin. By continuing to highlight or identify these issues, institutions can seriously tackle them. I hope to try and contribute to moving the needle of racial equity forward and as fast and as smoothly as possible; it’s overdue and I feel and notice that a lot of people want to see this happen.
We and future generations want to live in the world where race is not going to be a factor for them in terms of whether they get that next big contract, job promotion, whether their children are given equal opportunity and considered for advanced classes, whether they still have a job after speaking up at work or using their platform to advocate for themselves and those who can’t do so, whether where their life is safe.
Whitty: Why was AREA formed?
AREA was formed in June 2020 after George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020. We all remember, as he lay dying he called out for his ‘mama.’ For me this translated to a call for action.
As a mother, and person of color I felt helpless and was in pain, the event was painful to watch. A friend of mine, Cara Tirrell called me to check in on how I was doing, I told her I’m in pain and I want to do something, because stemming from that situation and others lay much bigger issues. She said she felt the same way. We decided that our work would start with the schools, businesses, and getting involved civically. Without wasting time, we made a decision to each invite mothers we knew, we had our first meeting. We didn’t even think of a name or mission. Next thing, we wondered, how about non mothers and fathers who are interested in embarking on this journey with us, we invited everyone. Some dads had also started doing some work, like calling their kids’ schools and starting conversations with the principals.
Whitty: What do you hope to accomplish?
AREA is trying to form collaboration with the school heads, those in charge of businesses, town officials and management to ensure that POC population in Ashland have an equal voice and opportunity, to access resources that will enable them to thrive in our town and to gain feeling of belonging. POC cannot do this alone, and we are happy to say that AREA is composed of POC and their allies working to achieve our initiatives. AREA is and continues to assist in ways possible for POC-owned businesses to get equal visibility and access for things like grants, we want to ensure that their voices being heard. Last but not least, our community is eager to gain the experience, knowledge and perspective from the POC point of view, energy, and ideas on boards and other venues.
Whitty: Have the town and residents been supportive? What are your greatest challenges?
Town administration, school system, boards, and committees have been open and eager to work with us on ways to increase inclusivity and diversity. Some residents have seen AREA as a comfortable place they can come to ask questions and voice concerns about different issuers. Collaboration with the Ashland public schools (APS), for example, has been valuable in terms of directing parents back to the school staff to have their issues resolved and strengthening trust and bridging gaps. I won’t speak for Ashland public schools, but I believe efforts are being made to have more effective communication with all parents, especially parents of color.
The issue of lack of diverse educators in APS is definitely a challenge, and we have voiced/had conversations with the school administration and our school committee liaison. We are pleased to see the school system open to improving in this area.
Whitty: What are your top accomplishments from this year?
Education. We have formed a collaboration with APS, and together AREA contributed to the Ashland High School sophomore career speaker series. Many hours were put into research and inviting speakers from diverse backgrounds. Some work is also going on at the high school level concerning curriculum.
Civic Involvement. AREA has encouraged and supported many Ashland residents of color in getting involved in town affairs, in elected or non-elected office positions. Our members are also engaging with other local groups in town. For sure, it’s been a learning curve, and it’s been wonderful to be involved.
Business. There has been an increased visibility, traffic, and support for POC-owned businesses. AREA has helped POC-owned businesses, opening up conversation and ensuring they are aware of the initiatives and support systems that the town has to offer for businesses. We also post these POC businesses on our website, ashlandequity.org, as another way to increase visibility.
Whitty: How often do you meet and who are the AREA members?
We meet every 3rd Thursday of the month at 6:30 p.m. Currently, we have over 120 members. Our board consists of myself, Cara Tirrell, Barbara Sekesogundu, Moala Kitayimbwa, Alan Galiwango, Senteza Kironde and Raymond Kitayimbwa.
Whitty: How can residents get involved and support you?
Residents and those in office can give us their time, whether it’s listening to our concerns or using resources that are already available to help support and promote racial equity projects and initiatives. A good thing about getting involved with AREA is that we are an action group. With each meeting we ensure something that was proposed previously is in fact being done; if not, what are the obstacles? We follow through, and we value people’s time and efforts.
Our website is run by volunteers. Alan Galiwango helped get it off the ground; we could use some help in regularly updating it. We also need help with fundraising efforts and events. We have the youth helping manage social media. High school students can earn volunteer hours by working with us.
It is almost an understatement when I say that it takes a community-centered approach to tackle racial discrimination and biases against POC across all systems. However, this benefits all in the end.
I would like to thank our members and volunteers for their support, kindness, and guidance. I would like to thank the Ashland community for being open, supportive, and engaging with our group and efforts.