“That is an attack on diversity here in Everett—we are not going to allow that.”
Gerly Adrien has faced opposition from her colleagues ever since she became the first Black woman elected to the Everett City Council last November.
Earlier this month, Adrien’s colleagues asked her to resign because she was attending council meetings over Zoom.
Those remarks—from a majority white council body—sparked backlash, and led to a large showing of support for Adrien outside of Everett City Hall on Monday.
Adrien alleges that there haven’t been adequate safety protocols in place for meetings during the coronavirus pandemic, and that her colleagues seldomly wear masks, which is a health issue.
“A lot of people have supported me, they said that I shouldn’t resign, they think that’s ridiculous and it goes back to the feeling that I’m doing something different,” Adrien said.
Different treatment, she said, is what got many to show up and speak out on her behalf.
“I’m the first Black woman city councilor the city of Everett elected and they like to say that I’m aggressive, my ideas are too aggressive, my personality—that I need to tone it down, which are all statements that are said to Black women,” Adrien said in an interview outside of City Hall.
Media attention spurred dozens of the councilor’s constituents of various ages, races, and ethnicities to show up in support of Adrien, who has a diabetic father in his 60s. Several spoke on her behalf, explaining that she represents a changing demographic in a former Irish-Italian city that is now known for its Brazilian bodegas and Haitian American community members.
“Anytime a Black elected official in our world is attacked, then this is like NATO, all of us are under attack,” Horace Small, executive director of the Union of Minority Neighborhoods, which fights to end discriminatory policies and practices, told the Dig.
Small organized the event, saying Adrien, the council’s top vote-getter, should be able to simply do her job.
“[They] think that they’ve inherited their seats … She is trying to sit at the table so Everett can accept diversity. She’s trying to set the table so that issues community people are facing are actually dealt with and listened to and paid attention to,” Small added.
Others in the crowd said they couldn’t help but notice the different treatment Adrien was getting and felt asking her to resign crossed the line.
“It’s beyond me how a group of people who are supposed to be leading the city can say to one of their own, You can’t protect your father who’s diabetic, you have to come in person,” said Julie Kinnett, 57, who is white. “It really is outrageous.”
Joanne Beckta, 68, a post-conviction paralegal, who is also white, said she can’t figure out if they are treating Adrien differently because she’s a young woman or because of her race.
“The way to move Everett forward is to recognize that it’s only 59% white,” Beckta said. “You have to look at what’s going on in the nonwhite communities, in the immigrant community, are their needs being met.”
Black Lives Matter chants and BLM signs were seen at the demonstration, with supporters also holding placards that read, “Black representation matters.”
Antonio Amaya, executive director of the Latin-American social services nonprofit La Comunidad, Inc., called attacks on Adrien “an attack” on Everett’s diversity.
“When I heard that City Council members asked Gerly to resign her position, I said that is an attack on the democracy of Everett, that is an attack on diversity here in Everett—we are not going to allow that,” Amaya told the crowd.
A newly formed Black and Latinx Municipal (BLM) Caucus composed of 40 elected officials of color from across the state released a statement in support of Adrien. Among other things, the document stated that the council’s actions were “rooted in racism,” and amounted to an attempt “at silencing a Black woman who challenges the status quo.”
Boston City Council President Kim Janey, a BLM Caucus co-founder, spoke about the effort and said she stands with Adrien and anyone across the Commonwealth who experiences racism while serving in government.
“When I need to push something through the City Council, I take for granted what my sisters in service are dealing with in other towns across the Commonwealth … but I am here today to let you know, to let Gerly know, she does not stand by herself,” Janey said.
Adrien made it clear to her constituents that she does not intend to step down from her councilor at-large position. With upcoming meetings being held via video conference, she hopes her constituents will also participate in the political process.
“This woman is amazing,” said Tamkia Bispham, who was pleased that the body is going to use Zoom. “She makes me proud, she makes my daughter proud. And I will stand by her because there is no one else that looks like us, that is screaming out for us.”