Representatives from A Long Talk showed their support for and debunked rumors about the organization at an Oak Bluffs select board meeting, following concerns raised about a proposed event dubbed “the Black Party.”
A Long Talk is an “anti-racism activation experience.” Participants complete work materials of multimedia content about the history of racism in the U.S. to provide a common foundation of understanding the issue, according to their website, before three days of virtual conference calls, each 90 minutes.
“The calls are orchestrated as reflective conversations, where participants are asked to listen, view, and respond in real time. The conversations take place in large and small group settings using the breakout rooms feature,” the website reads.
A Long Talk works with major universities across the country, nonprofits, and with schools on the Island.
Issues arose when a flyer for the Black Party began circulating online. The event was to be held on August 14 from 12 to 4 pm at Waban Park and Inkwell Beach, but was canceled.
At an August 10 meeting, select board chair Brian Packish called advertisements for the Black Party “alarming,” and was concerned about events listed on the flyer that included cards, kickball, double dutch, music, and cornhole.
Concern about the event comes as the Oak Bluffs select board has fielded numerous requests for summer events at public parks, and has been in discussion about how to handle the many requests to appease organizers and abutters.
According to an infographic on A Long Talk’s website, the party was dubbed the Black Party as a play on words from the traditional “block party” concept combined with the “ironic tradition of Black people on MV throwing ‘white parties,’” the graphic reads. “While white parties refer to dress code, for us, the Black Party refers to partying with a purpose.”
The event was to be held in conjunction with an event in the same area put together by Sean Porter, who has held an event for his Urban Farming foundation, which helps to eliminate food deserts in inner cities, for the past three years near Inkwell Beach.
Porter said he expected around 100 to 200 people, music, and food for his event, which he said he’s held for the past three years.
He distanced himself from the Black Party flyer and its events, saying someone he had met asked if they could tell others about his Urban Farming event.
“This is 40- to 70-year-old, well-to-do African Americans,” Porter said of his event. “I foresee no problem, none.”
Following the August 10 meeting, A Long Talk posted an edited version of the select board meeting on Youtube with text asking what was so alarming about the Black Party and showing text messages that claimed Porter reached out to A Long Talk representatives — instead of the other way around.
Additionally, A Long Talk’s chief empowerment officer, Kyle Williams, created a change.org petition asking for support to “reject a false narrative created against A Long Talk.”
At Tuesday’s select board meeting, members and supporters of A Long Talk joined, bringing the virtual meeting to over 95 participants. Since A Long Talk was not an official agenda item, comments were held until the public comment portion of the meeting, which the board holds at the end of its meetings.
Williams, who is a fourth-generation visitor to the Island, said he wanted to comment on the representation of A Long Talk at the August 10 meeting.
“There were lies and misrepresentations told,” Williams said. “We’ve been in conversation with the permit holder Mr. Porter since late June, early July. So this narrative that we just jumped in here and tried to take over something is absolutely untrue.”
He added that the community of A Long Talk believes racism is a virus, and is committed to making spaces better for everybody.
“It’s not about white and black. It’s not about conservative and liberal. It’s not about all these other things that people want to put us in boxes. It’s about everybody versus racism,” Williams said. “It was a celebration of Black joy … we were inviting our people, the non-Black people, to celebrate with us.”
Select board member Jason Balboni chimed in that he and other board members suggested an extra police presence at the August 10 meeting because they heard the event was going to have 400 or more attendees.
“We take our jobs seriously in keeping the town safe. That’s not safe from you or me or anybody else. That’s just safe — people crossing the road, getting to the park, things like that,” Balboni said. “You are correct, we do need to end racism. That’s not an idea, that’s something that needs to happen.”
He went on to say he appreciated the work of A Long Talk.
Assistant superintendent of Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools Richie Smith gave his support for A Long Talk and people to take part in the program.
Oak Bluffs Association executive director Christine Todd said she wanted to see more year-round collaboration and conversation.
The comments section of the Zoom was flooded with comments in support of A Long Talk such as “Proud to be a part of A Long Talk,” “End racism!” and “Fully support A Long Talk and all of its endeavors.”
The board did not deliberate, and adjourned the meeting.