CTAC member responds to petition

Following calls for new investigation, CTAC says they’re focused on internal changes.

A CTAC member responded to a petition calling for a new investigation into the Chilmark Camp incident. — Rich Saltzberg

The Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC) says there’s an open line of communication between them and the group that has created a petition for a new investigation into the incident involving two white boys and a Black boy at the Chilmark Community Center’s summer camp.

The petition, which has garnered 400 signatures, was created by Saskia Vanderhoop and David Vanderhoop of Sassafras Earth Education, Freedom Cartwright of Freedom Rail Tours, Kyle Williams from A Long Talk, and Patrece Petersen of the Martha’s Vineyard Vegan Society.

The incident occured on July 29 at a summer camp at the Chilmark Community Center (CCC), and involved two white boys placing a tent strap around a Black boy’s neck. The boys were ages 8 and 9. A formal report was issued on August 25 by the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), the nonprofit entity that runs the summer camp. The Chilmark select board met to discuss the report, and raised questions, and the attorney for the family of the Black child released a statement that called for more reforms by the camp.

Nancy Street is a member of CTAC who responded to The Times following an inquiry to CTAC president Jeff Herman. She is also a member of the oversight subcommittee created in the wake of the incident. 

The three-person subcommittee consists of Street, Suellen Lazarus, and Morgan Baker-Brelis.

“We are all long-term Chilmark summer residents, and people that have been involved with the center over the years,” Street said. “We have been tasked with looking at this horrible event and learning from it, and developing policies and programs moving forward.”

She added that the subcommittee is mindful they can’t complete their mission alone, and plan to reach out to other organizations, both on and off the Island.

So far the group has reached out to the Martha’s Vineyard NAACP chapter, the Martha’s Vineyard Diversity Coalition, and civil rights lawyers representing the victim.

Vineyard NAACP chapter president Arthur Hardy-Doubleday said the group’s legal redress committee is still investigating, and had not commented. He expected the investigation to be completed this week, pending “third parties providing documents in a timely manner.” 

The CTAC is led by Herman, vice president and treasurer Elizabeth Frank-Bailey, and secretary Nancy Grundman. Chilmark select board member Warren Doty, Chilmark town administrator Tim Carroll, Michael Bailey, Kathie Carroll, Margo Cohen, Sylvia Cohn, Julie Coleman, John Diamond, Nan Doty, Jane Gollin, Dan Karnovsky, Kay Matschullat, Michelle O’Connor, Cris Russell, Lazarus, Baker-Brelis, and Street round out the board.

According to CTAC’s most recent Form 990 in 2019, the organization brought in a revenue of $458,000.

Speaking to The Times by phone, Carroll said he was briefed on the investigation, but stepped back from any discussion. “I didn’t participate in the investigation,” Carroll said. “But I heard board members spent an incredible amount of hours working on it.”

Warren Doty could not immediately be reached for comment. He has twice participated in making public comments regarding the incident without disclosing his affiliation with CTAC.

The report submitted to the town was a collaboration between everyone, according to Street. When asked if there were any Black or indigenous members, or people of color besides the victim and their family involved in the investigation, Street said the board contacted several people for advice. “We reached out to people outside of CTAC to make sure that, to the extent possible, we were incorporating people of color in the process,” Street said.

Board members were also the ones who interviewed individuals willing to participate in the investigation.

“It was really a group effort,” Street said of the investigation. “We were all really involved in trying to get the facts in during a difficult circumstance, sensitive, dealing with minor children, dealing with people, many of whom had left the Island.” 

Going forward, Street said the CTAC is focusing on outreach, bringing kids from off-Island to the summer camp, offering scholarships, and diversifying and training its staff. “So that we’re clear that people have the kind of sensitivity that we want our counselors to have in this camp environment,” she said.

The change.org petition has garnered over 400 signatures, and is now aiming for 1,000. In an update post to the petition Monday, the organizers thanked their supporters and called on more to join sign the petition asking Chilmark town and community center officials to hire a BIPOC-led diversity, equity, and inclusion organization, and take the lead in supporting Island-wide truth and reconciliation conversations regarding race and bias.

“Committees making stricter guidelines around diversity, equity, and inclusion is not enough,” the post read in part. “True racial healing happens heart to heart through authentic conversation and building relationships of honesty and trust.”

When asked about the petition, Street said she hopes everyone is united in seeking solutions for the Chilmark Community Center. She said there is an open channel of communication between the petition group and CTAC members, but they have yet to sit down and talk specifically about the petition: “We should all be united in making sure an incident like this doesn’t ever happen again. We are happy to engage in dialogue with a diverse group of stakeholders. We understand the interest in another investigation.”

Street said CTAC is now focused on the code of conduct, a value statement, anti-bullying, harassment, and diversity training for staff.

“We’re committed to being transparent,” she said. “We are very heavy-hearted about this. This is incredibly painful, and we’ve learned a lot from this, however it’s been a painful learning. I think that learning will enable us to move forward …in terms of making the camp a safe and welcoming place for kids of all races, ethnicities, and gender identities.”