Diverse Holliston Hopes to Foster Discussion, Build Community

J.D. O’Gara
Issue Date: 
December, 2017
Article Body: 

Francesca Douyon feels like she didn’t choose to live in Holliston. Rather, she believes the town chose her. Good things fell into place for her and her little daughter, almost seven, that landed her a nice place to live.
But the roads in Mudville haven’t been without a few bumps for this young Haitian American family.
The day came when Francesca’s little girl was picked on by a young classmate for her deep brown complexion and for wearing her hair in a natural style. Francesca tried to approach the topic with the parents of the other classmate, but was dismayed that they avoided discussing the issue with her.
Later, Douyon, a young Mom, brought her little girl to an event known as the Bubble Jam at the Holliston Community Children’s
“All the family members can come,” says Douyon. “I went, it was my first time, and everybody walked by. No one asked, ‘How are you?’” Douyon found only one welcoming face in the crowd, Michelle Diamond, who acknowledged the uncomfortable situation and invited Douyon to take a leadership ­position in a newly-formed ­community group aimed at celebrating diversity.
“The next day we got together, ” says Douyon, who says the two hope to make a Diverse Holliston nonprofit that has a presence at town events such as Celebrate Holliston and holds its own regular events.
“I think some (of the issue) is lack of exposure, some of it is a natural affinity for people who look like us, and some of it is discomfort starting cross-cultural relationships,” says Diamond. “There are things I’ve had to do having a child who’s multiracial,” says Diamond, who’s also Jewish. “People didn’t go out of their way to say hello.”
Douyon and Diamond created a Facebook page, “Diverse Holliston,” which has grown to over 352 members. The page, moderated by Diamond and fellow founding member Jeff Perrott, is “geared toward continuing the conversation rather than shutting it down,” about issues of diversity, says Diamond.
“Our mission is to give a forum for people of diverse backgrounds in our town to use their voice,” says Diamond, who joined the Holliston community from Utah about a year ago.
“I don’t see a lot of people who look like my son. You go to Framingham, you see a lot of people of color. You go to Ashland, there are a lot more Indian families. Holliston is lacking in that diversity, and I felt it necessary to highlight the diversity in our community, and my son needs to see it, too. He needs to see those allies.”
Diamond says she’s not just talking about racial diversity, but about diversity of all types – ethnicity, color, income, mental health, ability, sexual orientation and sexual gender expression. Slowly, she says, Diverse Holliston hopes to “allow opportunity for exposure, and to ask questions and have discussions in a safe forum about what diversity it, and how our community lives it on a day-to-day basis. There’s some diversity that involves every person in our community.”
The site has some rules. Everyone has a right to their opinion, says Diamond, and everyone has a right to be treated with respect, with no name-calling or attacking.
“Not only do we reserve the right to delete (those types of comments),” says Diamond, “but we will also explain why it’s shutting down discussion or not productive.”
Douyon says the young group is hoping to pull together some activities, such as a potluck dinner for people of different backgrounds. In fact, members of the group turned out to join a vigil for love after the Charlottesville attack at the First Congregational Church on the green following the Charlottesville attack on a crowd by a white supremacist. The young group also had a table at Celebrate Holliston this year.
“The positive side is since the Diverse group has been up and running, my daughter has had a wonderful school year, and I’ve gotten nothing but positive feedback,” says Douyon.
Diamond says Diverse Holliston is working on forming community partnerships, “so we have sustainability. Forming that base means making those community partnerships with other organizations, so we can all work together.”
One such connection the group made was with the Holliston Public Library.
“We met with the Friends of the Library to talk about whether they would be willing to fund some books on diversity,” says Diamond. “It turned out that the library had quite a number of books on diversity, and in a couple of days, the children’s librarian had located them and there was a display up. It’s still there.”
Diverse Holliston would also like to partner with the school system. The group held a playdate-style forum in which parents discussed what they felt were issues to address, and one thing that came up, says Diamond, was that there could be more diversity in school.
“We had reports from different parents of children in high school or middle school who were having problems being taunted for being Jewish, and there aren’t very many people of color to be able to speak with – there definitely aren’t any teachers of color,” says Diamond, who sees steps in the right direction with “an LBGTQ presence and a mental health club, Beautiful Minds,” as well as superintendent who has been very supportive of a transgender teacher. She envisions more supportive peer groups as well as a cultural bullying policy at schools.
“(Diverse Holliston) is just the opportunity to bring those different sections together,” says Diamond, cultural bullying policy formed with the schools. “The first step was creating the Facebook page, just to get the dialog started. This is about people living in our community, building a stronger community.”