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"Why are we still struggling with this in America?" Kevin Beckford brings change to Pittsford

J. Adam Fenster/University of Rochester

A committee of more than 20 residents from Pittsford and beyond planned a series of events* scheduled for this week to commemorate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

The effort was spearheaded by Kevin Beckford, who in 2017, became the first African American elected to the Pittsford town board.

But Beckford says he wants to go beyond the annual celebrations of the civil rights leader and do the hard work to create the kind of genuine equality that Dr. King referenced in his speech, "The Other America."

"How do we erase the social construct that has been with us for so long that it's embedded into our culture to where it's effected where we live?” Beckford asked. “We're highly segregated in Monroe County compared to other areas of the country and the world that I've lived, and that's led to social ills where we don't know each other; we don't connect on a basic human level as one human race."

Beckford and others are working to make the hiring process in the town of Pittsford more inclusive.  He also wants to institute more cultural awareness and advocacy programs within the town and cultural humility training for town employees.

Beckford defines cultural humility as the willingness to truly learn about and try to understand another culture. He says unconscious biases are the biggest barriers to change.

"If you take someone who doesn't have a direct relationship with people of color, they may have something inside they're not even in touch with. So when they go to interview someone, and say 'Well I don't think that person's a good fit,' what they're really saying is, 'I don't feel comfortable.' "

According to Beckford, there are currently no African Americans or Hispanics on the town of Pittsford’s workforce, which averages about 125 employees.

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear a wide-ranging interview with Kevin Beckford about his goals for 2019 and more.

*Four events are scheduled throughout the week as part of Pittsford’s MLK “Live the Dream” celebration.

  • January 15 film discussion series: “Fences” 6:30 – 9 p.m. at Pittsford Community Library
  • January 16 people of color who graduated from Pittsford high schools in several eras reflect on their experiences.  7 – 9 p.m. Fire Hall Station No. 2 465 Mendon Rd.
  • January 17 film discussion series: “The Courage to Love” 6:30 – 8 p.m. Pittsford Community Library
  • January 19 storytelling, songs, movement, and theater games that foster meaningful exchanges in a safe, culturally inclusive learning environment. Noon-1 p.m. and 2 – 3 p.m. Kings Bend Park, North Lodge
Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.