Former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright gets a laugh from the guests at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition annual meeting on Friday.

Heroes Unite Community at Coalition's Annual Meeting

By Rebecca Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
03:51AM / Monday, June 25, 2018

Jake Snow performs a piece he wrote while helping facilitate the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's Teen Writing Workshop.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Northern Berkshire Community Coalition honored a long-standing member of the community on Friday but also heard from a couple of younger voices about what community means to them.

Former North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright, who has been collecting myriad honors and awards since leaving office in January after eight years as mayor, was given the Northern Berkshire Hero Award at the coalition's annual meeting at the Williams Inn. In a nod to Alcombright's sense of humor, coalition Executive Director Amber Besaw presented him with a framed superhero cape.

"It will actually fit you and you can wear it, which your granddaughter will love," Besaw said, adding that she knows Alcombright will continue to be an important resource in the community despite his current job back in the private sector. "We may ask you to break the glass someday."

Alcomgbright accepted the award but made sure to turn it back on everyone in the audience.

"Hero is a powerful word. I see so many heroes. You are all heroes," he said. "It is all of you — all of you — who have allowed me to be included in all you do. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Bookending Alcombright's award on Friday, however, were the voices of two up-and-coming community superstars. 

The first was Jake Snow, a young father who has become a valued facilitator with the coalition's Teen Writing Workshop and is dedicated to "engaging young people," according to Tim Shiebler, the UNITY program coordinator at the coalition. Snow wowed the capacity crowd with a slam poetry-style piece he wrote but didn't have a chance to edit, he said, because he was busy with his 4-year-old.

"So I ask you, are we not warriors today? Are we not every day? Aren't we guardians in some way, trying to repay the fact that we were saved?" part of his piece read. "In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, demons are persuasive, angels are passive, and we at the Teen Writing Workshop are loud. … We found a panacea for rainy days. When the clouds get dark, when the thunder booms, when the lightning strikes, when it all goes wrong at once, remember that we are all the architects of our own future, and we all here our their allies.

Asha Kelton speaks at the NBCC meeting Friday.

 "When the storm comes and threatens to drown you out, get soaked dancing until you have to swim, swim until the adrenaline kicks in. Try to enjoy the currents, the memories, then swim until you have to scream. Keep swimming and look up for the ladders, the ropes, for the sunshine. For who are we, your favorite neighborhood NBCC."

The other young speaker was Asha Kelton, a high school senior and youth leader in North Berkshire, who spoke about what community means to her and her struggles in finding her place in the world, which she called "surprisingly difficult." Along that journey, she discovered the Teen Writing Workshop, which she entered reluctantly but exited confidently.

"It offered me a space where I felt I truly belonged," she said in front of the audience that included her dad and brother. "I did this because I wanted to make a difference. I wanted my voice to be heard."

Also speaking on Friday were state Sen. Adams Hinds, who gave a quick recap of the positive things he sees happening around Northern Berkshire County, from Friday's earlier announcement about the Greylock Glen project to the latest Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art expansion to the development of the old Cariddi Mill into Greylock Works.

"It gives you a real sense that something's happening, that's there's something good going on," Hinds said, urging everyone in the room to continue to work to improve the region  "We need to lock arms.We need to make sure everyone is thriving."

Barbara Malkas, superintendent of North Adams Public Schools, who also spoke about her background, about what community means to her, the role education can play in shaping a healthy society.

"There are no silos," she said. "We collaborate. We generate great ideas together. We can solve any problem that comes to us. Any problem. And that's the American dream."

Besaw wrapped up the agency's 32nd annual meeting by reminding everyone that the work NBCC does is "wonderful and challenging" but moving forward will require everyone to think outside themselves and beyond their own perceptions. She quoted Martin Luther King Jr., who said, "an individual has not started living until he can rise above narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

"Find ways to rise above ourselves and work together," Besaw said.


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