Will Amado Syldor-Severino is holding his three-week-old son, Abi. It’s blessedly quiet as Abi rests asleep on his shoulder.
“He’s a good baby,” Syldor-Severino says with a smile, in sympathy with new-parent exhaustion.
Ordinarily, though, for Syldor-Severino silence isn’t golden. Silence is suspect.
“It took me a while to realize it, but racism exists in a way that is unique to this county,” Syldor-Severino said. “The silence says more than the words.”
As a community activist, Syldor-Severino serves in the Berkshires as a senior fellow with Americorps Massachusetts Promise, with plans to return to his studies in social justice at the conclusion of his fellowship.
He is one of 11 scholars to appear in StirFry Seminars’ documentary, If These Halls Could Talk, filmed in 2010 and released in 2013. The film, by acclaimed director Lee Mun Wah, discusses diversity on college campuses across the country and the painful issues that are often left unsaid.
He moves a hand to his baseball cap, showing the Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional flag.
“I wear this hat every day,” he said. “The way the Zapatistas in Mexico do organizing has been really inspirational for me. They, above most organizations, show me that this work can be done in a loving way and that talking — talking can not only destroy things but also rebuild.”
‘They show me that this work can be done in a loving way and that talking can not only destroy things but also rebuild.’
In his work with local teens, as a jobs and careers counselor with The Railroad Street Youth Project in Great Barrington, he has focused on implementing a more holistic approach when assisting students as they transition toward young adulthood.
“It’s more than just resumes and how a person dresses,” he said. “It’s also about identity and how that impacts their lives. It’s not just about getting in. It’s about recognizing your own value as a worker and what importance you bring with you. I want people to see themselves as workers with value.”
It’s been a tough job, he said. One that he’s been taking day by day.
“It’s been harder and harder to feel as if the work I’m doing is sustainable,” he said. “I’ve seen people talk about moving forward in terms of social justice, but then racial politics does just the opposite. For instance, in the way budgets are prioritized or how initiatives in racial justice and social justice politics go nowhere. It seems as if racism is seen as an issue that can be put on the back burner.”
What he wants to feel is not only support in these endeavors but also a sense of urgency.
“What I found to be important is bringing people of color together and having them feel more affirmed in their experiences, and that they can speak to who they are and what they’ve gone through, especially for young people, without having to need to be academic enough,” he said. ” I’d like to see more unification across the county. I’d like to see more opportunity for people to be connected to each other.”
His own passion for social justice came as a result of his own upbringing in Brockton, and also from searching his own intolerances later in life.
“I think coming through Brockton and going to church with my folks … seeing different people from different places gave me a different perspective,” he said. “In college, I became aware of a variety of things that were happening on campus. I became interested in many social justice causes, I think because I was aware of myself and the ways that my own ways of viewing the world were really skewed — racist and sexist and heterosexist.
“I wanted to be honest with myself, and I felt uncomfortable around an openly gay man, and when I recognized I was dehumanizing a woman just because she was a woman, and the ways I assumed the stupidity of a poor person because they were poor, I knew that for my own self preservation and my own self worth I needed to figure out what was going on and how these processes affected society and led to violence and destruction.”
Ultimately, Syldor believes that the hard conversations have to be explored.
“It’s about creating a space for this conversation,” he said.
While it is important to have gatherings that celebrate diverse cultures through food, music or other forms of artistry, he said, it’s not enough.
“We need to have real conversations about race that are different from what people are used to,” he said. Only when people work through the toxic emotions — the rage, anger, bitterness and fear — will they come to a place of healing.
“The only way to really ensure survival and a positive life is to struggle,” he said. “I care about my kid. I care about their children and the communities’ children. And there’s no other way to ensure their safety beside struggling to make that a reality. To really shed a light on the deep impact on these isms (sexism, racism, classism) has on society.”