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Courageous Conversations Merrimack Valley: History & Events

courageous conversations

Courageous Conversations Merrimack Valley was organized in 2016 and works to advance and amplify conversations about interpersonal and systemic racism, racial identity and privilege, and antiracism through community reads, films, facilitated conversations, speaker events, and panel discussions. Our purpose is to educate ourselves on these issues so that we may better understand the systems that perpetuate racial inequities and reflect on strategies for interrupting and dismantling those systems.

Current planning team members include Kate Margolese, Deb Olander, Aldonsa Pereyra, Mary Pritchard, Susan Stott and Stefani Traina.

Courageous Conversations Events


February 2024 Discussion Series- Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad

Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad will walk you step-by-step through the work of examining:

  • Your own white privilege
  • What allyship really means
  • Anti-blackness, racial stereotypes, and cultural appropriation
  • Changing the way that you view and respond to race
  • How to continue the work to create social change

Awareness leads to action, and action leads to change. This program is for anyone who is ready to closely examine their own beliefs and biases and do the work it will take to create social change. 


October, 2023-So You Want to Talk About Race Discussion Series

Talking about race can feel uncomfortable, but not talking about it allows injustice to continue. In So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo guides readers of all races through subjects ranging from police brutality and cultural appropriation to the model minority myth in an attempt to make the seemingly impossible possible: honest conversations about race, and about how racism infects every aspect of American life. Perfectly positioned to bridge the gap between people of color and white Americans struggling with race complexities, Oluo answers the questions readers don’t dare ask, and explains the concepts that continue to elude everyday Americans.

A Rise in Hate Series

Hate incidents are on the rise, instilling fear across the country, including right here in Andover. Courageous Conversations presents a 5-part series on the rise in hate, where it stems from, and the personal impacts. Specifically, these conversations will focus on hate towards Black and Brown people, the LGBTQ community, the Jewish community, Asian Americans and Immigrants. Join in as many of these conversations as you are able. A list of resources is available here.   

January 18, 2023, 7pm on Zoom -Rise in Hate: Keynote Address - with Jeneé Osterheldt, culture columnist for the Boston Globe followed by a conversation with impacted members from our community. View the recording.       

February 8, 2023, 7pm on Zoom -  Rise in Hate: LGBTQ+Massachusetts is witnessing a rise in hate towards the LBGTQ+ community, as is the nation, fueled by misinformation and a lack of awareness. The forces of opposition are small, yet loud and increasingly more organized. This has fueled a fractured society that unfairly politicizes the bodies of LGBTQ+ folks who are just trying to live their lives. The devastating effects of hate against the LGBTQ community are evident in a suicide attempt rate that is 4 times higher among LGBTQ youth than their peers. LGBTQ youth are not inherently prone to suicide risk because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, rather placed at higher risk because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society. View the recording.

This Courageous Conversation aims to correct misinformation and provide an overview of approaches that community members and allies can use to improve conversations about LGBTQ equality, with a focus on illustrating the concrete harms and hate that LGBTQ people face here in Andover and across Massachusetts, helping straight, cis-gender people see those harms through their own eyes, and avoiding missteps that can create roadblocks to successful discussions.

Moderator:  Ian Whalen-Stone (all pronouns), Greater Boston PFLAG
Panelists:  Renee Manning (she/her), transgender advocate; Grayson Dinino (he/him), AHS class of 2022; Larainne Wilson (she/her), parent and Director of Equity and School Counseling in Ayer Shirley

March 2, 2023, 7pm on Zoom - Rise in Hate:  AntisemitismThroughout the past several years we have witnessed a resurgence of virulent antisemitism, from the open embrace of white supremacist ideologies to celebrities, politicians, and insidious behaviors that appear across the political spectrum. Among the harmful effects have been increased levels of fear and isolation as Jewish communities throughout the United States, and the world at large, grapple with this age-old hatred in new ways. 

This Courageous Conversation aims to explore first-hand the Jewish experience as it is impacted by hate, sharing ways that the recent upswing in antisemitism has impacted our communities.  We will expand our conversation to discuss what each of us can do in a bold conversation about allyship, education, and the ways we can unite against hatred, bigotry, and intolerance. View the recording and access related resources.

Moderator: Senator Barry Finegold
Community Participants: Rabbi Max Chaiken, Temple Emanuel of Andover; Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, Temple Emanu-El of Haverhill; Peggy Shukur, Interim Regional Director of Anti-Defamation League New England


March 29, 2023, 7pm on Zoom - Rise in Hate: AAPI- Between March 2020 and March 2022, Stop AAPI Hate, a national coalition that has documented incidents of anti-Asian discrimination during the pandemic, has received nearly 11,500 accounts of anti-Asian hate incidents. 340 of those incidents were reported in Massachusetts. While this wave of hate may be pandemic-driven, anti-Asian attitudes are not new in America. During the era of World War II and the internment of Japanese Americans, everyone from Dr. Seuss to Life magazine pushed anti-Japanese propaganda. Over time the hate was baked into American culture.

“America has a pattern of using Asian Americans as pawns. Historically, you can see it with the Immigration Act and then post-World War II, you see it with the myth of the model minority and the way it’s used to pit Asian Americans against Black Americans and Latinx Americans. Who benefits?" – Michael Tom

The above description includes excerpts from an article by Jenee Osterheldt “There is no antiracist movement without fighting anti-Asian discrimination” Boston Globe, March 4, 2021 as well as data from the Stop AAPI Hate 2 Year ReportView the recording.

Community Participants: Rep. Tram Nguyen; Anna Choi, Endicott College Professor of Religion; Honglang Zhang, Andover Chinese School; Yasmin Padamsee Forbes, AAPI Commission; Henry Wright, local high school student

April 13, 2023, 7pm on Zoom - Rise in Hate: Immigrants- Everyone deserves to feel safe in their community. As Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel asked, “How can a human being be illegal?” America has long been a nation of immigrants. Many people who leave their homes to come to this country are simply seeking a life of freedom and safety.

This Courageous Conversation aims to explore current immigrant experiences, discussing barriers, struggles, joys, and successes. We will expand our conversation to discuss the urgent situation faced by many immigrants when they arrive here, the lengthy struggles faced by immigrants after arrival, and what each of us can do to stand up against hate and support our neighbors. View the recording and access related resources.

Moderator: Cantor Vera Broekhuysen, Temple Emanu-El of Haverhill
Community Participants: Marius, a Togolese asylum seeker; Sonia Terbullino, Cosecha activist; Catherine Ramirez Mejia, MIRA Coalition; Jane Hucks, co-chair of Merrimack Valley Project’s Immigrant Justice Committee

Past Courageous Conversation Events


July 19, 2022, 7pm on Zoom - What Difference Do a DA and Sheriff Make? - District attorneys are the most powerful people in the criminal justice system. They decide who gets charged with a crime - and determine how most criminal cases are resolved. Sheriffs have the power to make our communities safer and more just for all - but most Massachusetts voters don’t even know who their sheriff is. Laura Rótolo of ACLU Massachusetts and Stacy Seward of The Dream Network will discuss how these two offices operate in Essex County. Their online presentations will be followed by a moderated Q&A led by Gail Forsyth-Vail.

Visit the ACLU Massachusetts website to learn more about the What A Difference A DA Makes and Know Your Sheriff voter education campaigns. The State Primary is Tuesday, September 6th. LWV chapters in Essex County are hosting two candidates' forums at 7:00pm on Zoom on August 11th for Sheriff and August 18th for District Attorney. Both will be recorded. This program is hosted by Memorial Hall Library, in collaboration with ACLU Massachusetts, The Dream Network, Courageous Conversations, and League of Women Voters chapters in Essex County. Watch the recording here

June 8, 2022, 7pm on Zoom - Supporting Trans and Nonbinary Youth with Christy Whittlesey - Join author and educator Christy Whittlesey, Ph.D, to discuss her book, It's OK to Say "They," and what teachers, parents, and allies can do to support and advocate for nonbinary and trans students. Listen to a panel of community members, educators, parents, and nonbinary people as we discuss these important issues. Watch the recording here. 

Christy Whittlesey, Ph.D. (she/her/hers) has been an educator in settings ranging from PreK-higher education for the past 20 years. She regularly collaborates with school districts to empower educators to foster inclusive, safe, and equitable schools where all students are supported, regardless of gender. She is the author of two books, It's OK to Say They: Tips for Educator Allies of Transgender and Nonbinary Students (2019), which was an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award Finalist in 2020, and The Beginner's Guide to Being a Trans Ally (2021). Both are fund-raising books that benefit trans-supportive organizations. For more information about Christy, see her website: This program is a collaboration of Memorial Hall Library and South Church Pride.

May 11, 2022, 7pm in Memorial Hall - Taking Action: Structural Racism, Inequities & Climate Change - Climate change and its impacts are experienced differently depending on where one lives and one's position in society. Youth and marginalized communities, the people affected the most by climate change, have often been left out of the conversation -- to the detriment of finding equitable solutions that really address all of our needs. Join Andover resident, Nia Keith, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Justice for Mass Audubon, and Lesly Melendez, Deputy Director of Groundwork Lawrence, as well as community youth, for a conversation about how structural inequities and structural racism show up in environmental issues and why inclusive solutions are so important. All are welcome. The event will be livestreamed and recorded by Andover TV. Watch the recording here.

February 10, 2022, 7pm - Health Impacts of Structural Racism - The impacts of structural inequities in health and health care will be explored by Dr. Amy Patel, Medical Director, Phillips Academy, Dr. Cara Marshall, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center, and Albert Pless Jr., Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion for the Town of Andover. They will provide historical context and share their professional experience to shed light on the burdens faced by communities of color with regard to health and health outcomes. They will also address possible solutions to these issues. The program recording and resources are available here.

January 27, 2022, 7pm - Structural Racism in Our Schools? Please join us for a discussion of how structural racism shows up in K-12 public education as Courageous Conversations presents Johnny Cole, Director of the Office of Equity & Student Supports for Lexington Public Schools, and Kate Slater, Ph.D., anti-racist scholar and educator. They will share their insights and expertise in conversation with one another and welcome your questions and comments. Together we can better understand how structural racism shows up and how we can all contribute to creating an anti-racist community in Andover and beyond. A list of resources is available here.

2021 Fall Series

Fall 2021 Series Flyer

Visit this page for resources focused on Indigenous Peoples.

November 18, 2021, 7pm - Decolonizing: Placing Indigenous Peoples in the Conversation - An Evening with Claudia Fox Tree & Debby Irving. Join Claudia Fox Tree and Debby Irving for an online conversation as they explore how U.S. narratives have shaped their understanding of themselves, one another, and the complex world we live in. This event was not recorded. A copy of the resources shared in the chat is available here.

November 4, 2021, 7pm - Beyond the Mayflower & 1620: Native Americans of New England. Professor Christoph Strobel will present an interpretive history of the indigenous peoples of New England. A recording of this event is available here. A copy of the resources shared in the chat is available here.

October 7, 2021, 7pm - Annawon Weeden: Understanding Indigenous Culture. An online evening with Annawon Weeden, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe, in conversation with Julia Alexander, an educator at The Pike School. A recording of this event is available here. A copy of the resources shared in the chat can be found here.

September 30, 2021, 7pm - Ready to be Different - An Online Conversation with Andover's Commission on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Meet Andover's Commission on Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and learn about their work. A recording of this event can be found here.

2021 ‘In Search of Justice’ Series

May 12, 2021 – Parole 101: The Massachusetts Parole System & Why It Needs to Change. The program was designed to raise awareness about parole and change hearts and minds about the importance/difficulties of parole in Massachusetts. Panelists included Representative Liz Miranda who has filed several parole bills for 2021-22, Attorney Patricia Garin, one of the foremost parole experts in Massachusetts, and moderator Jean Trounstine, professor, writer and activist who has written extensively about parole, in addition to invited guests, Isaiah Dotson and Jonathan Best, who shared some of their experiences. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library in collaboration with the Social Justice Coalition of South Church and the Coalition for Effective Public Safety. A recording of this program is available at

April 28, 2021 – A Virtual Reflection on ‘In Search of Justice’; a virtual conversation for anyone who attended at least one Courageous Conversations event in the series. Jean Trounstine led an interactive session where participants could share their thoughts and reactions about what they learned in the series. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

April 14, 2021 – What Positive Justice Looks Like; UTEC's team discussed their nationally recognized model which begins with intensive street outreach, correctional facility in-reach, and gang peacemaking, engaging our most disconnected young adults by meeting them “where they’re at.” Their wraparound program is designed to never give up on young adults as they overcome personal, health, and institutional barriers to improving their lives. The team also shared some of the ways they are innovating with the State and the Department of Corrections to make real, meaningful changes at a systemic level. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library & Haverhill Public Library.The program recording is available at

March 10, 2021 – We Need to Talk About Ending Injustice: The Work and Path of Bryan Stevenson. A virtual conversation about the work of Bryan Stevenson and Danielle Sered and the role of restorative justice with author and activist, Jean Trounstine and defense attorney Alicia McNeil. Karter Reed joined the discussion to share his story and perspective on restorative justice. Attorney Jennifer Capone moderated the Q&A. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library in collaboration with Haverhill Public Library.

February 10, 2021 – The Injustice of This Moment is Not an Aberration; Stacy Seward, Executive Director, The Dream Network, facilitated a discussion with experts of the local impacts of our system of justice and the issues and challenges faced by people leaving the carceral system and returning home. Panelists included Attorney Denise Molina Capers, Attorney Saundra Edwards, Lawrence Public School Committee Member Kassie Infante, and several returning citizens. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library in collaboration with Haverhill Public Library.

January 27, 2021 – Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You: A Virtual Conversation with Local Educators & Students; facilitated by Delia Duran-Clark, Principal, Esperanza Academy; panelists included Kwesi Moody, Assistant Principal, Andover High School, Taylor Ware, Phillips Academy, Aldonsa Pereyra, Phillips Academy, and students Will Ware, Sofia Duran-Clark, Mara Duran-Clark, and Elena Duran-Clark. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

2020 - Affordable Housing & Voter Suppression

November 9, 2020 – Affordable Housing in Andover: Update and What's Next? Panel Discussion. Moderated by Dara Obbard, Andover Community Trust, Board of Directors; panelists included Denise Johnson - Executive Director of Andover Community Trust (ACT), Lisa Schwartz - Senior Planner, Town of Andover. Dana Walsh - Senior Pastor of South Church, Sindy Davila - ACT Family Homeowner. Virtual event hosted by Memorial Hall Library. Program recording is available at

October 8, 2020 – A Virtual Discussion of Carol Anderson’s ONE PERSON, NO VOTE; a presentation and discussion about Carol Anderson’s One Person No Vote: How Voter Suppression is Destroying Our Democracy, led by Dr. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, Assistant Professor of History, UMass Lowell. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library;

September 29, 2020 – I’m a Good Person! Isn’t That Enough? A Virtual Evening with Debby Irving. Moderated by Rev. Dana Allen Walsh, Senior Pastor South Church; panelists included Elizabeth Walther-Grant & Bria Gadsden, founders of Merrimack Valley Black & Brown Voices, and Amaryllis Lopez, Program Director, Elevated Thought. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library in partnership with 7 Merrimack Valley libraries - Burlington Public Library, Haverhill Public Library, Lawrence Public Library, Nevins Memorial Library, Stevens Memorial Library, Tewksbury Public Library & Wilmington Memorial Library, the newly formed Libraries Working Towards Social Justice.

August 5, 2020 – Documentary screening of Suppressed: The Fight to Vote by Robert Greenwald about the 2018 election in Georgia, followed by a facilitated discussion led by Caroline Cole of the Andover/North Andover League of Women Voters. Virtual event hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

March 4, 2020 – Book Discussion of The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. Dr. Elizabeth Herbin-Triant, Assistant Professor of History at UMass Lowell led the discussion. Dr. Herbin-Triant is author of "Threatening Property: Race, Class, and Campaigns to Legislate Jim Crow Neighborhoods," Columbia University Press, 2010. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

February 13, 2020 – The Moral Imperative of Affordable Housing Panel Discussion; moderated by Yesenia Gil, Executive Director of Bread and Roses Housing, Inc. Panelists included Jessica Andors, Executive Director, Lawrence Community Works, Meegan O'Neil, Executive Director, Merrimack Valley Habitat for Humanity, Anabelle Rondon, Great Neighborhoods Manager, Smart Growth Alliance, Eric Shupin, Director of Public Policy, Citizens' Housing and Planning Association (CHAPA). A panel discussion focused on how housing works as a platform for good life outcomes - stable housing leads to better health outcomes, better education outcomes, and a healthier social fabric. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.


November 21, 2019 - Film screening of The Angry Eye documentary by Jane Elliot, followed by a discussion facilitated by Heather Keyworth, K+associates. Hosted by Memorial Hall LIbrary.

October 24, 2019 - White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism; a screening of a short video of antiracist educator Robin DiAngelo talking about white fragility, followed by a discussion facilitated by Gail Forsyth-Vail, Unitarian Universalist Association. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

October 13, 2019 - History and Culture Walk on the Spicket River Greenway in Lawrence; led by Lesly Melendez, Groundwork Lawrence and Mark Cutler, Phillips Academy

2019 Immigration Series

In this series, we focused on the hardships of the immigrant journey to the United States, the history of U.S. intervention in Central America, which plays a major role in the flow of Central American immigrants seeking asylum in the U.S., the story of the transformation of Lawrence into New England's first Latino-majority city, and the immigrant voices from Lawrence speaking to the struggles, as well as the strength and resilience of immigrants working to rebuild Lawrence.

April 3, 2019 - "Voices from Lawrence" Panel Discussion moderated by Robert Forrant, Professor of History, UMass Lowell; panelists included Delia Duran, Executive Director, Mill Cities Institute, Lesly Melendez, Deputy Director, Groundwork Lawrence, Jadi Taveras, Head of School, Esperanza Academy, Yesenia Gil, Executive Director, Bread and Roses Housing, and Abel Vargas, MassHire Merrimack Valley Workforce Board. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library

March 25, 2019 - An Evening with Dr. Llana Barber: Latino City:  Immigration and Urban Crisis in Lawrence, Massachusetts, 1945-2000. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

February 28, 2019 - Film screening of Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzales, followed by a facilitated discussion led by Dr. José Jorge Mendoza, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UMass Lowell. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

February 6, 2019 - Film screening of Who is Dayani Cristal, followed by a discussion led by Deb Olander & Mary Pritchard. Presented in collaboration with Showing Up for Racial Justice. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.


November 13, 2018 – Book discussion of So you want to talk about race by Ijeoma Oluo; led by facilitators Michael Eatman, Director of Community Life, Pike School and Rev. Dr. Julie Mavity Maddalena, Adjunct Professor, Southern Methodist University and Interim Pastor, Georgetown Congregational Church. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

May 14, 2018 - Examining Whiteness Workshop followup session led by Rev. Julie Mavity Maddalena, Director of Spiritual Life and Minister and Instructor, Brooks School. Hosted by Andover U.U. Church.

April 26, 2018 - "I'm a Good Person!  Isn't that Enough?” An Evening with Debby Irving, author of Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race. Hosted by South Church in partnership with Courageous Conversations. Hosted by South Church.

February 22, 2018 - Panel Discussion of Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Facilitated by Shaunielle McDonald, Director of Diversity Initiatives, Brooks School with panelists Michael Eatman, Director of Community Life, Pike School, Martin Henson, Black Lives Matter, Boston, Linda Carter Griffith, Assistant Head of School for Equity, Inclusion and Wellness, Phillips Academy, and Trevor Brown, Office of Admissions, Phillips Academy. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

February 8, 2018 - Film screening of Alice's Ordinary People documentary film based on the life of Alice Tregay, an unsung heroine of the Chicago Freedom Movement, followed by a discussion with filmmaker, Craig Dudnick. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

February 1, 2018 - Examining Whiteness Workshop led by Rev. Julie Mavity Maddalena, Director of Spiritual Life and Minister and Instructor, Brooks School. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.


October 23, 2017 - Film screening of I Am Not Your Negro, a documentary by Raoul Peck based on James Baldwin's examination of race in America, followed by a discussion led by Rev. Julie Mavity Maddalena, Director of Spiritual Life and Minister and Instructor, Brooks School, and Shaunielle McDonald, Director of Diversity Initiatives, Brooks School. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

May 4, 2017 - An Evening with Peggy McIntosh, Research Associate at Wellesley College and author of White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Hosted by Pike School.

April 12, 2017 - A Quiet Revolution, a documentary film by Tom Dey looking at the impact, after 50 years, of the A Better Chance program, a groundbreaking program to identify young students of color from low-income backgrounds for admission to the nation’s leading boarding schools. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

Spring 2017 - Community Read of Waking Up White and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving

February 15, 2017 - The House We Live In, the third episode of the 2003 PBS series, Race - The Power of an Illusion. The film screening was followed by a discussion led by Damany Fisher, history and social science instructor at Phillips Academy and Rev. Lee Bluemel of North Parish Unitarian Universalist of North Andover. Hosted by Memorial Hall Library.

Read a February 16, 2017 Andover Townsman article about Courageous Conversations.