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Town’s Anti-Bias Task Force holds first implicit bias trainings

The first implicit bias trainings organized by Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force have proved a success — enough so that the group is already taking names for another round of workshops. 

Around 50 people attended the June sessions, which fostered open discussion about how to be more respectful and understanding of others.  

The conversations were led by Suffolk County Community College professor James Banks, who moderated a Synergy meeting in town early last month to facilitate communication between Riverhead police and local community members.  

“There will be times when you don’t agree with the things being said,” he told his audience in a Monday morning session. “It’s always been my practice, that’s okay … Be open to a wide range of different perspectives.” 

Over the course of two double-session seminars, he discussed microaggressions, systemic racism, anti-Blackness, privilege and, of course, implicit biases, among other things. Audience members chimed in throughout. Mr. Banks bolstered his presentation with videos, activities and a guided meditation.

“The ancestor to all things is an idea,” he said at one point. “Then that transitions to your beliefs … and then the belief transitions to our feelings … [which] then transition into behaviors or actions.”

In order to change behaviors and action, he said, it’s important to go back and change the original idea. A woman in the audience provided an example, saying: “I think most men are sexist against women.”  

“Okay! Now how would you temper that statement, so that the idea would be able to be modified?” Mr. Banks asked. “One word is all you have to change. ‘Some’ men. Now, that will affect everything that follows.” 

Juan Micieli-Martinez, an entrepreneur and winemaker based in Riverhead, called the sessions “enlightening.” 

The training helped him “better understand what implicit bias means and how it does affect us all,” he said. “I think it’s naturally innate to a certain extent, but it’s also taught as well, and so how we can be better to lessen those impacts in our daily lives is really what I got from the training.” 

He initially joined after receiving an email from the Town of Riverhead announcing an opportunity to learn more about implicit bias, a term he wasn’t fully cognizant of before.

“The impetus was to just expand my understandings of human relations, is really what it comes down to,” he explained. And now that he’s experienced the trainings, he thinks it’s something that “would benefit many people.” 

Mr. Micieli-Martinez, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Mexico, pointed out many Americans tend to lose sight of the fact that — unless they’re Native American — somebody in their family was an immigrant at some point in time, something Mr. Banks also touched on during his lecture.  

Anne Marie Prudenti, a deputy town attorney, said she learned a lot about implicit biases — including their range.  

“We learned it from family, experience and the biases that exist out there. It’s not just race. It could be religion, ethnicity, gender — it’s actually the full gamut,” she said. “I learned about other biases, implicit biases, I guess, that I didn’t even realize or recognize.” 

The workshop both brought people together and opened dialogue about “sensitive” topics like bias and prejudice that many people avoid, she added.  

“I was very pleased, because the workshop never told or instructed anybody to accept or believe any point of view,” Ms. Prudenti said. “Instead, it was about listening, thinking and having an open dialogue and communication with others, whether it’s one person or a group of people.” 

Stephen Palmer, a member of the Anti-Bias Task Force and retired police officer, said he wouldn’t call the sessions a “training” so much as a “discussion amongst the participants and the gentleman that led the discussion.”  

“It wasn’t heated at all,” he said. “We were able to talk to each other in a civil manner. We had our differences, but there really weren’t many differences. People tend to agree that change needs to happen and it’s just how we’re going to do that is going to be a real challenge.” 

Riverhead Councilwoman Catherine Kent, who also attended the sessions, said it’s especially important for people who work with the public to be respectful and aware of how “the things that we say and do” make other people feel. She praised the task force for its work. 

“The Anti-Bias Task Force has been working very hard, doing great work and bringing a lot of stuff to the community and I am certain that work will continue,” Ms. Kent said. “They are a very enthusiastic group and I know they are working with other towns on things.” 

Anyone interested in future implicit bias trainings through Riverhead’s Anti-Bias Task Force should email [email protected].