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Michelle Chalmers steps down from WOW

By Rama K. Ramaswamy

As the fall sets in and a new school year begins, Michelle Chalmers, long-time president of the World of Wellesley, has handed the helm over to former board members Nova Biro and Christina Horner.

Michelle, a graduate of Wellesley High School, decided to move back to town with her family in 2008 and after attending a WOW event, she felt immediately welcomed. She has been volunteering with the organization ever since. “It was very important to me that Wellesley was a welcoming town for my family and for everyone, and I wanted to engage the community in striving to be anti-racist and inclusive,” she said. Michelle said that the organization’s mission has remained consistent throughout its 30-year history: “to make Wellesley a welcoming community for everyone.” Furthermore, according to Michelle, “as far as I can remember, the organization and its volunteers were committed and emphasized partnering with the community and its educational institutions. These efforts led to building and growing what’s now well recognized as WOWs annual staple events, such as the Martin Luther King Breakfast, the Wellesley Multicultural Festival and the Essay Program for fifth-grade children, which is now part of the WPS curriculum.”

Over the course of her tenure, the organization has “widened the scope and the level of its engagement” with the greater-Wellesley community. Michelle points to many examples, such as “opportunities for community engagement, vigils, educational workshops, summits, children’s events, protests, book reads, marches, family multicultural festivals, art programs, partnerships with many religious institutions etc.” She adds: “Over the last decade, we (WOW) have striven to engage the community in all facets of community life such as schools, government, housing etc., and let our community know that the World of Wellesley is your organization and we are here to support everyone for peace, equity and justice.”

When asked what Michelle was most proud of, she said, “On September 1, I stepped down as president and two new co-presidents have taken leadership for the World of Wellesley - Christina Horner and Nova Biro will continue to focus on the success of the town of Wellesley, making the antiracist and loving change of celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in Wellesley. I’m very grateful for the World of Wellesley. It’s been an amazing journey and we have had amazing leadership over the years and a solid commitment to the World of Wellesley mission, with passionate volunteers and community members who have supported our numerous events and many Wellesley businesses have been amazingly supportive with funding for the programs to make almost everything we offer free to everyone. Personally, my family and I have benefited from the many events and community gatherings that we have attended together. We’ve had many opportunities to meet wonderful children/families, and it has been very special for my children to be involved as ‘change-makers’ and support community efforts to engage in difficult conversations, as well as community building opportunities. There is so much that I am proud of that the amazing volunteer board members have accomplished over the years. The collaborative efforts we’ve built with Wellesley Public Schools is wonderful. We’ve become part of it and have been included in rewarding programs for children and families. The World of Wellesley has also partnered with the Board of Selectman and encouraged a yearly meeting; the board has committed to engaging in conversations about human diversity. We have amazing relationships and connections to the Wellesley Free Library, Wellesley Community Center, Wellesley Media, Rotary Club, Sustainable Wellesley, Wellesley Housing authority, Wellesley METCO, Wellesley ABC, Central council and PTO, Wellesley Village Church, Temple Beth Elohim, Wellesley UU, Wellesley College, Babson College and MassBay Community College.”

According to Wellesley resident Marguerite Chatelier, one of the most unique attributes of WOW is the willingness of its members to engage in any opportunity for positive change that presents itself. As an example of this quality, Michelle cites the board’s work with Indigenous Peoples Day. “We have a community coalition of volunteers to plan and implement the campaign to have Wellesley vote ‘Yes’ on the March ballot question in support of Indigenous Peoples Day. This important symbolic effort is so meaningful to the mission of the World of Wellesley, in acknowledging we live on stolen land and awareness that this land is the traditional territory of the Massachusett Tribe. The World of Wellesley stands in solidarity with indigenous people and understanding we can never accept that this town is welcoming without this acknowledgement and change towards justice. It is important for our children to know the truth and that we stand for justice.”

When asked what’s her favorite thing about Wellesley, she said, “All the amazing friends and neighbors we have met over the years. We have great memories at the local playgrounds and school yards, hanging with friends and moms behind Bates. Living close to everything and walking the kids to school, Whole Foods and the brook path. We have fun memories from walking the parade every year, Wellesley's Wonderful Weekend and the fireworks display! I am grateful for all the amazing people who I met volunteering with the World of Wellesley, Friends of Wellesley METCO and Wellesley ABC. The town has so many caring people who give so much back to the community.”

When asked about her funniest moments as part of the community, Michelle had an immediate response. "What always made me chuckle was when I would tell people the name of the organization, ‘The World of Wellesley,’ people would say, ‘oh yes, the Wonderful Wellesley!’ Always getting World of Wellesley and the Wonderful Wellesley Weekend confused. I swear so many people still think we sponsor that whole event! I sometimes don't tell them we don't," she joked. "I have to mention our amazing partner, the Wellesley Community Center. Stephen Beach and his caring heart provided so much support in allowing WOW to use the building for free, for so many of our events and board meetings. Steve is a character and very particular about Henderson Hall. His inspections are fierce, and I would go around the carpet picking up every crumb on the floor left after our diversity summits, classism workshops and community gatherings, just to make sure not to get on his naughty list. I'm so grateful for Steve and the partnership with WOW. It was really fun.” 

“The World of Wellesley’s work will never be done," said Michelle on stepping down. "It’s a journey for building community and making that community a welcoming one - it’s hard work, and will take all of us. As much of the World of Wellesley has done and made connections, there are still so many in the community who haven’t prioritized these same efforts and connections. We need to keep in mind that many people feel welcome in Wellesley, but many others do not. We must ask ourselves if that’s alright and if it’s alright that only some people feel included in the community? What can we do? That is the continuous work for the World of Wellesley. I promised my husband that we would leave this community once our boys graduated high school, and now is the time for that change. This town has been difficult for my husband to live in and feel welcomed, as a Black man. It’s painful to express, but truly where my passion and energy has come from to give to the community. It hurts me to realize the town where I grew up and feel connected to wouldn’t feel the same for my family. The privilege and entitlement in this community can be damaging, and if we are to be honest and do the deep self-reflection and inner work that is required to acknowledge our privilege, we will see how damaging it is to ourselves and to the lack of human connections we don’t think about with reference to our neighbors and fellow community members. The social construction of race and class are labels and identities that keep us from truly understanding ourselves and our neighbors and that is truly a loss. I hope someday, the World of Wellesley will lead the way for this change for the better.”

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