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Vanessa Otero Named Interim Director of Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley

SPRINGFIELD — The board of directors of the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley (HRIPV) announced that former board member Vanessa Otero has been named interim director through the end of the year to support and move forward the work of the institute.

The institute also announced it has become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. As part of that move, the HRIPV board has appointed Baystate Health executive and longtime social-justice advocate Frank Robinson as the organization’s first president.

Otero is among the co-founders of HRIPV that grew out of a City2City Pioneer Valley visit to Grand Rapids, Mich. in 2011, where a Healing Racism Institute was formed and housed at the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce. Grand Rapids has also established institutes in its community’s faith and higher-education sectors.

“This work began for me after a trip to Grand Rapids with other community leaders,” Otero said. “I remember stopping John Davis, another founder of the initiative, in the hallway to tell him I wanted to be part of his effort to address racism in our region. Since then, even when my participation waned, I believed in the importance of this work and the impact it has on participants.

“The pandemic provides a moment in time where I can be of help in anticipation of hiring a permanent director,” she added. “This is not a full-time position, but is as important as any work I have done for the greater good.”

Otero is currently director of Smith College’s Urban Education Initiative. She has deep roots in the community, serving on state and regional boards, including being appointed to the Governor’s Latino Advisory Commission. She is also the chair of the Springfield Water and Sewer Commission. Mostly recently, Otero was asked to join the Department of Public Health’s COVID-19 Health Equity Advisory Group, advising Commissioner Dr. Monica Bharel and DPH on health-equity issues related to and exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and providing suggestions on solutions to be implemented at all levels.

Otero graduated from Smith College as an Ada Comstock Scholar. She has a master’s degree in public policy administration from UMass Amherst.

HRIPV’s transition to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is a result of the institute’s growth in size and scope in recent years, performing work that has engaged more than 800 individuals, more than 200 organizations, and nearly 20 sectors. The work has also expanded into the metro Boston area. The nonprofit organization status will help as the organization formalizes resource development and expands its offerings beyond its signature two-day Healing Racism seminar.

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