By Jenn Smith , The Berkshire Eagle
PITTSFIELD — Despite the morning's cold gray weather, the downtown Pittsfield court complex had a celebratory feel to it Monday, as the Massachusetts Trial Court system kicked off its inaugural Cultural Appreciation Week.
Food tents were erected outside the Berkshire Superior Courthouse facing Park Square, filling the air with the scents of Caribbean, Italian and Greek spices. Inside the building, songs, dances and speeches were performed by local children and community members as court staff, state officials and other visitors intently listened. After a tour with staff in the Berkshire Probate and Family Court building, students and staff had lunch together, sampling everything from slow-cooked Puerto Rican-style chicken and rice, to Greek spanakopita, a savory pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese.
While the special event allowed people to sample the various flavors of cultural cuisine offered by Pittsfield restaurants, it also gave participants a taste of why it's important to have awareness of and celebrate cultural, ethnic, racial, religious and gender diversity of the courts and their local citizens.
Reid Middle School eighth-graders Wesley Ahoussi, Steve Patch and Rahmel Smith — all members of the school's Justice League for diversity and inclusion — said they felt events like this were important. Asked why, they answered "respect," "equality" and "empathy," respectively.
They and their classmates, Tatyaina Curtis-Perez and Gracie Friend, said the day also helped them gain a better view and understanding of the court system and how it works.
"Things like this help you learn a lot of new things," Friend said.
"It kind of gives us an experience about criminal justice and what injustice is," Curtis-Perez said.