After receiving what he calls a number of “attacks,” Sobhan Namvar, who was tasked with heading up Andover’s newly formed DIVERSE Division, has “stepped back” into his former role as community support coordinator for the Police Department.
Namvar’s decision to step down from Andover DIVERSE, a newly formed division designed to enhance diversity and inclusion in town, was announced in a press release to the community signed by Town Manager Andrew Flanagan last week.
“I am disappointed to report that Sobhan’s efforts were met with aggressive resistance by some in our community calling into question Sobhan’s own ethnicity, religion and credibility,” Flanagan wrote in the Aug. 17 statement. “While prepared and willing to forge ahead, Sobhan and I concluded that the only way for the community to move forward was for him to step back.”
Since taking on his new role, Namvar said he has received at least 15 threatening emails from residents who are largely white and “privileged” telling him to step down. He said he received harassing emails even on the weekend and at odd hours of night.
“As soon as the position was released, a number of different emails came in saying how I was the wrong person for the position and how I needed to identify a different way as far as my religion and my ethnicity and belonging to a minority group goes,” said Namvar, a brown-skinned Muslim who came to the United States from Iran 17 years ago. “And then the attacks changed to every word I said was scrutinized.”
He claims some town employees refused to work with him, which made it difficult for him to do his job.
“Some key members were just not willing to work with me and it was just really hard,” he said.
Flanagan, who appointed Namvar to head up DIVERSE, said Namvar wasn't required to step down. He simply did so out of interest for the community, Flanagan said.
"He decided it was in his personal best interest and in the best interest of the community based on how people reacted," Flanagan said. "I respect his decision."
In his role as the Police Department's community support coordinator, Namvar, a licensed social worker, helped 911 callers with mental health or substance abuse problems find treatment.
He said after taking the helm at Andover DIVERSE, some residents took issue with his prior position at the Police Department, saying it is inappropriate to have someone who worked for the police heading up the new division.
Others, he said, complained that the goals Namvar outlined for DIVERSE were racist because of the special emphasis he placed on addiction and recovery services for the division. As it stands, DIVERSE is part of the pre-existing Office of Wellness and Recovery.
“The accusation was because I highlighted some of the initiatives that we started at the Police Department, like making Narcan available to families in town who needed it,” said Namvar. “Or some of the social services we started at the police station from our ‘Public Safety Snowman Saddle,’ which anonymously brings gift cards to families we know are in need.”
Namvar said it was the backlash that prompted him to step down.
“If I am not the right person, people need to be involved,” Namvar said. “If I am not the right person then great, let me not continue to be part of the problem, be in an argument, and fight with people justifying why I need to be in this role.”
In his release, Flanagan said Jemma Lambert, the town’s director of community services, is going to “manage the next steps” for Andover DIVERSE.