In the early 1960s, America was slowly rousing itself from the vanilla Eisenhower years.
Many teenagers’ lives revolved around sports and parties. The political activism that characterized the rest of the decade was still on the horizon.
But a small group of youngsters saw it coming. Alienated from the popular culture of Bedford and Long Lots Junior Highs, and Staples High School, they found themselves — and their place — in Burt and Honey Knopp’s house.
Politically active — Honey started the World Affairs Center, a downtown meeting place — and warmly open to young people, the Knopps and their daughter Sari formed a loose group that, for a couple of years, met every 3 weeks or so.
Calling themselves “Concern,” they talked about important issues of the day. They brought in speakers. They picketed the Norwalk Woolworth’s, in solidarity with civil rights protesters at North Carolina lunch counters.
They demonstrated at Westport’s Nike missile site, advocating for nuclear disarmament.
And — though they didn’t know it at the time — the small group of teenagers made a commitment to social justice that has influenced the rest of their lives.
The group included Richard Hill, Martha Honey, Barbara Kelman and Bob Rubinstein. Another member — Doug Biklen — later became Sari Knopp’s husband.
Half a century later, the participants have different memories of Concern, Sari says. But earlier this month — during the Staples Class of 1963’s 50th reunion — they got together once again.
They wanted to look back on the group, examine its importance to them — and find out what they’d done with their lives ever since.
They realized that over the span of just a couple of years, Concern helped set them on their life paths. Some spent their careers working for the environment. Others dedicated themselves to urban youth, or international crises. Sari is now a professor at Syracuse University, studying race and gender.
The early 1960s were a vastly different time than today. The young people in Concern did not talk about women’s or gay issues, because virtually no one else did either.
But they were concerned then about the world, and their place in it.
They still are.
And — when most of their peers were cheering at football games and thinking about the next party — Burt and Honey Knopp gave them a place, and a space, to lay the foundation for the rest of their lives.