Today’s “06880” theme is diversity. There’s more of it in Westport than you think. Stories posted in the past few hours include Khaliq Sanda’s stirring speech reflecting on 4 years here as an A Better Chance scholar, and Clay Garner’s career as a Westport teenager-turned-Chinese-musician-star.
Of course, another story noted that Westport’s wealthiest neighborhood — Coleytown — is 91.7% white, 3.1% Asian, 2.7% Latino and 0.9% black.
Recently, TEAM Westport — the town’s multiculturalism committee — joined with the Westport Library to sponsor an essay contest. High school students were invited to reflect on the fact that 30 years from now, racial and ethnic groups currently in the US minority will collectively outnumber whites. Students were asked to describe the benefits and challenges of this change for Westport as a whole, and themselves personally.
25 students responded. Tonight the winners — as judged by Westport educator Dr. Judith Hamer; Yale University’s Patricia Wei and teen services librarian Jaina Lewis — were announced. And celebrated.
The young writers addressed a host of challenges. Many were optimistic, even inspired.
Top prize — and $1,000 — went to Staples junior Megan Root. Her tremendously insightful essay — titled “Diversity: The Maestro of Innovation” — explored what she misses by living in a community that is 93% white. She knows that while her teachers pose many important questions, she does not hear answers from a variety of perspectives.
Megan described the value of “a symphony of ideas.”
It’s a little like being able to hit new keys on a piano, shifting your hands and stretching your fingers so you can play different octaves. Every starts in the middle C position. It’s easy and comfortable and you learn the basic skills.
But all the interesting music, the songs with real power, make you strain for the high G and reach for that low F. Entering a majority-minority world is like starting to reach for those far-off notes.
It will be a challenge, unfamiliar and uncomfortable, but ultimately it will open up a whole new book of music. No one wants to be stuck playing “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Taught by the maestro of diversity, I hope to learn Mozart and Vivaldi.
Megan looks forward to being exposed to more diversity, as the population changes. “I don’t think I can really complete an education in life until I join bigger, more varied conversations,” Megan wrote. “America’s diversity means access to culture and traditions and ideas from every corner of the globe.”
Eliza Llewellyn — Staples senior, and class valedictorian — won 2nd prize, and $750, for “No Longer 91 Percent.” She’s grown up in a multicultural family — part Welsh, part Chinese — and has hope for America’s future.
“Beyond economic strength, a mix of ethnicities will make us more tolerant and empathetic toward others,” Eliza said. “Rather than recoiling from a gay couple or crossing to the other side of a street from a black man in a hoodie, we can learn to see these individuals as people rather than a blanketed ‘other.'”
She concluded, “I am more than a Westporter, or even a Chinese-European. I am a citizen of the world.”
Third prize winner ($500) Kyle Baer was less optimistic. In “Westport: A Bubble Refuses to Pop,” the Staples junior wrote that Westport’s near-total whiteness “sets Westport back from the rest of the nation in terms of its cultural richness.
“To be stuck in an upper-class, all-white town in the coming years will be a significant disadvantage to students. We have little choice but to evolve, or risk losing our appeal as a family-friendly town. Yet the path on which Westport is headed shows, as of yet, no signs of diverging.”
Kyle is right: Westport is homogeneous. But — as the very fact that he won a prize by writing about diversity, in a contest sponsored by his town’s multicultural committee — shows, at least we’re looking at that path he says we’re on.