“I Should Be A Statistic”: Startling Insights Into Westport’s “Privilege”

The recent brouhaha over TEAM Westport’s “white privilege” essay contest got many folks thinking. Throughout town — and around the globe — they dissected the meaning of “privilege.”

Amelia Suermann has a unique perspective. Today, she shares it with “06880”:

I’m privileged to have grown up in Westport. It is a wonderful and supportive town. I’m so proud to say “I’m from Westport” — even when fellow Nutmeggers roll their eyes.

I did not have the “typical” Westport upbringing. My parents aren’t CEOs or executives. I didn’t live in a McMansion, and I wasn’t raised with other stereotypes of Westport.

But make no mistake: I’m privileged.

I’m privileged to have been homeless in Westport. It could have been a lot worse. I am privileged to have been raised by a single mother who worked 2, sometimes 3 jobs, to afford rent and necessities so that I could grow up in a great town with amazing resources, and attend school in a public system that rivals some of the best private institutions in the country.

Amelia Suermann

Amelia Suermann

I’ve posted before on this blog — anonymously — about growing up homeless in Westport. Without the town’s incredible resources, including the Bacharach Center and Gillespie food pantry that fed us many times when money was tight, God only knows where I would be.

I worked minimum wage throughout high school. Sometimes I used my earnings to pay phone bills or buy groceries. I should be a statistic.

But I grew up in Westport — a community with supportive neighbors and teachers. Because of that, I graduated high school. And as Elizabeth wrote a few days ago, the assumption that I would do so was privilege in of itself.

I went to college in Boston and then DC, where I settled and started my life. I’m a product of Westport’s world. The perspective that Westport has provided me is truly unique.

It’s a perspective of 2 worlds: Food pantry “shopping” on Friday night, lounging on friends’ boats on Saturday. You don’t get more privileged than that.

Addressing your own privilege should be about recognizing that maybe we have it a little easier than a lot of people.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

Two faces of Westport: the Gillespie Center and Ned Dimes Marina.

A colleague who is originally from Milford sent me a newspaper story on the essay contest. While I understood the intent, a part of me sighed “Ohhh Westport…” as I shook my head.

I thought about my own life, my own privilege. Could we have had an easier life in a less expensive place? Probably.

But I would not have had the excellent education that set me up for the life I have now. People in other towns and of other ethnicities don’t have the same opportunities as many in Westport do. And while I would like to believe that if a non-white peer having the same experience as I would end up with the same happy ending, I don’t.

There are hundreds of comments on Dan’s various posts. Isn’t that the true intent of the essay contest — to inspire thought and a dialogue about one’s own privilege?

Let’s all vow to not let these conversations about privilege go away, simply because they’re hard or embarrassing.

Let’s make them matter.

22 responses to ““I Should Be A Statistic”: Startling Insights Into Westport’s “Privilege”

  1. I am very happy that things worked out well for Amelia. She was a very special young woman. I miss her big smile and cheerful hellos. Hope her mother is also doing well.
    Manny Fine

  2. A thought provoking story, honestly and beautifully written. What a unique and interesting perspective for us all to hear. Thank you so much for sharing it! You sound extraordinary!!! All the best! A fellow Westporter!!!

  3. Thank you for sharing your story Amelia, not only about your experience being homeless in Westport but also your perspective on White Privelege. You are absolutely right, the essay contest is to get the dialogue going, to hear different perspectives and have the kids share their own. It is a difficult conversation but ones the children seem happy to embrace so I look forward to reading what they write. I am glad things worked out for you and you can look back with gratitude on what were often tough times.

  4. How brave! Thank you.

  5. Another great viewpoint on “privilege” in Westport from a former Westport student who had a very different experience from most Westporters. I guess privilege has many connotations and doesn’t always come down to color. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Rozanne Gates

    You, Amelia, are a gem and a person to pay attention to. Thank you for the life you are living and for being someone we can all refer to and look up to and emulate.

  7. Gerry Kuroghlian

    Great essay Amelia. I’m very proud to have been a part of your education. Westport is a great community!

  8. Amelia – you rock! Thank you for sharing your story!

  9. Diann Drenosky

    Amelia: This is such wonderful writing!. You have made one of your former teachers extremely proud!

  10. I too grew up in Westport the oldest of seven, we had food on the table, a roof over our heads but were never privileged, we all had to work our way up the ladder, minimum wage jobs: baby sitting (.50cents/hour,) Showplace of Shoes: $1.60/hour, Ann Taylors $1.60/hour, Stop and Shop $1.65/hour and union wages, finally waitressing ($1.85/hour) paid for gas, insurance and my first car ($985.00) on my own, paid for college UCONN on my own, loans and all, graduated, RN, BSN, worked at Norwalk Hospital first job: $10,000.00/year!! Quit to waitress cause I earned more in one night than working 40 hours a week caring for sick people (go figure). No didn’t realize any benefit from growing up in Westport, instead got backlash from others who said: Oh you grew up in Westport, you must be rich!!

  11. Amy Chatterjee

    Thank you for your honesty Amelia and thank you Dan Woog for providing a public platform to continue the conversation. It’s truly a PRIVILEGE to get to be part of an open forum.

  12. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Beautifully written, Amelia. Thanks for your unique input!

  13. Thank you, Amelia. Your thoughts about privilege in growing up here and courage in telling your story is inspiring. As you’ve shared, no one has a corner on what privilege (white or otherwise) means. I say the more versions and interpretations we hear the better.

  14. Judy Ginsberg

    Kudos to this young lady and the town of Westport. This is what you should see on national television, not the current show. Having worked a soup kitchen for 25 years you never know what’s behind those faces.

  15. Another great piece, Dan. Thank you.

    Colin Neenan Librarian, Staples High School Westport, CT

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  16. This is beautifully written! There are many paths to success, and I am glad you found yours 🙂

  17. Paula Pastorelli Schooler

    We moved to Westport in 1959 from Worcester Mass rented at Old mill beach for 1 year before my parents built a pre-fab house with all of their $15,000 .. Landing on that beach at age 11 was absolute priveledge for me. At age 24 amazed and grateful again to sole own Pearls Restaurant on funds from years of waitressing .Thank you Amelia for your light and thanks always Dan. Let’s all remain Awake

  18. I’ve watched and read the defensiveness in these “Privilege posts” along with some “way to goes!”. Amazing how everyone loves Amelia’s post, but struggles with Kelly Powers post/story STILL! I guess its whatever makes you feel better about yourself. No matter if you’re a CEO or a low wage worker/resident in Westport–if you’re White it’s STILL better that being the richest Black person. This world is made for the comfort of white people–the rest of us have to fit in….. https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/white-privilege-real-jason-ford