Kion Bruno’s mother — eye surgeon Dr. Aryan Shayegani — is a 1st-generation Iranian American.
Neighbors on their road here in Westport include a 1st-generation Palestinian neurosurgeon, a Pakistani man, and a family that hosted Iraqi refugees.
“They’re all pillars of society,” Kion says. “And they’re all Middle Eastern.”
At Staples High School — where the 11th grader is a varsity tennis player, and founder of the squash team — he hears occasional terrorist “jokes.”
“With the current presidential administration, there’s been a definite increase in xenophobia,” Kion says. “We need to bridge the gap.”
He’s doing his part. Along with several others, Kion started a Building Bridges club at Staples. Already they’ve brought in a few speakers: Iranian American women, to talk about their lives in Iran (very similar to the US, Kion says); Palestinian neurosurgeon Dr. Khalid Abbed, who grew up very poor and whose son now goes to Staples, and Tarek Alasil, a Syrian refugee training to be an ophthalmologist.
The group also arranged a Skype call with teenagers in Iran.
Now they’re reaching out to audiences beyond Staples. On Saturday, April 1 (3 p.m., Staples auditorium), Building Bridges will sponsor a screening of “Salam Neighbor.”
Congressman Jim Himes will be featured in the panel discussion that follows the screening, along with First Selectman Jim Marpe.
Other panelists include a Syrian refugee, being hosted in Westport; Ali Majeed, an Iraqi refugee who was hosted here and is now training to be a dentist; Claudia Connor, president and CEO of the International Institute of Connecticut resettlement program; John McGeehan of Westport Interfaith Refugee Settlement, and Megan Laney, a Westport native studying in Syria who was evacuated when the war began.
Senator Chris Murphy is sending a personalized video.
The suggested donation is $10. All proceeds benefit local and international refugee agencies and charities.
“Our community has the choice to stand by passively,” Kion says. “Or we can unite, and act to make a difference.”
He and his organization of teenagers have already built a bridge to the Middle East. Now the rest of us must cross it.