Project Concern: 40 Years Later, Memories Live On

Eve Potts is a longtime Westporter. She’s been active in the arts, history, education and much more. Today, she shares a special encounter with “06880” readers.

Those of us who have been in Westport a long time remember vividly when there was a great deal of discussion (not all of it positive) about inviting a group of youngsters from Bridgeport to join classrooms in Westport. The program was known as Project Concern.

Over 40 years have passed since those first eager kids jumped off a bus from Bridgeport and were enrolled in Westport elementary schools. My 2 daughters were in the lower grades at Burr Farms. They were excited to welcome one of the girls, Anjetta Redmond, to stay at our house overnight each Tuesday so she could be part of the special early morning music rehearsals.

Eve Potts painted Anjetta Redmond’s portrait 40 years ago, when she was a guest in their home.

A couple of months ago — after all these years — we had a wonderful reunion with Anjetta Redmond Holloway and her close friend, Lisa Jones Mendenhall, who often joined Anjetta at our house overnight.

The conversation was lively. Besides getting reacquainted and sharing photos of kids, grandkids and husbands, we talked a bit about their Westport experience.

Both talked frankly — and enthusiastically — about what a great experience it had been for them. They were emphatic that coming to Westport, and learning about this other world, had impacted their lives.

We asked how they were treated back in Bridgeport after they enrolled here. They said there was teasing, and some pretty derisive comments from some of their friends.

Both women insisted that they honestly never felt any prejudice from their Westport schoolmates, even as talk of recalling the Westport Board of Education chair swirled and became reality here in Westport.

There was a lot of reminiscing — about funny happenings, and about Lisa’s brother Leonard who had been accepted into the program because an older sister had suggested it would be good for him. Leonard was a favorite at Burr Farms School for his incredible ability to walk on his hands and do other acrobatic feats.

The women mentioned the treats that were available in Westport, like Baskin- Robbins, that weren’t available in Bridgeport. Amy remembered how her Bridgeport friends brought Now & Laters — candy not available in Westport — to school to sell to kids here.

It was a wonderful morning: very loving, very happy, and very nostalgic.

Both Anjetta and Lisa have had very successful careers and marriages. Anjetta has had a long career at People’s Bank, and is a research representative. Lisa, who also worked for years at People’s Bank, is now employed by the Board of Education in Bridgeport. She is involved in discussions about the validity, balance and fairness of magnet school policies.

Here’s what Lisa posted on Facebook when she got home:

OK. So the year is 1971. There’s a program called Project Concern being introduced to inner city communities. Myself, along with my friends Anjetta Holloway and Wanda Thompson-Mosley, to name a few, were allowed the opportunity to attend.

We joined Brownies, then Girl Scouts. We played the flute and clarinets, mastered cartwheels and splits, and went to sleepaway camp. Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips was good eating (no Arthur Treacher’s in Bridgeport), and we were completely fascinated with Baskin-Robbins’ 31 flavors.

Fast forward. It’s 2019 and you receive a friend request from Amy Potts. Hmmm. Amy and Abby from Westport — could it be?  Yes, it was, and this morning after 40-plus years we met for breakfast with Amy, her mom, and her auntie.

What a great time we had reminiscing of how great life was way back then. Life is good. Always cherish each moment.

(For more “06880” stories on Project Concern, click here, here and here.)

9 responses to “Project Concern: 40 Years Later, Memories Live On

  1. Been watching the Democratic Presidential debates? And hearing the constant refrain that America’s schools are as segregated now — even in the north — as they were in 1954 after Brown v. Board of Education?!? A wonderful story how that can be changed two school kids at a time.

    • If you think the inequality between Westport and Bridgeport schools has narrowed in 48 years, I think you should get out more. – Chris Woods

  2. Jack Whittle

    I was a 4th grader at Burr Farms (I seem to recall the elementary-age Bridgeport kids only came to Burr Farms?) in 1972 – – and we had just moved to Westport so we missed the “lively” debates in town about the Project Concern busing program. I (and everyone else as far as I could tell) simply encountered some kids that were just kids like us that happened to have a long bus ride – “Bus #1 Bridgeport” to distinguish it from the Bus #1 that served Westport. Kids start off pretty pure of heart, and kids only act with racial prejudice if they picked that up from their parents, or perhaps the environment-society in which they were raised. None of that seemed to show up in my white classmates at Burr Farms back then, but I can only report what I saw.

    I even remember one of my good friends from 4th grade who happened to ride that bus – his name was Michael Jackson!

  3. Melinda Hemson

    I was a first grader at Assumption in 1976 and we had 4 kids from Project Concern in my class. I didn’t even know it was a special program. I just thought that’s what Catholic schools did. I just remember thinking how far they had to travel every day just to go to school. When I transferred to public school in 5th grade, they had a few kids from Bridgeport too. It was then I learned about the program. I went to school right thru Staples with several of those kids and they were all amazing and thankful for the opportunity. What I didn’t know until today was how unique Westport was for implementing it at the time or what went on behind the scenes.

  4. Thanks for sharing this.

  5. Amazing- I think about these girls frequently & was hopeful that they had had personal success in their lives- especially Anjetta & Lisa who followed me to Greens Farms Elementary after an unhappy redistricting. It was wonderful to see their faces @ our “new school” , & I recall many a recess that they were stalwart defenders against the awful bullying that went on at that school (white on white). Their courage & sense of right & wrong is inspiring to this day. I cannot recall if they also attended Long Lots & Staples..Thank you to Eve for sharing & taking these girls in for sleepovers- who even knew that was possible? It sounds like that extra time was well spent & benefitted all.

  6. Michael Calise

    I was an RTM member at the inception of this program and while it was not unusual to have an angry phone call or two this was a program that most Westporter’s where extremely proud of. It was indisputable that it was of great benefit to both Westport and Bridgeport students. My recollection is that the program proved itself very quickly and that the uncertainty’s and opposition disappeared in the first few months of the program.

  7. John Greenspan

    I too have fond memories of project concern, when I was a student at Bugbee elementary school in west hartford with students from hartford. This story brought back some great memories. Must have been a state-wide program. Thx for sharing.

  8. Project Concern missed its big opportunity.since Westport schools was at the forefront of advanced programs in music, theater and arts in public schools, I think if “Project Concern” was set up on the basis of busing artistically talented kids in from Bridgeport (predating magnet schools) it could’ve been a sensational long lasting endeavor instead of petering out. Think back and remember the NYC school featured in the hit movie “FAME!”.