TEAM Westport Announces Teen Essay Topic

Sure, it’s tough to talk about race.

But it’s a crucial topic. And who better to talk about it than those who will one day lead our nation: today’s teenagers.

That’s the idea behind this year’s 9th annual TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Essay Contest. The Westport Library co-sponsors the event.

The town’s multicultural committee asks:

Why can it be so difficult to talk about race? Trevor Noah, award-winning comedian, writer and television host from South Africa says, “the first thing we have to do in any conversation is figure out what the words mean in the conversation we’re having.”

Here’s the essay prompt:

In 1,000 words or fewer, describe what you would like to explain to people in your community who avoid or struggle with talking about race, or acknowledging system racism, or who apply a “color blind” approach to issues.

The contest is open to anyone in grades 9-12 who lives in Westport, or attends a public or private school here. First prize is $1,000; 2nd is $750, and 3rd is $500.

Click here for full details, and an application form. The deadline is February 25. An awards ceremony is set for April 4, at the Westport Library. Questions? Email


28 responses to “TEAM Westport Announces Teen Essay Topic

  1. Michael Kliegman

    OMG. How might Westport teens approach this essay if they do not agree that there is “system[sic] racism” or if they do favor a “color blind” approach to issues? TEAM Westport frames the matter along the lines of: “How would you deal with a person who is under the impression that the world is flat?”

    How about a diversity essay contest that encourages diverse thought?

  2. Assigning this topic clearly meets any sensible definition of racism. Implying that a color blind approach is in some way deficient, dictates that people should be judged by their race. This sure sounds racist to me, and saying otherwise is Orwellian.

    • India van Voorhees

      I understand your confusion. Long ago, during the civil rights movement of the ’60s and ’70s, saying one was colorblind was done with good intentions. It was a way of saying that we’re all equal.
      But the truth of the matter is that we DO see color. We DO see race. To say we don’t essentially negates an entire culture.
      Not being colorblind doesn’t dictate *judging* race, it means *acknowledging* race. African Americans, and other Black Americans, have their own distinct, rich, beautiful culture. That culture should be recognized and appreciated and accepted.

      • Thank you for your succinct and concise response. Goodness! Thank you. I was able to take a breath after reading your response. I had felt like I was kicked in the stomach.

  3. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    It’s not Orwellian. It’s Westportian

  4. Trevor Pappas

    How about the fact that anyone who dares say anything that goes against woke orthodoxy gets accused of being a racist? How about that essay question? Every year, TEAM gives out a prompt question that is always about race that is always divisive and negative. It’s getting really old…

  5. Who is TEAM? I looked it up and it appears they are not even elected and yet have power in virtually every part of our town, including our schools (selecting the Superintendent, curriculum, etc). How can we live in 2022 in a purportedly sophisticated town that bestows upon this unelected body so much power? What happened to representative democracy? Westport needs to disband TEAM now. This group does NOT belong in our schools!

    This TEAM essay prompt might as well have been written by the KKK. Newsflash-everyone should be treated EQUALLY no matter what your skin color is. This is so completely shocking, offensive, and disgusting at the same time. The Reverend Martin Luther King would roll in his grave. This racist junk needs to go. MLK would lead the way to dismantle TEAM. I hope some parents and Jen Tooker take note and get rid of TEAM. Time to go, TEAM. Nice try at teaching racism there, TEAM. Go away-this racism has no place in Westport or anywhere in the United States!

  6. Art Lefkowitz

    TEAM has jumped the shark. With all due respect, this woke ideology of equity or antiracism or whatever you want to call it is wrong. It is immoral to impress these ideas on our children. This ideology is a high speed train to the complete disintegration of our pluralistic society. Shame on anyone who is part of this! TEAM presumably means well but they are misguided. They need to DO THE WORK to understand that equality is the essential principle that keeps our republic united. This is a philosophical battle our town needs to have.

  7. Lauren MacNeill

    Well I guess we know there is an audience for the essays. Hope you read them and learn from our children

  8. Danielle Teplica

    Is the gist of the negative comments that everything seemed fine until people started saying that we needed to try something different (by getting more comfortable talking to each other about race)? And that makes you mad? Is that your point? Would you agree that the experience of living in the United States isn’t equal for everyone and that race really is a factor? Equality for everyone is a perfect goal. But there isn’t equality right now. All people are equal, but they don’t have equal outcomes to show for it. How many of the Fortune 500 CEO’s would you guess are Black? The answer is 5. That’s 1%. Why is that number so small when 13.4% of the population is Black? How could people work together to make those numbers closer to equal? How can we work together to make living in Westport feel equally happy for everyone?

    • So, let me get this straight. Black people are incapable of achieving anything without help from others? And we should hire purely based on skin color as opposed to merit, experience, education, or character?

      Yes, this should definitely make living in Westport feel equally happy for everyone. Well done.

      • I did not see anything in the prompt about hiring someone based on their skin color. It simply asked our students to tell us how they believe we should discuss these issues. It seems you and many others in this town would like them to stay quiet about racism. I say, give these kids a voice.

  9. Eric William Buchroeder SHS ‘70

    Term limits would be a step in the right direction.

  10. Just a question: how does talking openly about racism hurt any of you? Absolutely no one is saying that one group is better or more worthy than another: this essay contest gives kids an opportunity to write about their own individual experience of having darker skin in a predominantly light-skinned community: how does that opportunity affect you directly? Could it maybe even increase your empathy for an experience outside your own?

    • Michael Kliegman

      Talk about racism, yes. But read the words carefully. The question assumes there is systemic racism (undefined, and in any case highly debatable, especially by thoughtful black intellectuals such as Glenn Loury and John McWhorter) and that color-blindness is an unacceptable goal (and you’re quoting MLK?)

      • The question asks for their experience with/understanding of systemic racism, not a defense of it. You are welcome to your own opinion regarding the existence of systemic racism just as flat-earthers are welcome to their views: both fly in the face of fact, but it’s a free country.

        By citing Dr. Loury and Dr. McWhorter, are you somehow saying that their opinions are proof that systemic racism doesn’t exist? Phyllis Schlafly railed against the ERA: does that mean sexism doesn’t exist, either? One of the best ways to acknowledge that a particular culture isn’t a monolith is to notice that there are people of differing experiences/beliefs within that culture.

        As for colorblindness, seeing color isn’t the problem, and unless you’re blind it also isn’t possible. Would you want to be colorblind at the Tulip Festival in Amsterdam? In an art museum? We are a visual species, and we have been carefully taught that different skin colors hold different value in this society. Treating people equally regardless of skin color does not mean we don’t see the skin color: if anything, it means we do, that we’re conscious of it, and that we are making a conscious effort to demonstrate equal treatment and respect. Why is that so threatening to people? What does it take away from you?

    • John D McCarthy

      American Ideals…..that’s pretty funny.

  11. Oh, and by the way, beloved Martin Luther King Jr. also said, “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.””

  12. The questions for the essay are prompts. The goal of a prompt is to help a writer (of any age!) generate ideas. A prompt gets writers thinking—pro, con, whatever—and they can go from there.

    Acknowledging racism exists is not racist. I am glad TEAM Westport has given the students—and the rest of us—much to think about.

  13. I think it is obvious from the above comments that people come at this issue from different perspectives. Consequently, it is fair to say that political view points in good faith are different. Hence, TEAM has departed from its initial mandate, which was in the first order to be welcoming to all. Given that it has created much division in Westport due to the ideology by which it carries out its mission and given that it is not responsible to the electorate in any way, it should not have any direct input in the schools or relationship with the schools (See the by laws that prohibit ideology/indoctrination in our schools.) Some parents may like TEAM’s approach; others not. Therefore, TEAM should not be influential in our schools. We used to have values with which everyone could agree: teach our kids Kindness and Respect for others. When you move away from such general values and adopt ideologically specific views, we are bound to have friction. Our schools are there to help all our kids achieve academically to the best of their abilities in an environment that supports kindness and respect. …That’s all.

  14. I actually can’t believe there are people sitting here defending this prompt. It is cringe. And no, it’s not because I’m uncomfortable talking about race. It’s because I’m uncomfortable having a divisive, race-baiting organization like TEAM running every aspect of our town. I will continue to teach my children to be colorblind, because when this anti-racism movement is exposed for the fraud that it is, I will STILL want my children to judge people based on their character and not their skin color.

    • “I’m uncomfortable having a divisive, race-baiting organization like TEAM running every aspect of our town ” methinks this is the kind of ridiculous hyperbole that keeps people from taking this group seriously.

  15. What if we left it to the students to tell us what they think? Is this not the perfect opportunity for the adults to listen to what they are experiencing? If the Staples students take issue with the prompt, they can call out TEAM (TEAM is not a voting body, so they don’t “run” Westport).

    I have yet to hear an opposing view that convinces me that there is not systemic racism. That provides evidence that color blindness is an effective way of creating change. A point of view that doesn’t gaslight what many of our black students have experienced and continue to experience in our town. It is not always the white person’s point of view that matters, it is the point of view from those who are living it. (I really want to say, “so sit down, shut up and listen” but I know that is mean spirited).

    When I see books like Maus being banned, I wonder if that is not Orwellian? Book banning seems more dangerous than asking students to discuss what might be a controversial topic. Based on the comments, it seems like Westport is getting dangerously close to banning books.

    By the way I also believe global warming is made worse by humans. Just in case anyone wanted more Information to disparage me.

    Oh, I also believe a woman has a right to choose.

    I’m also a big fan of the Grateful Dead. So, yes, you were right. I am a dirty hippy who loves peace, love and understanding.

    I also like cats. Sorry had to lighten up the mood on this comments board. It was bumming me out.

  16. MichaelKliegman

    Well first, Abby, I don’t think anyone wants to disparage you. Also, banning Maus, global warming and abortion are a lot to put on the plate, I will certainly forgo comment. Just focusing on your second paragraph, charges of “systemic racism” are not nearly the same as asserting that racism exists. The latter is clearly the case (nobody would argue otherwise), while the former is something that is asserted and never proven while the “Anti-Racist” experts wish to reorder society based on it. That’s where the gaslighting is taking place.

    This essay question doesn’t ask students (black or otherwise) to talk about racism they experience or observe, that would be fine. As my original comment noted, this essay question is asking our students to (a) take for granted that America is riddled with racism (i.e., systemic racism) and (b) advocating a color-blind approach is wrong, and just write the essay discussing how you’d talk to the idiots (e.g., your parents) who don’t understand that.

    • I was being flip in espousing my other opinions. Though I do stand by my love of cats.

      I do believe that I had mentioned a student can present that color-blindness is in fact anti-racist, not a point of view I take, but it is a point of view I would be interested in reading. (that may have been in a different comment I posted)

      I believe the comment you are referring to, referred back not to the essay question, but the comments by others that expressed color-blindness was the best way to deal with race, and did not seem to understand the nuances of why that is no longer believed to be effective by those who study race, and those who experience racism.

  17. India van Voorhees

    I think what many people are overlooking is the fact that this isn’t a compulsory assignment in high school. It’s an essay contest. If any teen doesn’t like the topic of the essay, that teen doesn’t have to enter the contest. In fact, I guarantee you that there will be lots of teens who DO like the topic and STILL won’t enter the contest. (smiling)
    There are many contests like this throughout America. This one is sponsored by a committee whose sole purpose is engendering diversity in our community and therefore its contest addresses that issue. That’s all.

    It’s important to understand that, for the first time ever, Black Americans – instead of White Americans – are defining racism. Doesn’t everyone agree that it’s appropriate for those who have been discriminated against to be the ones to point out exactly how this racism and discrimination and prejudice is manifested and how being aware of it is the first step in eliminating it?

    I urge those who don’t agree with the concepts of systemic racism and the eradication of colorblindness to keep an open mind and have an open heart and take the time to talk with people of color who are supportive of these issues before deciding that these concepts are “wrong.”

    • MichaelKliegman

      As it happens, I have learned the most about these issues – including why the popular “systemic racism” and “Anti-Racism” narratives are nonsense — from black public intellectuals who have been thinking, writing and speaking about issues confronting blacks in America for many years.

  18. MichaelKliegman

    A suggested alternative essay question:
    Please explain, in light of the fact that President Biden is about to put a black woman on the Supreme Court, she will be joining a black man nominated to the Court by a Republican President in 1991; we currently have a black Vice President and black Secretary of Defense; we elected a black President for two terms by a wide margin; before that we had two consecutive black Secretaries of State; President Biden won the Democratic nomination based directly on support from a black Congressman in South Carolina, how it can be said that America is systemically racist.