Category Archives: Organizations

Lobsterfest Funds Go Far: Rotarians Visit Africa Projects

You know all those great, fun events that Westport Rotary Club sponsors, like  Lobsterfest?

You know how Rotarians say they’re fundraisers for worthwhile projects?

Well, they are.

Eight Westport Rotarians joined 17 others — including Rotarians from around the US — on an East African trip last month.

The purpose was to visit remote sites of development and humanitarian Rotary grant projects, and meet Rotarians in Kenya and Uganda. Ratrians also pitched in with hands-on work.

Rick and Totney Benson, with Rotary officials in Kampala, Uganda.

Projects included 3 rural schools – two for water and sanitation projects, one for a new community resource center — plus a Masai village medical clinic, and a hospital and nursing school on the Uganda/ Congo border with 4 new ICU units.

They also stopped at national parks to enjoy wildlife in savanna and riverine environments, trekked with habituated gorillas, and enjoyed fellowship with 5 Rotary clubs.

The Africa trip was planned by Rick Benson, a 33-year Westport Rotarian. He has led or participated in many international humanitarian expeditions to Africa, India and Central America, and enjoys connections with Rotarians and clubs worldwide.

The trip combined passion for humanitarian service, intricate logistics and enormous energy. Some Rotarians called it life-changing.

During 3 weeks, the group covered more than 2,500 miles of the Rift Valley by small plane, and off-road heavy duty safari vehicles. Traveling from capital cities to remote areas of barren highlands, lush fertile valleys along the Nile and lakes like Victoria, and in sight of Mount Kenya, they stayed in mountaintop lodges, safari hotels and local guest houses.

An evening walk near Lake Naivasha, Kenya.

They assessed progress made, and future needs. For example, the pump associated with a deep bore hole well and storage tank that had been installed to serve over 2,500 people in 5 rural villages and schools recently broke. A new pump was needed. A quick response got water flowing again.

Another example was the Nambale Magnet School. It was founded by a Kenyan pastor who graduated from Yale Divinity School, to serve children orphaned during the AIDS epidemic.

Modeled on a magnet school in New Haven, it has developed since 2009 into an outstanding campus offering a home, safety and high-quality education for 400 students ages 3 to 13.

Schoolchildren in Kenya. (Photo/Gillian Anderson)

Rotary sponsorship has provided a deep water well, pump, water storage and distribution facilities, a gray water recycling system, a bio digestor to process animal and human waste into fertilizer, and a greenhouse and irrigation system. Still needed: whiteboards, computers, and an expanded network for classrooms.

In the remote forested area of southwest Uganda that is home to endangered mountain gorillas, the Bwindi Community Hospital was established in 2003 by American Rotarian doctor and missionary and his wife. They saw a need to help indigenous people who were displaced when the Impenetrable Forest Gorilla Reserve was established.

Westport Rotarians have led a project through which dozens of benefactors purchase and ship nearly $1 million worth of ICU and radiology equipment. Two shipping containers will be delivered and installed in coming months.

Rotarians wore COVID masks — to protect gorillas. 

Westport Rotary last year distributed more than $185,000 to 36 local and regional programs. 25% was invested in international humanitarian projects, like those recently visited.

They’re always looking to raise more funds, for more help. Westport Rotary is gearing up now to beat last year’s fundraising record at LobsterFest. It’s September 17, at Compo Beach. Click here for tickets, and details on the lobster, steak, live music and children’s activities.

(“06880” is fully funded by readers. Please click here to help.)

One more natural wonder in Africa. (Photo/Lyla Steenbergen)

Wheel It Forward!

I can’t remember what my sisters and I did with my mother’s wheelchair, after she died. Or any of the other medical gear, like the walker, cane and bathtub seat she used in the final months of her life.

I do know we did not donate it to Wheel It Forward. We did not know about that fantastic non-profit then.

Too many people still don’t.

That’s a shame. The average piece of “durable medical equipment” — those items mentioned above, along with hospital beds, knee scooters, toilet rests, crutches and more — is used for only 4 months.

Sometimes it’s donated to an organization, along with everything else in a cleaned-out home.

Sometimes it’s stuffed in a closet. Sometimes it’s discarded.

Someone else could always use it.

Elliot Sloyer is on a mission to connect that equipment with people who need it. Retired now after co-founding and managing 2 hedge funds and an internet start-up — plus writing 2 children’s books, and biking across the US with son, he’s one of Wheel It Forward’s 100 volunteers.

The Stamford-based group had its genesis when Sloyer chaperoned an 8th grade trip to Israel, and visited Yad Sarah. Run by 6,000 people, it’s a “lending library” of durable medical equipment for all Israelis: rich and poor, young and old, Jewish, Muslim and Christian.

When someone needs something, they get it by the end of the day. When they’re done, they return it. What could be simpler?

Elliot Sloyer

Sloyer loved the idea. But back in the US, he found nothing similar here. Some groups were trying to collect and lend “DME,” but it was haphazard at best. Others — like the Westport Woman’s Club — had to curtail their programs, due to insurance and liability concerns.

He used his entrepreneurial background to start Wheel It Forward. It’s become one of the most important — yet still little-known — organizations in Fairfield County.

“This changes lives immediately,” Sloyer says. With a wheelchair or walker, people become mobile. Their quality of life improves instantly.

That’s not the only benefit. Sloyer notes the relief felt by people who desperately need, but can’t afford, medical equipment. (Medicare does not pay for shower safety items, for example. But a $50 seat can prevent someone from falling — and incurring costs for an ambulance ride, surgery, rehab and everything else.)

“The return on investment is huge,” he notes.

And Wheel It Forward is green. Durable medical equipment stays out of landfill. Not to mention saving all the mining, packaging and shipping that goes along with manufacturing more items.

The group’s “lending library” of DME is open to everyone. But unlike a library of books — where 30% of the inventory is often out — 70% of Wheel It Forward’s 2,500-item inventory is usually in use.

Some of that use comes thanks to the Westport Senior Center. Director Sue Pfister and her staff make frequent referrals.

She’s made just as many calls to them for people with items they (or their relatives) no longer need. Wheel It Forward does pickup and delivery, on request.

Wheel It Forward thrives because it’s needed, because people volunteer, and through financial contributions. To learn more — including how to borrow or donate equipment, volunteer or give funds — click here.

Positive Directions: 50 Years Of Substance Abuse Service

In 1971, a new organization — the Alcoholism Council of Mid-Fairfield County — was created to address an old yet persistent problem. It served as an important information and referral center.

Over the years, the Council broadened its scope to include other substances, and added services like counseling and recovery.

Its name changed too: first to the Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Council, then Positive Directions: The Center for Prevention and Recovery. Today it’s Positive Directions: The Center for Prevention and Counseling.

Though it has impacted countless lives during its half century in Westport, Positive Directions is still one of the most overlooked health services in town.

“People don’t know about us. Or they have misconceptions,” says executive director Vanessa Wilson.

“We’re not just about treating substance abuse. Preventing substance misuse and promoting mental well-being among youth is a large focus of our work.”

The non-profit partners with groups like Westport’s Department of Human Services, the Westport Prevention Coalition and Norwalk Partnership to gather data, coordinate meetings and provide training.

Positive Directions runs a psychiatric and substance abuse outpatient clinic for adults and adolescents. led by 9 clinicians and 2 medication prescribers, as well as one-to-one peer support groups.

Positive Directions staff.

The pandemic aggravated what was already a community-wide problem.  A treatment fund was created during COVID for clients with financial hardship, In addition, free virtual recovery group meetings run weekly. A free support group for teachers struggling with anxiety due to COVID was added last year.

As Positive Directions has evolved, so has its outreach. A social media campaign spreads awareness of its mission and message in ways unfathomable in 1971 — or even 2001.

For example, TurningPointCT.org is an online mental health and substance abuse resource, created by and for area young people. It’s a forum for connection and support, via social media.

Positive Directions continues to evolve. A recent focus is on problem gambling.

Much has changed since Positive Directions began, half a century ago. But much has not.

Westporters and our neighbors continue to struggle with alcohol and substance abuse. More than ever, we need resources to help with addiction and recovery.

We need a positive direction. And — by whatever name it’s called — Positive Directions continues to lead the way.

(For more information about Positive Directions, click here.) 

EMS Goes Off-Roading

Westporters know, admire — and, after needing one, really, really respect — our Volunteer Emergency Medical Services’ ambulances.

But — let’s face it — an ambulance is not always what the doctor ordered.

Coming soon: a WVEMS UTV.

The 4-wheel drive John Deere heavy industrial unit is custom-made for military and emergency services. It goes places a normal ambulance can’t — woods and the beach, for example.

Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Services’ new ride.

Its smaller size makes it ideal for getting patients to bigger ambulances too, in crowded situations like the July 4th fireworks and Minute Man Race, or when trees are down after blizzards or hurricanes. 

Residents will see the UTV soon. It’s being outfitted now with a few final items — including the official WVEMS logo.

Its purchase was made possible by the Westport Young Woman’s League — big kudos to them!

Which is a great reminder: All WVEMS equipment comes thanks to the generosity of Westport residents.

New ambulances — the bigger, non-UTV ones — will be needed soon. To donate, click here.

The new UTV is versatile — and there’s plenty of room in the back.

Giving Back, Saving Lives

Professionally, Bob Levy was a stockbroker. Civically, he’s spent much of his 31 years in Westport involved with STAR Lighting the Way, the non-profit serving individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

But he’s always admired EMTs. “They’re volunteers. Day and night, they’re out helping people,” Levy says.

During COVID, they still did it. Emergency medical technicians are “very special super-heroes.”

Levy asked his friend Adria Belport — a member of Weston’s EMS — what units most needed. Equipment, she said.

Belport’s husband, Michael Loeb, had helped Levy’s philanthropic efforts in the past. This time, the duo added kindred local spirits, including Don Ehrenberg, Bill Felton, Dr. John Schneider and Milt Wolfson. “I’m so proud to be associated with these guys,” Levy says.

They had lunch, discussed their own good fortunes in life — investment banking, psychotherapy, real estate development, medicine, corporate governance and business — and pledged to help.

Their funds provided a much-needed trailer for Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service‘s utility task vehicle, used when rescuing people during off-road trauma or medical emergencies.

Bob Levy (left) and Michael Loeb (right) present Michael Burns, Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service, with a “Giving Back” check.

Weston’s EMS received AEDs (automatic external defibrillators). The portable devices treat people experiencing sudden cardiac arrest.

“Many people are not aware that Westport and Weston EMS are volunteer organizations — not funded by their towns,” Levy says.

His group calls itself Giving Back Fairfield County. It sounds like this is just the start — and it is.

Each year, they’ll raise funds to sustain and improve the quality of life in the area, by giving back to a deserving organization.

“We don’t usually tell people what we’re doing,” he says of his and his friends’ past philanthropy. “But the news is so bad these days, it’s important for people to hear good news.”

Giving Back Fairfield County is good news indeed. To learn more, email info@givingbackfc.org.

Mental Health Awareness Month: You Are Not Alone

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

For centuries, “mental illness” was a taboo subject — ignored, covered up or lied about.

Only recently has it come out of the shadows. We now talk about “mental health,” more than “mental illness.” It’s as vital to our lives as physical health.

Of course, there’s still a long way to go.

Westport Together — a partnership between the town’s Department of Human Services, Positive Directions, and the Westport Public Schools and PTAs — has put together a comprehensive calendar of events.

Every day this month, a virtual event focuses on some aspect of mental health. Highlights include:

  • “Adolescent Mental Health in 2021: Challenges and Caregiver Strategies” (May 12, 6:30 p.m.) Dr. Aaron Weiner discusses how to tell what’s normal, what’s a ore significant mental health concern, and how parents can support their kids. Click here to register.
  • Mental health for elementary school youngsters (May 13, 7 p.m.) For children and their trusted adults, “Gizmo’s Pawsome Guide” is a story-time read-along that introduces the topic in an accessible way, and offers tips and guidelines for coping. Click here to register.
  • “If They Had Known” (May 10, 7 p.m.), a documentary about the dangers of combining prescription drugs and alcohol. Email info@positivedirections.org for the Zoom link.
  • LifeLines — Melissa Bernstein’s new project — offers free daily workshops. Ranging from “Breaking Up With Your Inner Critic” to “Tracing Your Triggers,” they help people feel seen, heard and appreciated. Click here for more information.

Other events range from suicide prevention and raising children during the pandemic to shattering the myth of mental illness and “laughing yoga.” Click here for the full monthly calendar.

LifeLines offers a different activity every day this month.

Westport Together also compiled a list of resources for Westporters dealing with isolation, stress, depression, substance use or other issues. It includes:

All Ages

Westport Department of Human Services: Information and help with mental health referrals, food and financial assistance; 203-341-1050.

WestportTogether.org: Subscribe to email lisit for youth and family resources.

Youth

Westport Youth Services Bureau: Casework, referrals, mentoring; 203-341-1150.

Teen Talk: Free counseling provided by Kids in Crisis at school or through hotline; 203-341-1285 (school-based counselor) or 203-661-1911 (hotline).

Liberation Programs: Free drug and alcohol counseling at Staples High School; 203-399-3520.

Toquet Hall: Student-run activities center; 203-341-1155.

Resources are available for anyone who feels isolated.

Older adults

Senior Center: Programs and support; 203-341-5099.

Westport Weston Health District: Homebound visits, safety checks; 203-227-9571.

Behavioral Health

Positive Directions: Mental health and substance use counseling, prevention, support groups; 203-227-7644.

TurningPointCT.org: Online options and peer support by and for teens and young adults; based in Westport at Positive Directions.

NAMI: Support groups and training programs by and for families with a loved one with mental illness.

The Hub: Regional options for treatment and support.

(Hat tip: Elaine Daignault)

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Winners: “Black Lives Matter”

Black lives matter.

They matter in Westport. And they matter to Staples High School students.

That’s evident from the responses to this year’s TEAM Westport Teen Diversity Contest.

The 8th annual event — open to all students attending high school here, or who live in Westport and go to school elsewhere — focused on the broad yet controversial movement that gained strength and power last summer, following the deaths of unarmed Black Americans.

The prompt from TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural organization — was:

The statement “Black Lives Matter” has become politicized in our country.  In 1000 words or fewer, describe your own understanding of the statement.  Consider why conversations about race are often so emotionally charged. Given that reality, what suggestions do you have for building both equity and equality in our schools, community and country?

Nearly 2 dozen students submitted essays. The winners were announced last night. A small group attended the ceremony at the Westport Library, which co-sponsored the contest. Many others watched via Zoom.

Nearly 2 dozen students submitted essays.

TEAM Westport Teen Essay Contest finalists (from left): Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, Jaden Mello.

Maxwell Tanksley won 1st prize — and $1,000 — for his essay, titled “Words of Power.” The Staples High junior writes powerfully about his experiences — and emotions — as a Black teenager growing up today. He recognizes too the emotions of his white friends, in his deeply personal essay.

Second place, and $750, went to Staples freshman Curtis Sullivan. In “Black Lives Can Matter More. Here’s How,” he takes a somewhat contrarian view, arguing that both the “Black Lives Matter” name and the lack of clear leaders led to misinterpretation, and allowed detractors to tarnish its message.

Placing 3rd, with a prize of $500, was Jaden Mello. The Staples sophomore’s essay — “The Responsibility of a Nation” — looks at the BLM movement from the perspective of a white student, eager to understand and help.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

1st Selectman Jim Marpe, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, Essay Committee chair Susan Ellis, chief judge Dr. Judith Hamer and Library executive director Bill Harmer all spoke about the importance of the contest, and hearing young voices.

But the evening began to those young voices themselves. The 3 winners delivered their excellent essays with poise and passion.

Each looked at the subject through a different lens. Taken together, they offer an important look at a complex issue — one that 3 Westport teens are not afraid to tackle.

You can read — and reflect on — their essays below. (To read the winners of all 8 TEAM Westport essay contests, click here.)

MAXWELL TANKSLEY: “WORDS OF POWER”

Does your life matter? For many in Westport, this question borders on absurd.

How could my life not matter? For us people of color, however, this question has become more pressing, and the answer has become more disturbing.

For me, the answer to that simple question comes from the deepest depths of history and identity and it emerges not as a fully formed manifesto or
speech, but as a strong bundle of emotions.

My life matters. I decided on that one pretty quickly. I’ve also decided that would be the end of it—if I were white. There is not a doubt in my mind that my life matters to me. I recognize my own worth, I recognize my own ability.

I believe, for those same reasons, that my life matters to God and the universe.

But does my life matter to society? To put it bluntly, do I
matter as much to society as a white man?

No.

My life, black lives, simply matter less to the society we live in than those of our white counterparts, and we see it every day. We see it in Trayvon Martin, shot dead in the street. We see it in George Floyd, whose pleas and cries were met with stone-cold silence.

We see it in incarceration rates, with black Americans—only 12% of the population—making up 33% of the prison population. We see it in the courts, where our killers go free. We see it in jobs that won’t
hire us and laws that target us. We even see it in our friends, who say: “He wouldn’t have been shot if he weren’t resisting” or “You’ll definitely get into that school, you’re black”.

This vast dichotomy between what our lives ought to be worth and what they are worth is why the statement “Black Lives Matter” means so much to me. It fills that gap and expresses—contrary to society—that my life matters.

When I say the words “Black Lives Matter,” I feel many things. I feel pride in my black heritage. I feel awe at the tenacity of my ancestors, who suffered for being black. I feel enraged that I will be judged not by the content of my character, but by the color of my skin. All these latent feelings—characteristic of the black experience in America—explode cathartically when I think of the phrase “Black Lives Matter.”

Maxwell Tanksley

Of course, as my interpretations of Black Lives Matter are colored by my experiences, so too are those of others. I remember playing video games with a group of friends when the topic of recent Black Lives Matter protests came up.

One of them began to casually rant about how “black lives matter [are] criminals.” Agitated, I remarked that I had an inherent interest in Black
Lives Matter, and he flew into a tirade that gave me a slight chuckle.

He raved on about the sins of Black Lives Matter for nearly 10 minutes until another friend pulled him into a private call to deliver a nugget of information.

See, he had not known I was black — we had never met in person, so he assumed that I, like everyone else in the group, was white.

In a shocking twist, his demeanor changed. Somehow, the mere presence of someone with dark skin had caused his arguments to morph into backpedaling at such speed I began to fear for his health.

His and my reaction both were indicative of two different understandings of the phrase Black Lives Matter produced from 2 different worldviews from 2 different worlds. He understood it to be the rallying cry of self-victimizing criminals, using the wrongs of a distant past to create unjustified chaos. He saw groups of rioters marching down the main street, with police cars burning in the background. My rallying cry of empowerment was his siren song of destruction, both connected by strong emotional convictions.

Our discussions around race are often emotional because we have so many emotional memories relating to race, memories that we use to form our opinions about the matter. A child who was mercilessly bullied for coming from the poor side of town and one who felt that they unfairly lost their spot on a sports team to a child of a different complexion will have different outlooks on race in the future, and both will react emotionally when it is discussed.

Because my past experiences with race were emotional, my view of race is an emotional one. I react emotionally when the topic is brought up, I am emotional in my support for Black Lives Matter, and I am emotional in denouncing systemic racism.

On the other hand, my friend was equally emotional in his denunciation of Black Lives Matter. The emotions involved with discussions of race can be a problem, but they are also the solution. These emotions can cause feelings to be hurt and friendships to be broken, but they can also be the key to finding common ground.

When my friend learned I was black, he immediately began to consider how his words affected me. He and I had both felt the same emotions at points in our lives and he — if only subconsciously — began to empathize with me and understand why I felt the way I did.

Needless to say, not all issues of race will be solved with a magical cure of understanding and empathy. Reality isn’t a children’s cartoon. However, honest, open-minded discussions of race are the best step we can take towards promoting equity and equality in our society. By having these emotional conversations about race and by using these emotions to promote empathy instead of using them to fuel conflict, we can create a bridge to connect people with disparate experiences.

By having these conversations, we will encourage effective interracial
communication, and we will use empathy to create a better environment for people of all races.

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CURTIS SULLIVAN: “BLACK LIVES CAN MATTER MORE. HERE’S HOW”

ln the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans protested unjust laws, which eventually helped frame the Civil Rights Act. But racial discrimination remains embedded in society, even
half a century later.

On May 25,2020, at the height of the worst pandemic the world had seen in over 100 years, tragedy struck the streets of MinnEapolis. George Floyd, an African-American man, was apprehended by police forces afTer unknowingly using a counterfeit $20 bill in a convenience store. He found himself with a knee on his neck, pinned by a police officer while he gasped, “l can’t breathe” — a phrase that became a symbol for the movement that ensued.

After 9 long minutes, he died. The coming weeks saw mass protests around the country, demanding an end to police violence and racial discrimination, calling for racial equality through laws and police reform, and raising awareness of implicit discrimination.

The movement, dubbed Black Lives Matter, was anything but novel. But the
added strain of the COVID-l9 pandemic, plus additional instances of the lack of police restraint when dealing with Blacks only fueled the flames of racial unrest.

There is no doubt that Black Lives Matter will be one of the most important movements of our time. While powerful and necessary, the BLM movement has some critical weaknesses that have been startlingly overlooked. These include: failure to communicate the movement’s message and purpose, and a lack of proper leadership to maintain relevance. Left unaddressed, these weaknesses
undermine the movement’s call to reform.

A clear and easy-to-understand message is critical to any effective communications, but particularly to a social movement. Suffragists argued for the right to vote, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about a dream that all Americans were equal.

“Black Lives Matter” is a catchy phrase that left too much room for interpretation or confusion by too many. Some people who are
opposed to the BLM movement felt that Black Lives Matter silences anyone who isn’t Black. They believe that the movement is saying only Black lives matter, and suggests that non-Black lives don’t matter.

As such, oppositionists have responded to the BLM movement with their own,
dubbed “All Lives Matter.” This tried to convey the message that every life matters, including non-Black lives. All Lives Matter misses the point that Blacks have seen systemic oppression since the founding of this country. ln their efforts to remind BLM dissenters about the importance of Black lives, the protesters stoked fears in some non-Blacks, albeit unfounded, that Black lives might matter more than non-Black lives.

A simple fix might be changing the slogan to “Black Lives Matter, Too,” or “Black Lives Also Matter.” This change clarifies the message behind the Black Lives Matter movement, while disallowing oppositionists from claiming that their life might not also *matter.”

Curtis Sullivan

Undermining the call to reform, the Black Lives Matter movement failed to be clear about their purpose. During the initial phase of the movement, protests helped spawn rioting and violence. However, most of the rioters were not actual BLM protesters. Instead, opportunists were hiding behind the name and the momentum to initiate their own rampages and push political agendas.

Oppositionists were quick to accuse the BLM movement as supporting anarchy, distracting them from the movement’s intentions to improve racial equality.

These fears of anarchy were echoed by then-President Trump, who used the violence as an escape hatch, to get out of addressing racism as the crisis and the root of the movement. Several times Trump denied the existence of systemic racism in the US. Rather, he pushed a message of “Law and Order,” suggesting that the BLM movement was only demonstrating lawlessness, and ignoring the peaceful side of the movement.

Why were policy makers so focused on the “violent side” of the movement, instead of the original call to actisn? Because when riots first broke out, people within the BLM movement, who were calling for social justice reform, failed to denounce the riots. The movement’s message was not clear that it was advocating for police reform. Certain members of the movement even supported the riots and their violence. This distracted the public, and drew policy makers’ attention away from reform, and towards suppressing riots’

Most importantly, the BLM movement lacks key figures that the public can identify as its rightful leaders. During the civil rights movement, leaders were the public face of the movement. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr-, Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X were able to vocalize the vision, and keep people engaged in the fight for the end of racial segregation.

This also culminated in the famous March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which ended racial segregation in the US.

Every effective movement has some form of leadership representation to help
communicate the message of the movement. A person for the public to listen to, and for policy makers to meet with for negotiation and courses of action. Leaders can denounce violence in the name of the movement, and keep a public audience focused on the initial call.

Many will say that the BLM movement shouldn’t have leadership, as it is more focused on Black voices coming together against injustice, but leadership is important to maintain relevance in the movement.

One modern example is the Global Climate Strike of September 2019, spearheaded by Greta Thunberg. This movement caused people around the world to protest, encouraging world leaders to take action against climate change. Similar concrete leadership can help the BLM movement, and effectively convey an impactful message.

The BLM movement will be remembered for centuries to come. The call for social justice reform has left a lasting impact on society. However, without a clearer message, and strong leadership, the BLM movement will face significant obstacles in effecting major reform.

With these changes, I am hopeful it will be able to fight for a safe and harmonious future for all and for generations to come.

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JADEN MELLO: “THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A NATION”

George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijan McClain. Names most of us recognize.

But have you heard of Rayshard Brooks? Atatiana Jefferson? Botham Jean?

Somehow, so many victims of racially charged violence go unrecognized. Though we didn’t treat them as such, all these black lives mattered. Despite the simple, honorable roots of “Black Lives Matter,” it has been twisted into a politically charged statement due to white people’s threatened reaction to the movement,
caused by lack of awareness.

In our current political environment, the phrase “Black Lives Matter” has been twisted into a complex, controversial phrase. But its origins are simple, and meant to acknowledge the oppression of people of color. It is a reminder to our world that black voices need to be heard and are worth listening to just as much as anyone else’s.

It simply means that black lives matter as much as white lives. All lives can’t matter until black lives matter, so this phrase, this movement, is simply putting the focus onto a group of people that are not being treated as if they matter.

Many turn against this movement, screaming “All Lives Matter” in response. But this is a knee-jerk, defensive reaction. Often the people who feel so threatened by the BLM movement are accustomed to feeling a level of comfort in this world that has been built for them.

However, these people must understand that “Black Lives Matter” does not mean that black lives are superior. Despite centuries of protests, people of color are still oppressed and silenced. Our nation’s system is still pitted against them. Like Malcolm X said amidst the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, “Black people are fed up with the dilly dallying, pussyfooting, compromising approach that we’ve been using toward getting our freedom. We want freedom
now.”

People of color have been denied their rights for centuries, and thus it is inevitable that they have become more and more impatient. They are tired of being told to wait for justice, respect, safety, and freedom, and with this frustration boiling for centuries, emotions have begun to overflow and surge through our nation.

Despite calls for change, people of color are still harmed, yet we expect them not to fight back. Malcolm X said that he believed it was a “crime” for anyone who was being abused to allow themselves to continue to be victimized without defending themselves.

The author Ta-Nehisi Coates said that “You do not give your body to the billy clubs of Birmingham sheriffs […] We must never submit ourselves […] to defiling and plunder.”

Jaden Mello

Despite their peaceful attempts to fight for equality, black people are still violently punished for these actions, constantly forced to accept abuse. Black people should not have to put themselves in harm’s way to fight for justice.

But it is also a crime to stand by and watch someone else be abused without defending them. White people must recognize that they have led privileged lives, and thus need to be willing to sacrifice parts of themselves in order to
defend their fellow black citizens.

As a white person, I will never be able to understand this pain and suffering, and the frustration that must come with it. However, I do understand that we cannot leave people of color to defend themselves from “defiling and plunder.” We must take part as equals in their fight, act as shields to protect them in their virtuous fight.

We must stand with them, for it is our responsibility to not force them to defend themselves and their rights alone.

In order to be allies of the Black Lives Matter movement, white people must yearn to be educated. We must not take over the movement, but simply listen and empathize so that we can better understand the oppression people of color are forced to endure as best we can. Only by doing this can we strive to become better, more useful teammates of those who have been oppressed.

Like Malcolm X said, “On the American racial level, we had to approach the black man’s struggle against the white man’s racism as a human problem.” None of us are innocent, none of us should be comfortable watching these events unfold without doing anything about it. Thus, like Malcolm X believed, we are all responsible to spread awareness and education.

The greater understanding people have of our nation’s history of oppressing people of color, of what has created this sense of entrapment and desperation, the more they will be able to sympathize with this movement, and hopefully eventually support and be a part of it.

Only by each person working to educate themselves and those around them, will Black Lives Matter be able to become de-politized, which will in turn enable people to be more open minded.

Only by doing this, will the movement be able to achieve its greatest and most influential potential in our communities and our nation.

From left: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Jaden Mello, Curtis Sullivan, Maxwell Tanksley, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, Westport Library executive director Bill Harmer. (All photos/Dan Woog)

 

“Un-Scavenger Hunt” Promises Fun For All

Westport’s 1st-ever “Un-Scavenger Hunt” may be the coolest, most fun fundraiser ever.

And I’m not just saying that because I helped write the clues.

Here’s the deal: On Saturday, April 24, you and your team will click on the free “Goosechase” app.

You’ll see tons of clues, covering Westport trivia, history, art, pop culture and more.

You answer by posting photos, videos, texts and GPS check-ins on the app. Bonus points are given for creativity, ingenuity and humor (costumes, props, songs, pets … you get the idea).

For example, if one of the clues directs you to the Compo Beach cannons, how cleverly can you pose there? It’s a great way to get to know Westport.

One of the clues may be about the Compo Beach cannons. Can you top this photo? (Photo/Stephen Axthelm)

Are there prizes? Of course! Among the best: a pair of sunset cruises; a private tour and wine-and-cheese reception at Dragone Classic Motorcars with George Dragone; Broadway tickets and more.

There are separate prizes for students in grade 12 and below (including cash). And a special prize for the organization that registers the most teams.

The Un-Scavenger Hunt raises funds for CLASP. For nearly 40 years they’ve  provided care, support and inspiration to adults with autism and developmental disabilities.

You can join the hunt any time, all day on Saturday, April 24. It’s not a race!

Click here for tickets. Click here for the Goosechase app. You can practice on it too, until the event goes live.

 

Roundup: Vaccine, Beach, Tennis …

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Over 100 pharmacies will soon be administering COVID vaccines — and one of them is in Westport.

That’s Achorn Pharmacy, in the Playhouse Square shopping center.

Governor Ned Lamont’s office said the sites will open over “the next several days.”

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Lifeguards won’t be back at Compo Beach until Memorial Day. But right before Easter Weekend, crews were hard at work getting Compo Beach ready for the season.

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

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For over 20 years, Joseph Oyebog has taught tennis all over Westport.

The former Cameroon Davis Cup player retains strong ties to his homeland. In 1999 he founded the Oyebog Tennis Academy. Westporters have been strong supporters of the project, which provides Cameroonian children with coaching, education and life values.

John McEnroe is a supporter too. He called his friend Yannick Noah. After the French star visited OTA in February, a video went viral.

But money is tight. The annual fundraiser at Intensity was canceled by COVID — for the second straight year.

Board members — many of whom live in Westport — are searching for a corporate sponsor, as well as donations of any amount. Click here to help.

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Up on Weston’s Kellogg Hill, Jolantha looks forward to Easter.

(Photo/Hans Wilhelm)

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And finally … on this day in 1964, Beatlemania had taken over America. The lads from Liverpool had the top 5 — five! — songs on Billboard’s Top 100. From #1 on down: “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Twist and Shout,” “She Loves You,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Please Please Me.”

But that’s not all. The Beatles had 7 — seven! — other songs on the list: “I Saw Her Standing There” (#31), “From Me to You” (#41), “Do You Want to Know a Secret” (#46), “All My Loving” (#58), “You Can’t Do That” (#65), “Roll Over Beethoven” (#68) and “Thank You Girl” (#79).

Take that, Harry Styles!

Stations Of The Cross Honors Racial Justice

A few dozen Westporters celebrated Good Friday yesterday through a marking of the Stations of the Cross. The walk was a call to dismantle racism, and pursue racial justice.

“Give us eyes to see how the past has shaped the complex present,” said Rev. John Betit of Christ & Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

Participants stopped at several sites related to Black history in Westport. Christ & Holy Trinity, Saugatuck Congregational Church and the Westport Museum of History & Culture collaborated for the event.

After an initial prayer in the Christ & Holy Trinity courtyard, the group headed to the entrance of the church parking lot on Elm Street.

Rev. John Betis, at Christ & Holy Trinity Church: the first Station of the Cross. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)

They looked across at Bedford Square. In the 1940s, it was the back of a boarding house — accessible through an alley at 22 1/2 Main Street (later the entrance to Bobby Q’s) — that was the hub of a thriving Black community.

By 1949 though, it was considered a slum. The town would not grant permits for improvements. In December, residents asked the RTM to be considered for the affordable housing being built at Hales Court. They were denied.

In January 1950 — 8 days after a newspaper wondered what would happen if a fire broke out there — that is exactly what happened. Unable to obtain housing anywhere else in town, the Black community scattered — and disappeared forever.

Heading to the next Station of the Cross. (Photo courtesy of Christ & Holy Trinity Church)

The next station was the site of the former Ebenezer Coley general store, at the Main Street entrance to Parker Harding Plaza. The original outline of that saltbox building remains; it’s the former Remarkable Book Shop and (later) Talbots.

The river came up to the back of the store. Enslaved people loaded grain grown at the Coley farm onto ships bound for New York. There it was loaded onto larger ships, which sailed to the West Indies where it fed other enslaved Blacks.

The group then walked a few steps to the Museum of History & Culture. Ebenezer Coley’s son Michael owned the home at the corner of Avery Place and Myrtle Avenue. He managed the Coley store, and oversaw the enslaved people.

Bricks bear the names of over 240 enslaved and 20 free people of color, part of the parish of Greens Farms Congregational Church. They appear in the church log book as births, baptisms, marriages and deaths.

Owners brought their enslaved people into church for services, though they — and freemen — had to stand in the balcony above the sanctuary.

Bricks at the Westport Museum of History & Culture honor more than 200 Black men, women and children from the 18th and 19th centuries. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)

A short walk up Evergreen Avenue brought the group to the Saugatuck Church cemetery. Cyrus Brown — who, like many others affecte by racism and legal bias, went from being a landowner and farmer to a servant of the Gorham family — is buried there.

Brown’s relationship with the Gorhams was evidently strong. He is buried in the family’s plot, with a high quality headstone of his own.

A stop at Evergreen Cemetery. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)

After that final station, worshipers walked through the woods to the Saugatuck Church property. The labyrinth on the lawn provided space and time for  final Good Friday reflections.

Walking through the woods, to Saugatuck Church. (Photo/Rev. Alison Patton)

A final stop at Saugatuck Church. (Photo/Bob Mitchell)

(Historical background provided by the Westport Museum for History & Culture.)