Category Archives: Politics

Raising Children In Trump’s America

President Trump’s crackdown on immigrants had an unexpected effect in Westport.

A few schoolchildren were worried. What, they asked their parents, would happen to their Spanish teachers? Would they be deported?

Other parents heard similar stories, about fears for foreign classmates.

Some parents had their own worries. How, they wondered, should they raise their kids in this “new” America?

They might get answers — or at least, meet similarly fretful folks — this Tuesday night (April 25, 7:30 p.m., Christ & Holy Trinity Church).

The Democratic Women of Westport are hosting a panel. The title — “Raising Children in Trump’s America” — is both timely and provocative.

President Trump, with some American kids.

The DWW says the discussion will “address the needs emerging in our community as a result of the new political landscape.” Panelists will discuss how to talk to children about the political climate in a way that is “authentic, and not fear-based.” The goal is to “use kindness as an act of resistance.”

The panel includes political activists, as well as Marji Lipshez-Shapiro (senior associate director of the Anti-Defamation League of Connecticut) and Claire Dinshaw, editor-in-chief of Staples High School Inklings newspaper.

It will be moderated by Rob Simmelkjaer, a Westport Democratic Committee member and on-air contributor at NBC Sports.

Among the topics they’ll address:

  • How drastic policy shifts are being felt in Fairfield County
  • How immigrant and refugee families are faring locally
  • The social impact of Trump’s rhetoric on our schools and community.

There are sure to be questions from the audience — and comments here, from “06880” readers.

Please be civil.

Please Excuse Eli And Lulu …

This is the time of year when 12th graders suffer serious cases of senioritis.

But Eli Debenham and Lulu Stracher are 2 of Staples’ most politically aware — and active — students.

So this morning — instead of school — they headed to Norwalk Community College.

Senators Chris Murphy and Richard Blumenthal discussed gun violence. The forum was moderated by Westport attorney Josh Koskoff.

It was an important, informative event. But afterward, Eli and Lulu had a typical high school worry: They needed a note for missing class.

No problem!

They just asked Senator Murphy to write one.

He happily obliged.

Lulu Stracher, Eli Debenham, and the man who excused them from class this morning.

The note read:

Please excuse my friends for their absence. I required their attendance in my forum on violence — under penalty of arrest! — Chris Murphy

You may like Connecticut’s junior senator or not. But you gotta admit: That’s great constituent service!

Lulu and Eli’s note.

The 1968 Presidential Campaign Has Begun!

Spotted on Riverside Avenue. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

“Heart Moms” Pay A Bummer Bear Forward

Congenital heart defects (CHDs) occur in 1 out of every 100 births. The impact on babies — and their families — is profound.

Westporter Britt Sheiber is the mother of twin boys, Evan and James. They turn 1 on April 27 — her birthday.

It’s been quite a year. During Britt’s pregnancy, a 16-week ultrasound revealed Evan’s CHD. His type — “half a heart” — is extremely rare.

The Sheibers searched for the best treatment. They found it at Boston Children’s Hospital.

Evan was in the NICU for a few weeks. Britt drove to Westport every other day for a few hours, to see James and her 2 older children.

Finally, Evan came home. But he caught a cold, and ended up in the Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital ICU.

A Bummer Bear.

That’s where he received a “Bummer Bear.” Passed on by the (coincidentally) Westport mother of another boy with CHD, it’s a special teddy bear. His zipper — representing the surgery scar — opens to reveal a tiny red heart, with little white stitches.

The mom sent an inspirational letter too.

The gifts gave Britt hope, and made her realize she was not alone. They helped her through Evan’s first open heart surgery — along with calls and texts from Ali Marcus.

Ali is another Westport mom whose son West was born with CHD. The women had  been introduced by mutual friends right before Britt gave birth to Evan, as West was preparing for his own surgery.

After Britt received her Bummer Bear for Evan, she paid it forward by sending one to Ali for West.

West Marcus loves his Bummer Bear.

Not long ago, the women heard about Fatemeh Reshad. The 4-month-old Iranian child — born with a congenital heart defect — was flying with her parents to Oregon for a life-saving procedure.

But when President Trump’s executive order banned travel from 7 countries, they had to cancel the surgery.

The women were stunned. As “heart moms,” they would go to the ends of the earth to get their children the best treatment possible. They knew Fatemeh’s mother was doing the same.

Britt and Ali posted Fatemeh’s story on social media. They reached out to their contacts at Yale-New Haven and Boston Children’s for help. After Governor Andrew Cuomo and the International Refugee Assistance Project intervened, the federal government allowed Fatemeh and her family into the US.

The women quickly sent Fatemeh a Bummer Bear, plus other gifts: a personalized pillow, cheerful button-up onesies, a pacifier/lovey for her chest, and cozy socks for Fatemeh’s mom. They added encouraging letters too.

Bummer Bear and assorted donations for Fatemeh, thanks to Westport’s “heart moms.”

Today, Britt monitors Evan’s oxygen numbers daily. They see his Boston cardiologist every few months. Evan will need another open heart surgery in a couple of years.

Britt takes care of him — and many others. Realizing the lack of awareness (and funds) for children with CHD, she founded Evan’s Heart Fund. All money goes to single ventricle research. This winter at JoyRide, she raised $27,000. Another fundraiser is in the works.

James (left) and Evan Sheiber today.

As for West: He’s a happy 1-year-old, chasing his 3 big brothers and 1 big sister. He too must be monitored every day for the rest of his life.

“Our family has been changed forever by this,” Ali says. “We are grateful for our hearts every day. What an incredible organ!”

So she, Britt and other moms stand ready to help the next heart mom, and the one after that.

It’s the heartfelt thing to do.

Westporter Moves One Step Closer To FDA Helm

As with so many things in Washington these days, today’s Senate committee hearing on the nomination of Westporter Scott Gottlieb as head of the Food and Drug Administration was either a spectacular success — or another stumble.

It all depends on whose news you believe.

NBC’s report — posted at 11:56 a.m. — was headlined “Opponents of FDA Nominee Scott Gottlieb Invoke Opioid Crisis.” High up in the story was this:

Gottlieb is a Washington fixture, with a medical degree, experience at the FDA and in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. He is a fellow at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute and a respected health policy analyst.

But his critics cite his ties to the drug industry and his role at New Enterprise Associates, which bills itself as the world’s largest venture capital firm. It invests heavily in medical technology and healthcare companies.

They seized on the opioid crisis as Gottlieb’s potential weak spot.

“Trump’s nominee to be the next FDA commissioner, Dr. Gottlieb, is entangled in an unprecedented web of close financial and business ties to the pharmaceutical industry and was no doubt chosen because he is well-suited to carry out the president’s reckless, ill-informed vision for deregulating the FDA’s review and approval process for prescription medications, including opioids,” Dr. Michael Carome, director of Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, told reporters on a conference call.

“Dr. Gottlieb has had a cozy relationship with big drug companies for decades,” added Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator from Ohio. “He has supported allowing those same companies to rush their drugs — including potentially addictive opioid painkillers — onto the market before we’re sure that they’re safe,” Brown added.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb

At 2:55 p.m., MarketWatch announced: “Scott Gottlieb sailed through his FDA commissioner hearing.” Its reprint of a Wall Street Journal story said:

Scott Gottlieb, President Donald Trump’s nominee to run the Food and Drug Administration, emphasized in his confirmation hearing Wednesday his belief “in the gold standard of safety and efficacy” at the agency and said he hopes to expand approvals of generic drugs to lower U.S. prices.

Dr. Gottlieb, who was nominated in March, said he sees the need for new laws and FDA regulatory action to get complex-formulation drugs—like those used topically or with inhalers—more quickly approved as lower-cost generics. While he also said there are ways to speed up some clinical trials, “I think there are ways to modernize clinical studies without sacrificing the gold standard.”

His comments appeared aimed at reassuring Democrats, who have been critical of the nomination because of Dr. Gottlieb’s extensive financial ties to drug makers and his prolific, often conservative writings in which he has been critical FDA regulation, often saying the agency should move faster.

The tension between speed and a focus on safety has been at the center of political debates over the FDA’s future. That has especially been the case under the Trump Administration, since the president has said the FDA takes too long in approving drugs and medical devices.

Dr. Scott Gottlieb has over 36,000 Twitter followers. His profile page proudly displays a photo of Westport.

In addition to his work as a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, Gottlieb is a clinical assistant professor at New York University School of Medicine, and an internist at Tisch Hospital.

Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Lamar Alexander lavishly praised Gottlieb. A Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, he also has the support of groups like the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, which he serves as an adviser.

A vote on Gottlieb’s nomination is expected later this month. If confirmed, he will be the 2nd-highest-ranking Westporter in Washington — or 1st, now that FBI director James Comey’s house is on the market. is the highest-ranking Westport in Washington, now that James Comey has left town.

FDA headquarters — Dr. Scott Gottlieb’s probable next home.

(Hat tip: Luke Hammerman)

Finding Hope, In Sugar & Olives: The Sequel

A month ago, “06880” described the amazing journey of Josh Kangere.

After 7 years in a Kenyan refugee camp, the refugee from Congo arrived in New York moments before President Trump’s suspension of America’s resettlement program.

Despite years of vetting, Josh endured many more hours of questioning before he could travel to his new apartment — and life — in Bridgeport.

The Wall Street Journal reported his story. Immediately, Jennifer Balin — the Westporter who owns Sugar & Olives — offered him a cleaning and dishwashing job at her restaurant/bar/cooking school/event space, just over the Norwalk line.

Josh — who in his native country worked as a hospital nurse, documenting rape cases for criminal prosecution — quickly said yes.

Josh Kangere, at work.

Now the WSJ has followed up. A video posted yesterday shows Josh working — with a smile — at his job. It also shows him taking the hour-long bus trip between work and home; eating simple foods at the restaurant, and talking about his new life here.

Jennifer is interviewed too. Describing her job offer as “a way to do something for someone that’s meaningful,” she notes the uncertainty of Josh’s future.

He might be at the restaurant “forever,” she says. “Or maybe he’ll open a clinic, with his medical training, and be a great asset to our country.”

Whatever happens, Jennifer has already been a great asset to Josh.

And to us all.

To see the full, inspiring video, click below:

 

Read TEAM Westport Winning Essays Here

Tonight, TEAM Westport announced the winners of their 4th annual essay contest. Local students in grades 9-12 were asked to reflect on what white privilege means to them.

Here are the top 3 essays:

The Colors of Privilege – First place, Chet Ellis (Staples High School sophomore)

It was second period and our US History class quieted once the bell rang. But not just because of the bell. Our classroom, usually busy with thought provoking conversations was anxiously anticipating the lecture today on racial equality. My teacher was thankful to have at least some diversity in class this year. We three African American students in the same classroom at Staples High School was a rare sight. Since our town is 92.6% white and just 1.2% black, she explained how most years when addressing issues of race in the classroom she would get to use the line, “let’s ask all the black people in the class…” to a silent room. Her joke broke the ice, and we dove into a thoughtful discussion about race relations in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

In the midst of our discussion, a student raised her hand to add an anecdote about seeing a student from another school holding a sign at a football game. She said that on the sign was written, “Warde [High School] has N******,” except she used the actual word. In US History class. In our 92.6% white Fairfield County suburb.

My body froze. Time stopped. I never did hear the end of her story. The air became viscous and the tension in the room felt palpable.

The teacher deftly interjected to continue the flow of the conversation, pointing out the power, sometimes, of confronting such ugliness head on, but for the rest of class, I sat stunned. I knew the student hadn’t used the word in a malicious way, but the response from my body was primal.

Chet Ellis

The N-word is a word that takes African Americans back to 1619 on the tobacco fields of Jamestown and the very beginnings of the American tragedy of human enslavement. It reminds us of Jim Crow, of the senseless beating of Rodney King, and of the killings of 258 black people by the police in 2016. Nevertheless, several of my white friends want to use the N-word in recounting their favorite lyrics. Others even claim that keeping them from saying it is some form of reverse racism. They, like the student in my class, don’t understand how the word takes my breath away.

As a black teen in Westport, race issues in and outside the classroom are unavoidable. One afternoon at track practice, some white friends were discussing how hard it would be to get into college and then out of nowhere one said, “Chet you don’t have this problem because you’re black.” I was stunned and mumbled something instead of firing back, “Your parents are third-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund and yet you think my ride is free?”

Even seemingly safe discussions about our sport can be racial minefields. I remember a terrific runner on our team saying after he lost, “I mean I was running against two giant black guys” and the other teammates nodding with understanding.

All of this casual black envy doesn’t take into account American history. A history where slavery and segregation were the law, and black inferiority the unwritten law. In 1940 an experiment was conducted by Kenneth and Mamie Clark to help understand the physiological effects of segregation on children. Today this study is colloquially known as the “The Doll Tests.” In these tests, students would be given identical dolls, except for color, and asked which one they liked more, which one was more pretty. An overwhelming amount of participants from both white and black communities chose the white doll.

My own “Doll Test” occurred in the fifth grade, when I moved to Westport from Manhattan where I thought we were upper middle class. I would look up at all the houses bigger than our rental and imagine what life would be like if I were born lighter and richer. I had no grasp of the deep social issues that had been keeping my people from attaining such heights of prosperity; didn’t yet understand the lack of truly wealthy black residents in my town as indicative of larger social issues. Now as a sophomore in high school, I have a better understanding of the legacy of institutionalized racism. Now I see the history behind the big houses.

I see my fifth grade envy mirrored in my classmates’ jealousy of how fast I can run or how high I can jump. I know my classmates know about the deep social issues African Americans have had to face and are still facing today, but in our peaceful bedroom community that struggle is not present on a day-to-day basis. Students get blinded by the thought that a student could get into college more easily because of their skin color, while not seeing that African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed, and once employed earn nearly 25 percent less than their white counterparts. They don’t see that despite making up 12% of the population, we are 35% of jail inmates and 24% of people shot by the police.

Honestly, I never really thought much about white privilege until I moved to Westport. From a young age, I was taught that not everything is meant to be fair and to deal with it. But living in this place where almost everyone is white makes me question, when I’m in Walgreens and the manager follows me around the store, would this happen if I looked different? Now I see the need to speak out, to address white privilege when it happens, so that people know that it’s real despite their best intentions, like the girl in my class pointing out that despicable sign at the football game. We need to make sure there is an open discourse that includes a more diverse history and a sensitivity to each other. In our town it’s impossible to have three black students in every class, but maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak out.


White Privilege and Me — Josiah Tarrant (Staples High School junior)

At 16, I’ve lived in the comfort of Westport my whole life. With the exception of a brief eight-day stint in Ethiopia while bringing home my little brother when I was seven-years-old (the first time I became acutely aware of the ghostlike whiteness of my skin), I really never thought much about race. Crazy considering the family I grew up in. Somehow my brother was always “just my brother.” Our family was normal to me, even though we often drew attention from strangers when we were out and about. I grew up surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals, and doctors, all of whom looked like me and shared my skin color. Like most Westport kids, the thought of this never crossed my mind. This is white privilege.

It wasn’t until I was 12-years-old that my learning on racism really began. I still remember the day we returned from swim practice and my mom began yanking all of my childhood books off of the shelves. She enlisted my help to find my brother, then 6-years-old, an Early Reader book featuring a kid that looked like him. I stood next to her and my brother on those visits to libraries and bookstores when we were shown to the “slavery section.” That day marked the beginning of an awareness of how much I had taken my white experience for granted and a realization that things would not be the same for my brother.

It wasn’t smooth sailing for me. I still remember being appalled at my mom’s use of the word “black” as if she had said a bad word. “Mom you can’t say that, that’s racist,” my 12-year-old white male self said. In school, for as long as I could remember, we had been taught not to acknowledge differences of race. The messages I had received had been: “we are open-minded,” “slavery is over,” “we don’t have racism here.” President Obama was the only President I had ever known.

As I grew up, I started watching. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, their deaths marked my teen years. I started reading. Peggy McIntosh, Michelle Alexander, Ta-Nehisi Coates began to inform me. Recently I heard Professor Tricia Rose speak about “post-racial” racism, reinforcing that my childhood belief system had been a convenient myth. We were taught we must remain colorblind, and look at people of color and whites the same way. While I agree, it only makes sense if everyone is already on an equal playing field, which we are not. This is why a discussion of white privilege is critical.

Josiah Tarrant

When I saw the negative reaction of some community members and whirlwind media coverage of the white privilege essay contest “controversy”, I knew that I could not let my white privilege prevent me from taking a stand. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” So, this teenager who still has much to learn on this topic sat down to write.

What I do with the knowledge of my own privilege is what I have been thinking about most. Acknowledging it is a crucial start. It puzzles me that some white adults react so defensively to even discussing the term. The fact that we live in a town where we can and do strive to discuss white privilege makes me proud to live in Westport. To those who rail against it, I ask, how, when the fact remains there is so much not being taught in our schools? We are not learning that our economy was built on free slave labor, nor about voter suppression, mass incarceration and blocks to mortgages for non-whites, nor that nearly one in three black males will serve time, losing employment opportunity and voting rights, while white kids around me face minimal consequences for their mistakes.

To those who argue “white privilege” is a liberal tactic that creates white guilt, I say explain to me the racial gaps in our country’s education, healthcare, employment, wealth and incarceration. I invite you to sit down and assure me when my brother is a teen out in the world, he can walk with his black friends freely down Main Street as I did, and that clerks and customers alike will look upon him as the great future promise of Westport as they did on me.

Assure me that other parents will not call him out for being “aggressive” when their sons are being just as intense on the soccer field, that his teachers will hold him to the same high standards to which they have held me and push him to reach his fullest academic potential.

Assure me that when Westport parents tell my mom that “he’ll have no problem getting into college,” my brother will know that these schools want him for his brilliance and talent and not his skin color. Assure me that these same adults will educate themselves on how challenging it is for most students of color to get into prestigious universities without strong public schools, alumni legacies, and financial resources for tutoring and college visits. Assure me that when police pull him over (statistically they will), the extra training my parents instill in him will keep him safe. Assure me that I will not have to watch my brother, or someone else’s brother who looks like mine, be the next tragic TV news story.

Until you can assure me of all of that, I will continue to educate myself and use my advantaged status to speak up. So, you ask how does white privilege affect me? How doesn’t it? My abundant white privilege motivates me to use it for good, but I also must do this so that my brother knows that wherever life takes him, I have his back. I vow to be right there alongside him as we together show the Westport community that white privilege is not a black issue, but an everyone issue.


The Privilege of Ignorance — Claire Dinshaw (Staples High School senior)

When I was born, I was placed at the top of a predetermined racial hierarchy. Magazines told me my skin was beautiful. CVS carried bandaids that matched my skin tone. History textbooks and acclaimed novels told the stories of people like me. When I was born, the world made sure to tell me I was important.

Not everyone received the same welcome.

White privilege is like a trust-fund, a bonus given to every white American as a result of an ingrained societal prejudice that ascribes certain traits to white Americans and certain, often less flattering traits, to non-white Americans. Because white is seen as the ‘norm’ in America, white Americans have been granted the power to define what is moral, ethical, and successful. As a white American, I have not always been aware of my privilege, but I have come to see the innocence, predictable success, and overrepresentation I benefit from as byproducts of my race.

In elementary school, I had no concept of race, and I certainly did not see myself as benefitting from any type of white privilege. Westport schools did not involve elementary schoolers in discussions of race, and adults had evidently decided that the history of American racism was not my problem. After all, why explain racism and white privilege to the little white girls and boys?

Partially as a result of this prolonged, privileged innocence, most Westport students, including myself, initially fail to see the ways white privilege has contributed to our success. We study for a test and receive an A; we apply to summer programs and gain admittance to one; we find a job and save money. To us, hard work is the cause of every success. What we fail to question is why the outcome of our hard work is always success. There is never a time when we study hours for a test only to have a hard time getting a ride to school the next morning, prepare for an interview only to get turned away because of prejudice, or work desperately hard only to consistently be the victim of racial profiling by law enforcement.

Many in Westport will ascribe this privilege of predictable success to wealth, not race. However, while it is true that all Westport residents enjoy the privilege of living in a safe community with highly rated public schools, non-white Westport residents still face barriers. Whereas I can find skin care products easily, non-white Westport residents will find that stores mostly carry beauty products designed for white skin; whereas I can turn on the news to find countless white role models, non-white Westport residents will find that the majority of politicians, anchors, and corporate leaders resemble their white classmates; whereas I have been taught by countless white teachers, non-white Westport residents are forced to contend with the fact that, although research published in The Economics of Education found that test scores increase when a student has a teacher of the same race, Staples High School has only recently hired its first full-time black teacher in quite a while.

Claire Dinshaw

I know from personal experience that wealth cannot overcome the deficits of underrepresentation. About twelve years ago, the only female power-players in Washington D.C. who frequently appeared on the news were Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton. At the time, women were so underrepresented in Washington D.C. that when I first saw Pelosi on television I asked my father whose wife she was because I did not believe women like me could be politicians. If I had been born a black women, I might still believe I could not be a politician.

Furthermore, the wealth privilege argument fails to consider the role that white privilege plays in someone’s ability to move to Westport. The societal impact of white privilege means white Americans are more likely to hold college degrees due to education inequality, less likely to go to jail for drug offenses due to a prejudice criminal justice system (even though white men, according to hospital records documented in The New Jim Crow, are three times as likely to use illegal drugs), and more likely to face discrimination in the housing and job markets due to stubborn racist beliefs. This equates to white Americans being more likely to be able to afford a home in Westport and other upper-middle class suburban towns.

As a result, despite the fact that segregation is illegal, integrated regions and school districts are rare, and white Americans are often quick to fight plans to increase diversity. When parents from the predominantly white Francis-Howell school district in Missouri heard that approximately 1,000 students from the predominantly black Normandy school district were going to attend Francis-Howell schools, they were outraged. The incident was documented in the This American Life episode “The Problem We All Live With.”

“We are talking about violent behavior that is coming in,” one parent says during the broadcast. “Is there going to be a metal detector?” another parent asked. The truth is, once white Americans have control of something, whether that be a school district or corporate America, the choice of whether to share that privilege with others also becomes our privilege, and we have not historically been very open-minded.

To be clear, I am not blaming anyone for failing to recognize white privilege. It is a complex concept to grasp, especially in Westport, a town that is over 90 percent white. Growing up here, students like me rarely see the contrast between the way they are treated and the way non-white Americans are treated.

In fact, even as I conclude this essay, I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize.

The truth is, I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify. After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before reading their TEAM Westport essays.

TEAM Westport “White Privilege” Essay Winners Announced

When TEAM Westport announced this year’s essay contest topic — the personal impact of white privilege — a national uproar ensued.

Spurred by sensationalism and misunderstanding, news outlets wondered why a vastly white community would address the subject.

The winning responses — announced tonight at the Westport Library — prove the point.

Honest, powerful, insightful, sensitive and clear, the top 3 essays — as judged by a panel of writers — tackle the hot topic exactly as it should be: head on.

And, noted TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey, this year’s winners had the option to be anonymous — perhaps to avoid backlash like that which engulfed the announcement of the 4th annual contest’s prompt.

All 3 chose to stand up tonight, read their essays, and use their names.

TEAM Westport finalists (from left) Josiah Tarrant, Claire Dinshaw and Chet Ellis, before tonight’s announcement of the winners.

Out of a record number of entries, Chet Ellis won the $1,000 1st prize. The Staples High School sophomore describes the rare experience of being one of 3 African Americans in his US History class — and hearing a white student use the “n” word.

It took his breath away.

Chet Ellis

He writes about casual conversations with fellow track team members laced with stereotypes about black runners, and the assumptions he hears that it’s easier for African American students to get into college than white ones. He regrets not firing back: “Your parents are 3rd-generation Princeton and your father runs a hedge fund, and yet you think my ride is free?”

Chet says he never thought much about white privilege until he moved to Westport. Now, he realizes, “In our town it’s impossible to have 3 black students in every class. But maybe we should all imagine that they are there just the same, and that they will speak up.”

Josiah Tarrant, a Staples junior, took 2nd place. and a $750 prize. Though his younger brother is adopted from Ethiopia, Josiah grew up “surrounded by teachers, coaches, principals and doctors, all of whom looked like me.” The fact that he never even thought about that, Josiah says, epitomizes white privilege.

Josiah Tarrant

But as he heard about Trayvon Martin and read Ta-Nehisi Coates, he realized silence about race is not acceptable. Then, seeing the reaction to the TEAM Westport essay contest, he knew he had to take a stand.

“So this teenager who still has much to learn sat down to write,” Josiah says.

He writes that he wants his younger brother to walk down Main Street as freely as he himself does, and be held by his teachers to the same high standards as white students.

Until Josiah has those assurances, he says, he will use his “advantaged status” to speak up. White privilege, he concludes, is “not a black issue, but an everyone issue.”

Staples senior Claire Dinshaw’s 3rd-place essay, which won her $500, notes that in elementary school, race was never discussed.

Claire Dinshaw

Partly because of this “prolonged, privileged innocence,” she writes, most Westport students — including her — believe that their own hard work is the sole reason for their success.

Wealth has much to do with it, she says. So does being white.

Even as she concludes her essay, Claire writes, “I know I have failed to describe the ways white privilege has impacted my life. I know there are sources of privilege I have failed to recognize. The truth is I still do not fully understand the extent of my privilege, and that is something I have to work tirelessly to rectify.

“After all, being ignorant of my privilege is a privilege itself.”

(To read all 3 essays in their entirety, click here.)

Emma And Izzy Go Postal

Emma Shannon and Izzy Bodian Connor have been friends since kindergarten at Kings Highway Elementary School.

They were fellow Girl Scouts. They went through Bedford Middle School together, then graduated from Staples High in 2002.

Izzy Bodian and Emma Shannon at Staples …

Their paths diverged a bit — Emma captained the cross country and track teams, while Izzy swam and played water polo — but both joined the Students Supporting AIDS Awareness Club (Izzy was president).

Both have been marching for various causes since 2004. They did not join the recent protest in Westport — Emma, a freelance creative director, lives in Brooklyn with her husband, SHS ’96 grad Jason Sorley, while Izzy is a national sales director for a residential real estate law firm, and lives with her husband in Washington, DC. But they have not stopped advocating.

And doing it together.

Their latest venture is Let’s Go Postal. The women call it a “1-stop shop for a postcard protest party.” They’ve designed kits that include attention (“not pussy”) grabbing postcards; talking points and sample letters for timely issues; geo-targeted addresses for users’ congressional representatives; stamps and pens.

Plus a corkscrew. “It helps the drinks — and the ink — flow,” they explain.

… and today.

Inspired by the Women’s March in January, Emma and Izzy were distressed to see congressmen avoid constituents by skipping town hall meetings and turning off their phones.

“It’s unacceptable to refuse to interact with the people they claim to represent,” Izzy says. “So we decided to go old school. The mailmen and women always deliver.”

Izzy went to college in Washington. Emma was in a conservative part of Virginia. My only solace was finding other people who felt equally enraged, and protesting with them,” she says. “Maybe it’s a bubble, but it’s powerful and palpable when you gather with people to take a stand. We wanted to harness that feeling.”

They’ve taken it, she says, “from the Mall to the mail.”

The women are selling their kits through their LetsGoPostal.com website. “Can you imagine how many Girl Scout cookies we could have sold if we’d had the internet?” the longtime friends wonder.

Years after that experience, Izzy notes, “We’re Millennials. We want to click and be done. But that won’t work in Washington.”

“The power is in the postmark,” Emma adds. “When they see my zip code, they know it’s their constituent.

“I can only vote one day in November. But I can write every day.”

New Hartford Taxes Could Hit Westport Hard

Governor Malloy is a Fairfield County guy. But a new series of taxes and surcharges proposed by the former Stamford mayor — and under serious consideration by state officials — could hit suburban towns like Westport far more than less affluent communities, and large cities.

Among the revenue-producing proposals:

  • State taxes — in addition to property taxes levied by towns — on homes greater than 6,000 square feet, and/or with “more than two garage bays,” as well as on cars and trucks whose purchase price exceeds $29,999
  • “Excess water use” surcharges, implemented for users who surpass statewide averages (presumably for activities like lawn watering and filling swimming pools)
  • A fee, paid monthly by employers, for any “au pair, nanny, or other childcare-giver employed directly by parents or guardians within a family.”

The draft legislation “may impact some citizens more than others,” Malloy acknowledges.

But, he says, “ultimately all of us in Connecticut bear some responsibility for helping raise the revenue this state desperately needs.”

For a full list of many more proposed taxes and surcharges — most of which could disproportionately target Westporters — click here.

Westporters who own homes like these — with swimming pools and (presumably) garages with more than 2 bays — would be hit with special taxes, under a proposed plan.