Tag Archives: Black Lives Matter

0*6*Art*Art*0 — Week 14 Gallery

As Westport reopens, and the world continues to turn — if a bit wobbly — you continue to send us your work. Your many moods are reflected in your paintings, collages, sketches, photos, sculptures, cartoons and videos.

Please keep ’em coming. Professional, amateur, old, young — we want it all. Student submissions are particularly welcome!

The only rule: It must be inspired by, reflective of, or otherwise related to the times we’re going through. Email dwoog@optonline.net.

“Feeling Trapped in the Illusion of Summer” (Lauri Weiser)

Dereje Tarrant is a rising 8th grader at the Pierrepont School. He created this mural, which hangs outside his Westport home.

“When Life Gives You Lemons” (acrylic, Herm Freeman)

Weston High School asked Andrea Metchick to paint a mural for the Class of 2020. She asked principal Lisa Wolak, staff and parents for words that represented the students. Her work was hung on the Onion Barn near Weston center for the graduation parade; it’s still there. It was a gift of love: Andrea’s youngest child, Millie, was in that class.

Untitled (Carina Bockhaus, age 9, Kings Highway Elementary School)

“Just a Drop in the Bucket” (Lawrence Weisman)

“This Pandemic is for the Birds!” (Jane Malakoff)

“The People Will Return!” (Karen Weingarten)

“Contemplating My Feet” (Jim Adelman)

“Pride” (Amy Schneider)

Beechwood Amplifies Arts, Social Issues

Beechwood Arts is one of Westport’s most important — and cutting-edge — cultural institutions. Through salons and workshops, in collaboration with artists, musicians, performers, filmmakers and many others, Frederic Chiu and his wife Jeanine Esposito inspire, illuminate and provoke a wide array of audiences, in often unexpected ways.

One of Frederic and Jeanine’s guiding principles is that art is an intimate part of the broader world. Beechwood always makes those  connections clear — but never more so than today. Frederic and Jeanine say:

An important part of Beechwood’s mission over the last 10 years has been to build a collaborative community of artists, performers and audiences across the divisions of age, gender, race, cultural backgrounds and lifestyles.

Jeanine Esposito and Frederic Chiu, at their Beechwood Arts home.

We have been honored to welcome a diverse community across all of our events, including a large number of black artists, performers and audience members. We’ve been heartbroken and horrified by the many violent instances of black lives being extinguished and the evidence of enduring, systemic racism in our communities and our country. We stand in support of identifying and eliminating systemic racism and replacing it with respect and equal opportunity.

In these past tragic weeks, we have reached out to the members of our Beechwood community that are directly affected by these issues to discuss, collaborate and develop together a way for Beechwood to use our resources and our mission to best support them.

The answer that emerged is AMPLIFY. The goal of AMPLIFY is to use Beechwood’s resources to support black artists and the black community by giving them control of the narrative and amplifying their voice, while standing with them in support and solidarity.

For the next 2 weeks, we have invited black members of our creative community to participate with other artists they invite to collaboratively create visual art and to perform (and stream) from our Music Room or under the Copper Beech to share their voice in whatever way they choose through the lens of the arts. Juneteenth falls in the middle of this period. We will have a special performance that evening, from 7 to 9 p.m. (see below).

All activities will run for 2 weeks (June 14-28), on either side of Juneteenth (June 19), the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States.’

In addition, Beechwood purchased 40 plain black lawn signs to post along the road on our property. We’ve invited black artists from our community to pick up a sign, create an artwork on one side, then pass it along to a supportive fellow artist of their choice to paint the other side and drop it off at Beechwood. As the plain black signs are replaced with finished artwork, a river of amplified artistic voices will emerge.

Beechwood Arts’ signs, before artists’ creations.

Although Beechwood on Weston Road is not yet reopened to the public, we have invited black performing artists from our community to record and stream performances of music, theater, spoken word, live art, etc. from Beechwood’s Music Room or under the embrace of the Copper Beech.

Performers will stream from Beechwood’s Facebook Live platform, and receive donations to support them and their work, and share with other supportive organizations as they choose. The schedule will be revealed as performers sign up.

For example, there is a special, poignant and powerful performance by Tiffany Renee Jackson’s “From The Hood To The Ivy League (and Back)” about her extraordinary journey as a black woman, on June 19 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Dr. Tiffany Renee Jackson

Dr. Jackson sings and performs the story of her life journey – from growing up in a tough New Haven neighborhoods, to the development of her singing gift in the black church, to walking to lessons at Yale, to becoming an international opera star (she has sung several times at Beechwood!), to teaching at private schools including Greens Farms Academy, to finally returning to New Haven to teach and lift up young black voices.

Once all the art is in and performances have begun, we will work with the artists to forge partnerships with other venues and organizations. The goal is to expand ways to show the art and use the performances to have dialogue and conversations that bring awareness, understanding and support of Black Lives Matter issues. Please email contact@beechwoodarts.org with any suggestions, or if your organization wants to be involved.

We’d also like to share some history about the copper beech tree on Beechwood Arts’ property. Estimated at close to 400 years old, it has been witness to the history of black lives in America since the beginning of slavery.

Beechwood’s main house was built in 1806 — possibly earlier. Inside is a door that, when opened, appears to be a shallow closet, but whose side wall is a narrow entrance to a 4-room underground basement. It is believed to have played a role in the Underground Railroad.

It is reported that President Lincoln saw that tree when visiting Morris Ketchum, who owned Beechwood when it was part of the Hockanum estate.

Beechwood House, with its magnificent copper beech tree.

We did not know this history when we purchased Beechwood and set our mission to share the arts with the surrounding community by building a collaborative community of artists, performers and audiences, or when we included collaboration and community conversation in our mission to explore meaningful, and sometimes difficult and complex, themes through the arts.

But we believe that a space retains the energy of its history to influence its future!

(For more information on AMPLIFY, click here.)

Jerri Graham: What Westporters Can Do, Once The Marches End

Jerri Graham is a 13-year resident of Westport. A talented photographer, she is currently working on a portrait series capturing the stories and lives of Westporters.

Today she reflects on the past week in Westport — and the world.

Last Sunday I attended a demonstration on Jesup Green to protest the horrific murder of George Floyd. A bipartisan effort by 2 local activists that was put together within 48 hours as the country watched in anger, the gathering was a way to say” enough is enough,” and that Westport stood in solidarity with the rest of the country against police brutality.

Jerri Graham, with her daughter.

I attended as a sad and frustrated black woman, mother, photographer, and a Westporter. Walking around with my camera I saw friends I’ve known for over a decade, out for the first time in months standing in heartfelt angst with neighbors of every age, race and religion.

Over 400 locals listened to the calm, sincere and honest voices of town leaders, including the chief of police standing with us in our tears over the death of a man none of us ever knew.

As we stood together as a town, I had an overwhelming sense of pride in my community I’ve rarely experienced in my life. I felt, through the bodies — though only a fraction of our population — an immense wave of understanding.

When we stood in silence for the half the amount of time George Floyd was pinned down, we all felt the horror. We all felt the shame. We all felt the anger.

Tears came between me and my camera as I took photos. After the silence ended, I walked around the green with my daughter seeing the eyes over masks we’d known since she was in kindergarten. We even had a chance to meet up with the other black families who also live in Westport who attended the demonstration. It was also a bittersweet meeting of some of Westports finest melanin, though I wish we’d met under different circumstances.

That evening, my daughter and I recapped through tears the last few days. We, like most Americans had grown accustomed to reports of black children, women, and men murdered for existing by law enforcement. However, this time we both felt it was different. For the first time, our community was also disgusted and outraged. Over the years we had wept alone over Tamir, Trayvon, Michael, Eric, and Breonna. But this time, our grief was shared.

One scene from last Sunday’s protest …

During this period of time, the need to be vocal and loud against the injustices we see is important. We want to fix things that are broken. The racism that results in murder isn’t a hat someone pops on their heads, but are a result of generations never viewing blacks as equal. While I don’t have the answer to the ills of racism that has engulfed our country from its formation, I do know that once the marches have ended, the work for equality isn’t over and starts at home.

First, take a look at your own life and the relationships in it. Do you have black friends? It doesn’t have to be a bestie or someone you hang out with every week, but it is 2020. Broaden your horizons and circle by stepping outside of your comfort zone of who you know.

We are here in Westport. We don’t just work at the stores, and for you. Parents are currently scrambling for books on how to teach their children about racism, yet often they don’t have a diverse social circle themselves. When parents don’t, oftentimes their children won’t.

Now, don’t run out and try to befriend the first black person you see (I’m in hiding and there’s a service fee). It doesn’t work that way. But at least make an effort to establish real relationships with people who don’t look like you. It starts with a cup of coffee, a conversation, and connection. Understanding comes when we know one another as humans, not just sound bites on the evening news.

… and another. (Photos/Jerri Graham)

Second, put your money where your mouth is. No, I’m not talking about donations or setting up a fund for disadvantaged students. While I admire this level of helping others, what I want to see once the homemade signs have been recycled is monetary activism.

Vow to spend a portion of your income with black enterprises and black brands. While marching alongside us and for us can break the barriers, economic opportunity is the only way for us to be fully equal. Be an economic investor by looking at holiday and birthday gifts you plan to buy this year, and vowing that 20% or more will be from black-owned companies. It won’t be easy because they won’t always be the ones readily available, but it is a choice to spread the wealth around. Contributing to the building of a brand or business owned by a black person by consciously using your purchasing power is trickle around form of activism that kicks ass!

Do not let the fight against police brutality be where your activism to support black lives ends. Vow to carry a placard not just for a march, but one you hold within yourself through daily relationships, dollars, and choices.

Pics Of The Day #1145

It was quite a day in Westport. It ended like this …

(Photo/Patricia McMahon)

… following an afternoon like this:

(Photo/JC Martin)

(Photo/JC Martin)

(Photo/JC Martin)

(Photo/JC Martin)

(Photo/JC Martin)

Police Chief Foti Koskinas …

… and a very different view (Photo/Lauri Weiser)

Peaceful Protesters Throng Westport

One of Westport’s largest political protests since the Vietnam War drew a crowd of about 1,500 to downtown Westport this afternoon.

Organized by young people — and overwhelmingly young, but with families and at least one 80-year-old woman — the event was loud, enthusiastic, and peaceful.

A number of attendees were from Westport. Others came from surrounding towns and cities, including Norwalk, Bridgeport and Stamford. Many carried homemade signs.

Ten days after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers, the crowd chanted “I can’t breathe,” “Black lives matter” and “No justice, no peace.”

Floyd’s death — and similar actions around the country — was the catalyst. But placards invoked other black people killed in the country, and an array of injustices.

(Photo/Jennifer Meerow Berkiner)

Bobbi Brown — the youngest member of Bridgeport’s Board of Education — set the tone as the event began, on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. The symbolism was apt: That’s the site of some of the most memorable political protests in Westport. And this afternoon’s demonstration was, in part, a bridge between a wealthy white suburb, and its more socioeconomically and demographically diverse neighbors.

Brown spoke passionately about the need for involvement, education and activism. She was joined by several other young black leaders.

But she also handed the megaphone to a variety of speakers. A young autistic white man spoke of his marginalization. A young white woman in a wheelchair cried as she talked about supporting her black friend.

Westporter Mary-Lou Weisman said, “I’m in my 80s. My generation failed you. We have hope you can do what we didn’t do.”

Mary-Lou Weisman

Holding the hand of a 7-year-old white girl, Brown noted, “It’s up to us to make the world better and safer for her, and everyone.”

The crowd — growing bigger by the minute — then marched the short distance from the bridge to police headquarters.

Chief Foti Koskinas told the crowd, “You are making sense. You are making a difference. We are listening.”

More speakers took the megaphone by the station house. Everyone took a knee.

A half-white, half-Filipino college student said, “We were born into an enormous amount of privilege. We can walk around freely. But Westport cannot ignore injustice. We need to use our privilege to do better.”

The group then massed back on the bridge. The speakers, chants, pleas for justice and promises to act continued.

“Are you fired up?” one speaker asked the crowd.

“Yes!” they roared back. “Fired up!”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas promised to keep this in police headquarters.

State Senator Will Haskell was in the crowd, handing out masks.

(Photo/Sophie Mulhern)

(All photos/Dan Woog unless otherwise noted)

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Gone — Again

The first time Westport’s Unitarian Church hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner on Lyons Plains Road, it lasted 10 months.

After it disappeared in August, church officials ordered a new one.

It was dedicated last Sunday — next to a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign.

This time, it took just 5 days before it too was gone.

It will be be back.

Rev. Dr. John Morehouse posted this message on Facebook:

“Every time the banner is vandalized it fortifies our resolve to replace it and underscores the very need for its existence.”

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Banner Vandalized

It was unclear whether a recent toilet-paper incident near Old Mill Beach was related to a “Black Lives Matter” bumper sticker on the homeowner’s car.

But there’s no mistaking this vandalism.

Westport’s Unitarian Church is known for its focus on diversity, inclusion, openness and dedication to social justice. Its handsome building in the woods off Lyons Plains Road provides a safe haven for individuals, groups and causes of many kinds.

Last October — after a series of fatal police shootings of blacks — the church dedicated a “Black Lives Matter” banner. Speakers at the dedication included TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey; State Senator Toni Boucher; 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, and Rev. Alison Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church.

The Unitarian Church’s banner.

Unitarian Church representatives say the sign was “just a first step to engage with members of the congregation, local officials, interfaith clergy, and the community to affirm the need for dialogue and non-violent action towards the ending of racism in our society.”

When the banner went up, church officials fielded a number of phone calls. Some were supportive and thankful. Some were questioning. Some were opposed.

David Vita — director of social justice — says, “It made for lively, respectful conversations.”

In the early hours of Thursday morning — just days after neo-Nazis, the KKK and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

The empty signpost.

Vita says, “It’s hard not to connect the destruction of the banner with a changed political climate, and an emboldened rise in racism.”

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse adds, “We presume that those who took our sign feel that by removing it, they repudiate its message that black lives matter just as much as any other life.”

Marpe notes, “Given the current climate in this country and the state, the administration of our town and the Westport Police Department will not stand for this behavior. We will dedicate our resources to identifying the person or persons responsible for this vandalism. We urge our community to be respectful of the opinions of others and their right to express them, even if they may differ from their own. Hatred and bigotry are not welcome here.”

Police Chief Foti Koskinas says, “We support and respect the Unitarian Church, its members and their message of inclusiveness, equality and tolerance.  The police department is working with the church administration to prevent further incidents.”

All that remains of the “Black Lives Matter” banner. (Photo/David Vita)

The church is moving forward. This Sunday’s 10 a.m. service — planned before the incident — is “Heart of Racial Justice.”

Meanwhile, Morehouse promises to replace this sign. If it’s vandalized, it too will be replaced.

That will continue, he says, “until such a time as all lives — black, brown, gay or marginalized — matter as much as white lives do. We will not be intimidated by the forces of bigotry and hate.”

And, he notes, he will commit $100 to the NAACP whenever the banner is vandalized again.

(Anyone with information regarding the vandalism should call the Police Department detective bureau: 203-341-6080.)

Not Funny At All

At first glance, the early morning scene near Old Mill Beach looked funny — a Halloween prank several months early:

Toilet paper in a tree. No biggie. A bit of cleanup required.

Kids will be kids. Ha ha!

But then neighbors read this note, posted to a tree:

Suddenly, things were not so funny.

In fact, they turned deadly serious.

Because here is one of the stickers, on the homeowner’s car:

(Photos/Katherine Bruan)

Jacob Klegar Wins TEAM Westport “Black Lives Matter” Essay Contest

For the 3rd year in a row, TEAM Westport challenged teenagers to confront some harsh realities.

For the 3rd time, they responded.

Westport’s multicultural town commission invited high school students at any school in town — or Westporters attending high school elsewhere — to consider this prompt:

In the past year a troubling number of highly charged and tragic incidents – from Ferguson to Charleston to Chicago – have prompted public discussions and protests on college campuses about the state of race relations in the U.S. People disagree on the nature of the problem and on the appropriate way to address divisions in our society. In 1,000 words or less, describe how you, personally, make sense of the events that have occurred.

This year’s winner — announced tonight at a ceremony in the Westport Library — is Jacob Klegar. The Choate Rosemary Hall student — who won last year’s contest too — receives $1,000 (and the opportunity for his essay to appear here, on “06880”). A senior, he heads to Harvard University next fall.

Silver medalist Ellie Shapiro (Staples High School) earns $750, while Ali Tritschler (Greens Farms Academy) wins $500.

TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

Congratulations to all! Now read — and reflect on — Jacob’s excellent response.

———————————–

October 20, 2015: a University of Missouri graduate student goes on hunger strike protesting racial slurs on campus; the football team refuses to play until the president of the university resigns.

November 13, 2015: Yale University students protest over culturally appropriating Halloween costumes. November 11, 2015: Claremont McKenna students hunger strike. November 18, 2015: a Princeton University sit-­‐in.

Across the country, the Black Lives Matter movement and a number of other social justice groups have brought racial discrimination to the forefront of society’s attention. The movement, like any that pushes for major change, has not been without backlash, whether in the form of physical violence against protesters or, more symbolically, in the anonymous act of placing tape over the portraits of black Harvard Law School professors.

Jacob Klegar, reading his essay tonight at the Westport Library.

Jacob Klegar, reading his essay tonight at the Westport Library.

I support the Black Lives Matter movement and all they have done to bring attention to police brutality and other forms of racial injustice. But I believe it is time for a shift in goals. Society has been saturated with discussion of the deaths of innocent black citizens – it is now time to solve the problem through legislation. The best, most thorough way to fix the underlying societal problem that has caused these deaths is to make far-­reaching changes to housing and education – a transformation that must originate with the government.

The tumultuous decade of the 1960s was the last time protests of this magnitude burst out over racial issues. We remember this era for Martin Luther King Jr., whose nonviolent protests to end segregation make for heroic stories that are told in every middle school in America. It is of little surprise, then, that the legislative acts that turned desegregation into law have been somewhat overshadowed – Brown vs. the Board of Education and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the measures that firmly laid the Jim Crow “separate but equal” statutes in the dust.

My reason for mentioning these is to emphasize that grassroots movements like Black Lives Matter have their best chance of becoming successful by working through the current established system of law. Many people are now passionate about racial justice, and nearly everyone is at the very least aware of the cause – it is time to turn social pressure into real results, time to lobby Congress and bring cases to the Supreme Court to effect the movement’s ultimate goals.

This plan of action begs the question of what, in fact, the legislative and regulatory goals of the movement should be. I believe that they should focus on the root of the problem – the underlying, often subconscious racism in our society. Some ideas that have been suggested concentrate too narrowly on the police themselves, such as the often-­‐repeated idea of putting cameras on law enforcement.

Measures  like this one would help to convict police officers who make racist attacks, and it would perhaps prevent a portion of these attacks by keeping the police more attentive, but I do not believe that these deaths would stop occurring. Instead, the focus should be on educating our nation’s youth, putting them in an environment where different races are acknowledged but treated as equally as, say, different academic interests.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey (left) and First Selectman Jim Marpe (right) congratulate Jacob Klegar.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey (left) and First Selectman Jim Marpe (right) congratulate Jacob Klegar.

How can such a major shift in societal mindset be accomplished? I suggest a combination of teaching a respect for different races – which is already being done, to some degree, in classes like US History – and, more importantly, putting students in an actual diverse environment from a young age. The largest obstacle to solving America’s race problem is the segregation of black and white communities, often a result of historical happenstance and socioeconomic background.

For example, cheap inner-­city housing is inhabited by those of a lower socioeconomic background, often giving rise to a predominately black community. Conversely, suburban areas like Westport usually have higher costs of living, and the result is a largely white population. Government-­‐mandated cheaper housing  units in wealthier neighborhoods would add diversity to schools, and if instituted on a wide scale, could do much to eradicate racist undertones from the thoughts of the next generation.

As for the protests on college campuses themselves, I support the intent, as well as the execution – for the most part. The spread of awareness of racial issues is unquestionably a positive idea, as is the elimination of racist practices and microagressions, often unintentional, from people’s behavior.

The aspect with which I do take issue, however, is the environment that makes it difficult to speak conservative opinions on these campuses without the hushing cries that label the speech as offensive. When a college only invites speakers espousing liberal views, it can be alienating to those with other opinions.

Black Lives MatterIt is not the approach an institution of education should take – rather, it should promote real discussion, inviting speakers to campus whose opinions may be unpopular with much of the student body. Helping students understand each others’ opinions should be a cornerstone of any college’s goals – and besides, understanding how others think is the most effective way to change their minds. The Black Lives Matter movement is an important voice, one that has not been heard nearly enough until only recently, but it should not be so loud as to drown out others.

Black Lives Matter has done much to combat racial injustice. While the movement does have a tendency to quiet conflicting opinions, its spread of awareness and passion for the cause of racial justice far outstrip its relatively minor defects. The next step in the effort is to effect far-­‐reaching change through the established governmental process, by lobbying Congress or passing cases up to the Supreme Court. Laws that serve to desegregate housing and teach respect for all races through our education system would do much to solve the racial tensions in our society.

The events that have occurred reflect poorly on our country, and they require major changes to correct them. The people are prepared – now is the time to combat  racism head-­‐on.