Tag Archives: Black Lives Matter

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)

 

TEAM Westport’s Teen Essay Contest Tackles Timely Topic

For 7 years, TEAM Westport’s Teen Diversity Essay Contest has considered specific, newsworthy topics.

Westport students have been asked to examine — and write on — issues like micro-aggressions, the “taking a knee” controversy, white privilege, the increasingly diverse demographics of the United States, and self-segregation in school cafeterias.

This year’s contest addresses a broad, complex and crucial issue: Black Lives Matter.

All students attending high school in Westport — or who live here and go to high school elsewhere — are invited to participate. The prompt is:

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?

“Since the murder of George Floyd, the nation has moved toward an inflection point on racial reckoning not seen since the Civil War,” says TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey.

“The ultimate resolution of that reckoning will have a profound effect upon the lives of our young citizens. Through it all, ‘Black Lives Matter’ has emerged as ubiquitous in message, aspiration and vision. TEAM Westport looks forward to the exploration of the impact of this phenomenon on our nation and community by Westport students.”

The entry deadline is February 26. The Westport Library is co-sponsoring the contest with TEAMWestport, the town’s multicultural commission.

First prize is $1,000; second prize is $750, and third prize is $500. Click here for he application form.

Students joined many others last spring, at several Black Lives Matter protests in downtown Westport. (Photo/Dan Woog)

 

“Breathe”

Rex Fowler calls John Lennon “a genius.” “Imagine,” for example, is “one of the simplest, most straightforward protest songs ever.”

But not all Lennon’s social commentary songs measures up. “Power to the People,” for example, is “one of the worst.”

Fowler should know. Since founding the folk-rock band Aztec Two-Step nearly 40 years ago, he’s written his share of political tunes. “Living in America” and “Naked” are 2 examples.

It’s not easy, though. Fowler — a Westport resident — notes, “there’s a temptation to preach, or use platitudes.”

Fowler and his wife Dodie Pettit — now part of Aztec Two-Step — avoided those pitfalls with their latest release.

Aztec Two-Step: Dodie Pettit and Rex Fowler.

“Breathe” was born out of this summer’s peaceful, passionate protests after the murder of George Floyd, and other unarmed Black men and women.

“I was proud of so many people — young and old, every color and creed — getting out and doing something. It really gave me hope,” Fowler says.

But he knew better than to try to force a song. A good creation must be “visceral, soulful,” he says. “Once it starts, it rolls out. But I can’t manufacture it.”

For a couple of weeks, Fowler fiddled with a guitar melody. He particularly liked Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” Pettit thought her partner was on to something.

“It’s such an iconic song,” Fowler explains. “‘Be on my side, I’ll be on your side … You take my hand, I’ll take your hand…'”

Fowler and Pettit included 2 of Young’s verses, then added their own.

They also drew on Martin Luther King, Sam Cooke’s soaring anthem “A Change is Gonna Come,” rapper Killer Mike’s rallying cry to vote, and a few notable slogans chanted by the hundreds of thousands of peaceful protestors.

The result was “Breathe.”

Aztec Two-Step could not use Neil Young’s lyrics without permission. They tried hard to get it. They hired a lawyer, and sent letters to his publicist and manager. They received a cease-and-desist order. Fowler and Pettit are sure the singer/songwriter never knew what they were asking.

“He rightfully doesn’t want people taking his music, and changing it,” Fowler says. “But I think if he heard ‘Breathe,’ he’d really enjoy it.”

In fact, Fowler adds, in January Young — a Canadian by birth — became an American citizen. He did it in part to be able to vote against President Trump.

Undaunted, Fowler and Pettit removed the “Down by the River” verses. They changed Young’s melodic ideas.

But the beginning — Pettit’s gritty lead guitar solo — sounds like a tribute to Young’s style. “He really resonates with us,” Pettit says.

The song was recorded here in Westport, in Aztec Two-Step’s home studio. Band members came in one at a time — because of COVID-19 — to overdub their parts.

Rex Fowler and Dodie Pettit were married in Westport. Their studio is in their home.

At first, Fowler wanted to send “Breathe” out to disc jockeys and program managers complete with the back story. Instead, he and Pettit decided to let listeners hear it with “clear ears,” and figure the meaning out themselves.

All proceeds will go to Black Lives Matter. That’s controversial, the couple acknowledges. There’s been pushback on social media from some people they thought were friends.

Still, Pettit says, “this is a moral cause we’re proud to lend our support to. We’re setting down our marker. We’re standing up and bein counted. We have a voice, and people listen.”

At Saugatuck Church, Black Lives Matter

Westport has many beautiful churches. But in terms of looks — and denomination — it doesn’t get more New England-y than Saugatuck Congregational.

Old, wooden, white, and set back on a broad lawn in the heart of downtown, Saugatuck Church makes a strong statement to everyone about history and heritage.

Now it’s making a strong statement about current events, and the role of a religious institution in modern society.

A “Black Lives Matter” sign has been hung across the front of the church. 

And it’s not a yard sign, or a banner you must squint to read.

The sign is big. It’s bold. It’s meant to be seen by everyone.

(Photo/Priscilla Long)

Yesterday morning — socially distanced because of COVID, but shoulder to shoulder emotionally — the church blessed the sign. 

Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee — spoke briefly.

On Friday, Pastor Alison Patton sent a letter to her congregation. She wrote:

We are getting ready to hang a Black Lives Matter banner on the façade of Saugatuck Church. We do so to support those among us who are black and brown, during a year that has been particularly hard on people of color, and to express our commitment to work against racism. This is a project initiated by our Arts and Ministry Team and unanimously supported by our Saugatuck Church Council.

Among the many inter-locking experiences that have defined 2020 is a heightened focus on systemic racism and its impact on communities of color. In response, many of you have taken steps to deepen your understanding of racism – reading, discussing, marching and asking, “What more can I do?” You have leaned into this moment with courage and curiosity.

Rev. Alison Patton

Together, we have grieved the harm inflicted on those among us who are black and brown. We have prayed, held small group discussions and shared resources to support our collective learning. We’ve begun to explore the uncomfortable reality that those of us who are white have advantages in this culture that are not afforded people of color.

We are only just beginning what is truly a life-long project: to unmask racism, unlearn our own biases, and develop the tools to build diverse, equitable and inclusive communities. As I said on Sunday, this is hard work; it is also heart work. It is uncomfortable and necessary and holy.

Why “Black Lives Matter”?

The work begins when we say, out loud, to each other and to our neighbors, that black lives matter – as much as any other lives. It is a deceptively simple assertion that has stirred up all kinds of discomfort, usually among those of us who are white. Some worry it implies that black lives matter more, or that other lives matter less. 

It might help to know that this line got its start not as a message to white folks, but as a tweet by Alicia Garza, who is black, to her own black community, at a time when they were feeling particularly vulnerable. It was a 16-character love letter.** To repeat her words now is to challenge the systems that have perpetuated inequality in ways that deny the intrinsic worth of black lives.

I know you’ve heard me say this before: I am deeply convinced that we are called to this project as people of faith and, in particular, as followers of Jesus, who insisted on the God-created value of all people and showed us how to love publicly in a world of inequality.

And I believe that church is the perfect place to launch this work: here, where we can wrestle, confess, forgive, learn, listen, stumble, get back up, reach out, and practice loving – ourselves and each other – the whole way through.

During the 2016 election, Saugatuck Church was open for prayer and reflection.

So, What’s Next?

When Council gave its support to the banner proposal, we did so with the recognition that we need to pair the words with real efforts to equip ourselves to confront and dismantle racism. Here are our next steps:

  • On Saturday, 30 members of Saugatuck Church will participate in a racial justice workshop led by Dr. Donique McIntosh, Minister for Racial Justice for our Southern New England Conference.
  • **On Thursday, October 29, our online small group, VOICES, will feature a podcast about the origin and history of Black Lives Matter.

This is just the start. There are more learning opportunities in the works. We will continue to dig deeper, examine our own habits, seek out partners, and ask what more needs to be done to banish racism in our lives, our church and the world. Please reach out to me if you have questions or ideas about these efforts.

Beloved, I am so honored to be doing this work in partnership with you. May God bless our words and our actions, our listening and our learning. May the Christ in our midst keep us curious and brave.

 

Pics Of The Day #1251

For decades, the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge has been the site of political protests. Every Saturday morning since early summer, a group assembles there. Their message: “Black Lives Matter.” They are greeted more often than not with honks and thumbs-up signs. This was a recent scene.

(Photo collage/ Rowene Weems)

Church’s “Black Lives Matter” Sign Vandalized

In 2016, the Unitarian Church in Westport hung a “Black Lives Matter” banner at its Lyons Plains Road entrance.

A few months later — just days after neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups marched in Charlottesville — the banner was ripped from its post.

(Photo/David Vita)

Church officials replaced it — and added a “Hate Has No Home Here” sign next to it.

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

Another replacement was ordered.

Senior minister Rev. Dr. John Morehouse said, “Every time the banner is vandalized it fortifies our resolve to replace it and underscores the very need for its existence.”

Last week, the Unitarian Church sign was vandalized again. Written under the phrase “Black Lives Matter” was scrawled: “Is A Racist, Terrorist Organization.”

Someone then covered the graffiti with black tape, in an attempt to blot it out.

Each time haters struck, the church — well known for known for its commitment to diversity, inclusion, openness and social justice — contributes $100 to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Each time too, community reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. Strangers have sent words of support, and offered to help pay for a new banner.

“Black Lives Matter is a movement dedicated to the proposition that black lives should matter as much as white lives do today,” Rev. Morehouse says.

“But the fact is that currently, white lives matter more by almost every measure.  Our Unitarian Universalist faith community has been, and continues to be, dedicated to defeating racism. The fact of the matter is that Black Lives Matter is avowedly anti-racist in its call for black and brown lives to matter as much as white lives.”

Once again, the church will repair the sign.

Once again, representatives say, “it will remain as a testament to our community’s aspiration.”

Westport’s Unitarian Church.

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)