It’s quite a bit early to think about Martin Luther King Day.
Unless you’re Connect-Us.
That’s the Bridgeport-based, Westport-supported organization offering after-school opportunities for youngsters in need.
Connect-Us programs have 3 prongs.
Youth Leadership Team members learn public speaking, community organizing, and related skills. Over 100 young people auditioned for the team’s first talent show, which drew an audience of more than 450 in October.
C-U Onstage is a place where young people meet, create, produce performances, and learn to work as an ensemble. For some, it’s the first chance to earn community praise.
Connect-Us Academy is a 14-week series of workshops at companies throughout Fairfield County. Professional mentors — including Westporters Charlie Adams, Arlene Doherty and Deb Sawch — help teenagers learn about finance, law, advertising, retail, health and education administration. Graduates of the program are placed in paid summer internships.
“There’s a state of emergency in Bridgeport,” says Connect-Us executive director Pam Lewis. “The average 9th grader reads at a 4th grade level.”
She is gratified that so many people here “understand that kids need support, in school and after school. This really is Westport and Bridgeport — caring adults and young people — coming together and harnessing our human capital to impact and support entire communities. ”
Board chair Frances Rowland, plus Doherty and Joyce Eldh — live in Westport. Business partners from Westport include Matthew Burris (CFO of Marc Fisher Footwear), Rich Eldh (managing director, Sirius Decisions) and Chris Sawch (partner, Shearwater Creek).
So about Martin Luther King Day: Connect-Us is sponsoring a special (and free) Klein Auditorium performance. Over 150 children and teenagers — multiracial and economically diverse, from throughout Fairfield County — will sing, dance, and recite poetry and monologues and raps. They’ll also read from letters they write to Dr. King, sharing their own dreams — or (sadly) why they’ve stopped dreaming.
The Klein is an inspiring — and inspired — choice. Dr. King spoke to full houses there twice, in 1961 and ’64.
Four days after his murder, in 1968, an overflow crowd jammed the hall for a memorial service.
Lewis is excited about the upcoming event. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of his assassination. Westport youth — and anyone else — interested in performing should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is one way to honor Dr. King. It’s also a great way to “connect” with talented youths from nearby neighborhoods, around a common dream.