Tag Archives: gun violence

Roundup: Hip Hop, Photography, Art …

The Yankee Doodle fair ended at 5 p.m. yesterday. The last cars cleared out of the Library/Levitt Pavilion parking lot, just as the first concert-goers arrived for the Michael Franti show.

It was a full day of fun, for all ages. Summer in Westport has begun!

Michael Franti & Spearhead. (Photo/Dan Aron)

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“06880” readers know local photographers Michael Chait and Michael Tomashefsky for their work, featured previously in this blog.

They can see more of the duo’s Westport landscapes this weekend (Saturday, June 25, 4 to 7 p.m.; Sunday, June 26, 1 to 4 p.m., Michael Chait Studio, 11 Riverside Avenue, 2nd floor).

Chait — who is known for using his camera like a paint brush — has shown his works at the Brooklyn Museum and MoMA.

Tomashefsky is an award-winning landscape and travel photographer. He has spent over 3 decades showcasing Westport’s natural beauty.

Photos by Michael Chait and Michael Tomashefsky

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Speaking of art: Linda Colletta hosts a “Stomp Out Gun Violence” fundraiser and awareness event in her studio (July 7, 7 to 9 p.m., 33 Elm Street). It’s a benefit for Moms Demand Action. The event includes guest speakers.

Eleven pairs of her Vans painting sneakers — part of her artistic process — will auctioned off. They’re mounted and encased in Plexiglas boxes.

To RSVP, email reni@lindacolletta.com.

Linda Colletta’s Vans sneakers. An integral part of her artistic process, 11 pairs will be auctioned off at the “Stomp Out Gun Violence” fundraiser. (Photo/Chloe Crespi)

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The on-again, off-again swan egg saga in the Saugatuck River downtown appears to be off again.

Amy  Schneider spotted this scene yesterday. The eggs appear abandoned, and the mother is nowhere in sight.

(Photo/Amy Schneider)

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When Staples High School assistant principal James Farnen moved to Westport several years ago, he inherited a garden planted by previous owner Dale Lamberty.

He continues to tend it. And every spring, he’s rewarded with roses like these — today’s “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/James Farnen)

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And finally … it’s hard to believe, but Brian Wilson turns 80 year old today. (I missed Paul McCartney’s 80th on Saturday).

The Beach Boys’ genius singer/songwriter/producer has had a famously difficult life. He grew with a tyrannical father; he was a perfectionist whose masterful harmonies and complex orchestrations never seemed to live up to his own high standards, and he has battled mental illness for decades.

He did not even like to surf.

But his songs live on. They sound as fresh today as they did in the 1960s. Like his influences George Gershwin, Phil Spector and Burt Bacharach, they are part of the American songbook.

Here are 5 of my favorite Brian Wilson songs. Click “Comments” to add yours.

Westporters March For Lives

Across America today, hundreds of thousands of Americans joined hundreds of “March For Our Lives” rallies. They protested gun violence, and pleaded, shouted and demanded stricter laws.

Westport was one of those communities. The rallying point was the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge downtown.

People lined one side of the span 3 deep; the other side was filled too. For an hour or so, men, women and children joined the crowd. Drivers passing by honked frequently in support. A few had their own signs.

(All photos/Bobbi Essagof)

Roundup: Gun Violence March, Scholar-Athletes, Girls On The Run …

Westport Moms send word of a “Stand up Against Gun Violence” march this Wednesday (June 8). It begins at 10:30 a.m. on the Anthropologie steps, and continues through town.

1st Selectwoman Jen Tooker and Police Chief Foti Koskinas will join the crowd. Marchers are urged to wear orange, and bring signs.

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You can’t say the town is not responsive.

At 10 a.m. yesterday morning, the “06880” Roundup included 2 photos of Grace Salmon Park. They showed benches at the popular Imperial Avenue park, covered in weeds and brush.

This was the scene at 9 a.m. today — less than 24 hours later:

(Photo/Werner Liepolt)

What an improvement! Thanks for the quick action!

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Staples High School held its 21st annual Scholar-Athlete Dinner last night — but the first since COVID struck.

It was a fascinating evening. Each varsity sport selects one senior. Each coach asks each scholar-athlete a question about his or her passions, achievements, hobbies, extracurricular activities or sports.

The answers — a minute or so each — are insightful, poised, poignant, and often funny. Taken together, they paint a remarkable picture of the student-athletes at Staples.

Last night’s questions ranged from volunteer efforts (Food Rescue US, helping a Holocaust survivor, transcribing Library of Congress records) to lessons learned from coaching little kids, building models to predict the spread of COVID, working on political campaigns and against gun violence, and selling South African snacks.

Even more remarkably, the scholar-athletes were on top of their game despite having attended the senior prom the night before (and post-prom parties after that).

As several speakers noted after hearing the 36 students speak: The future is in great hands.

Scholar-athletes honored, and their sports:

Fall: Emily Epstein (cheer), Zach Taubman (boys cross country), Josie Dolan (girls cross country), Ava Ekholdt (field hockey), Andrew O’Loughlin (football), Ben Epes (boys golf), Aidan Mermagen (boys soccer), Madison Sansone (girls soccer), Raina Mandayam (girls swimming), Ally Schwartz (girls volleyball), Jasper Cahn (boys water polo).

Winter: Michael Brody (boys basketball), Sydelle Bernstein (girls basketball), Mimi Schindler (gymnastics), Johnny Raho (ice hockey), Rory Tarsy (boys indoor track), Emma Nordberg (girls indoor track), Will Heisler (boys skiing), Kate Smith (girls skiing), Brian Fullenbaum (boys squash), Romy Nusbaum (girls  squash), Jacob Lee (boys swimming), Reese Watkins (wrestling).

Spring: Finn Popken (baseball), Lizzie Kuehndorf (girls golf), Derek Sale (boys lacrosse), Sara DiGiovanni (girls lacrosse), Alex Harrington (boys indoor track), Tessa Moore (girls outdoor track), Nick Prior (rugby), Erin Durkin (sailing), Caroline Coffey (softball), Matthew Chiang (boys tennis), Jordana Latzman, Ethan Moskowitz (boys volleyball), Rachel Offir (girls water polo).

The evening also included the awarding of several scholar-athlete scholarships. The Coleman Brothers Foundation presented Brewster Galley with a $40,000 award. Jalen St. Fort and George Kocadag each received a $6,500 Laddie Lawrence grant. Jaden Mueller got the $2,000 Albie Loeffler Scholarship.

Two other honors were handed out. Rory Tarsy was named the Thomas DeHuff Award winner, while Molly Liles earned the Jinny Parker Award.

After dinner, the scholar-athletes posed with their plaques. Here’s boys skiing honoree Will Heisler, and his parents.

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Speaking of sports: The Staples boys tennis team has repeated as state champions.

For the 5th time.

The Wreckers won their 6th straight title Saturday. They beat Greenwich 4-1 at Wesleyan University.

Winners included singles players Robbie Daus and Noah Wolff, and the doubles teams of Luke Brodsky and Alex Guadarrama, and Brett Lampert and Lucas Ceballas-Cala.

The individual invitation tourney begins today, also at Wesleyan. Tighe Brunetti and Daus will play singles, Brodsky and Guadarrama doubles.

Congratulations and good luck to all — including coach Kris Hrisovulos!

The state champion Staples boys tennis team (from left): coach Kris Hrisovulos, Holden Dalzell, Clint Graham, Hayden Frey, Noah Wolff, Tighe Brunetti, Luke Brodsky, Robbie Daus, Matthew Chiang, Jared Evans, Brett Lampert, Alex Guadarrama, Lucas Ceballos-Cala. (Photo/Bob Daus)

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Speaking once again of sports: Good luck to Staples’ boys lacrosse team. Ranked #2 in the state tournament, they face #3 Ridgefield on Wednesday (5 p.m., Fairfield University), in the semifinal round.

Go Wreckers!

Staples’ boys lacrosse team takes the field.

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This past weekend, 5 girls from Saugatuck Elementary School participated in the Fairfeld 5K along Jennings Beach.

But they didn’t run alone. The youngsters took part in Girls on the Run. The after-school program is part of a national positive youth development project for grades 3 to 7.

The season runs for 10 weeks. Twice a week, girls learn about and practice skills and positive mindsets, including positive self-talk, friendship, and the importance of individuality.

Each session includes running. Girls build endurance, culminating in that celebratory 5K.

Westport’s Girls on the Run has partnered with Westport Continuing Education. Three parent volunteers lead the local program. They hope to bring the program to other schools in town. Parents interested in helping can email mary.bentley@girlsontherun.org. All abilities are welcome.

Girls on the Run participants.

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Tower of Power rocked the Levitt Pavilion this weekend.

Which means another great season has begun.

Click here for upcoming concerts and special events. There’s something for everyone!

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David Ader writes:

“I admit this photo has the quality of some yahoo’s version of a sasquatch. I have sympathy for that yahoo.

“On Saturday night as I sat at my dinner table a very large and muscular bobcat sauntered across my backyard. I was both shocked and anxious as I dropped some pizza to distract my dog, and scrambled to get this photo.

“In its confident walk, the bobcat stopped for a moment to look at me while I feebly attempted to get my phone open for the photo. Imagine if it was a sasquatch!”

(Photo/David Ader)

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The sold-out audience at Saturday’s Westport Pride drag show at MoCA included a numberof families with children. In addition to dancing the performers offered a bit of LGBTQ history.

Yesterday, the mother of one youngster wrote to “06880”: “I feel very strongly that exposing children to all sorts of personal expressions and pathways is essential in order for them to know that there is not one cookie-cutter way to be in this world.

“To have our children witness a person living life, full of joy, as their 100% authentic and beautiful selves is a powerful gift I intend on exposing them to always.”

15-year-old Desmond is Amazing — a New York City drag artist — posed with young fans.

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Diane Bosch spotted this new object, bobbing in the channel at the mouth of the Saugatuck River.

She suspects it has something to do with the dredging plan. Is she right?

If any “06880” readers know for sure what this is, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Diane Bosch)

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It’s strawberry season at the Westport Community Garden.

Lou Weinberg shared this luscious one — unfortunately, only photographically — for our “Westport … Naturally” feature.

(Photo/Lou Weinberg)

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And finally … you knew this was coming, right?

Staples Students Plan Afternoon Of Gun Violence Awareness

The Parkland massacre 2 years ago — and a subsequent assault rifle scare at their own school — affected, then galvanized many Staples High students.

Elana Atlas was just a freshman. But she organized a national letter-writing campaign to legislators, and created a website — Action Against Gun Violence — filled with background information on school shootings; texts sent by terrified students in the midst of gunfire; counter-arguments to the “right to bear arms” clause; links to gun safety organizations; advice on how to start your own movement — and of course, her letter templates.

Elana Atlas, at work 2 years ago.

Two years later, the epidemic continues unabated. But — rather than being discouraged, or overwhelmed by the pressures of being a Staples junior — Elana is committed more than ever to doing what she can to making America’s schools and streets safe for everyone.

In the aftermath of Parkland, she joined fellow Stapleites Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren in creating a local high school chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage.

Now, Elana has helped turned it into an official Staples High School club.

She’s sparked a number of intriguing projects. The group is working on an open letter to Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader who has stalled most gun legislation in that chamber. They’re coordinating with student groups around the country — especially in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky — to get viral social media attention.

Staples’ Students Demand Action and the Westport/Fairfield Moms Demand Action chapter presented a panel on gun violence in schools. Elana was one of the speakers.

Next month, and again in June, the students will commemorate Parkland.

Right now, they’re gearing up for their biggest event yet. On Friday, January 24 (3 p.m., Toquet Hall), Students Demand Action sponsors “An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism.”

Toquet will hum with activities. There will be information about local, state and national legislators’ stands on gun laws; signmaking (with photos, to post on social media); voter registration, and speakers, including lawmakers, studens, and Tara Donnelly Gottlieb, whose parents were killed in 2005 during a robbery of their Fairfield jewelry store.

The goal, Elana says, is to show that the Westport gun violence movement remains strong — and help people get involved.

In 2018, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. They’re still going strong. (Photo/Ali Feder)

“An Afternoon of Gun Prevention and Activism” is open to all. Elana hopes many high school students will attend, and that parents will bring their children too.

“It will be uplifting — not gory,” she promises.

And very, very important.

(Pre-registration is not mandatory, but it helps for planning numbers. Click here to pre-register.)

From Gun Barrels To Garden Tools

The prophet Isaiah said it well:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

Over 2,000 years later we use guns, not swords. And we use them not only against other nations, but on ourselves.

This morning, the Unitarian Church in Westport took Isaiah literally (with a 21st-century twist).

Retired Episcopal Bishop Jim Curry preached on his work of taking guns off the street, and transforming them into garden tools. He was joined by Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence.

After the service, Rev. Curry fired up his forge in the courtyard, and demonstrated the transformation.

Linda Hudson and Bishop Suffragan (ret.) Jim Curry, hard at work.

Truly, he practiced what he preached.

“Swords into plowshares; guns into gardening tools.” (Photos/Stephen Axthelm)

Marpe Challenges Hatred, Urges Civility

In the wake of last weekend’s mass shootings, First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

Following the tragic events in Charlottesville 2 years ago, I stated that “there is no place for hatred and bigotry in our country,” and expressed our community’s prayers for the victims of that senseless tragedy.

Those events led to the “Hate Has No Home Here” movement in Westport and other communities. Last year, after the Parkland, Florida tragedy, I again addressed the issue of gun control and sensible gun legislation.

After another weekend of shocking headlines involving mass shootings which obviously have roots in white supremacy, and frankly, 2 more years of incidents similar to Charlottesville and Parkland, we are still faced with the challenge of inflammatory public rhetoric and hate-filled internet postings and activity.

We are fortunate that Westport is represented by national, state and local legislators and elected officials who act and speak responsibly in the face of these divisive issues.  They are committed to pursuing and enforcing responsible and effective gun control legislation, as well as condemning the racial biases demonstrated by others.

The fact that these incidents are happening on a regular basis is appalling. Each time I am asked to address them both personally and in my role as first selectman, it is done with an extremely heavy heart.

Although recent national incidents were much more horrific and tragic, the sentiment where I prompted a call to civility and respect to all Westporters after an unfortunate incident during a local public meeting last year holds true today.

I stated, “We will continue to publicly deal with issues and challenges that ignite passions on all sides, but we can’t let those passions create an air of disrespect, intimidation and bullying. I implore all Westport residents to allow their personal and public interactions to be driven by respect, tolerance and a desire to coexist in a positive manner with all of our neighbors.”

I will continue to address this issue within our community, and I will continue to denounce any form of hatred, bigotry or cultural bias.

They Wear Orange Because …

Final exams loomed. But Staples High School’s Students Demand Action club was all-in to participate in this past weekend’s national Wear Orange event, to raise awareness of gun violence, and promote a future free from it.

Club members put up many signs, including a big banner in front of the school. They chalked the sidewalks and staffed an information table during lunch, where they handed out information, signed up teachers and students for the Connecticut Against Gun Violence email list, and gave away orange pens, bracelets, pins, stickers and shirts.

They also created a poster wall, where anyone could write about “Why I Wear Orange.”

(Photo/Kayla Sirlin)

Final exams began today. But members of the Students Demand Action club have already earned an A+ in civic engagement.

(Hat tip: Elana Atlas)

Since Parkland

Yesterday was the 1st anniversary of the Marjory Douglas Stoneman massacre. Across the country, we remembered the 17 students and staff members murdered in their Florida high school.

Survivors — and countless others with no connection to the school — believed that finally, something would change. At rallies, online and in legislatures, calls for new gun regulations grew stronger.

Yet in the year that followed, 1,200 children and teenagers have been killed.

Far fewer people know their names, or where they lived, than know the Parkland students. Their stories have never been told.

Until now.

Since Parkland” is a powerful media project. With the help of the Miami Herald, McClatchy publishing company and The Trace — an independent, non-profit news organization — 200 journalists set out to profile all 1,200 people 18 and under killed by guns. Since Parkland.

The Since Parkland home page.

Sophie Driscoll is a proud participant in this important effort.

Like many Staples High students, she’s busy. She’s an editor-in-chief of Inklings, the school’s award-winning newspaper. She’s president of the Young Democrats.

But she made time for “Since Parkland.” And she helped make it a stunning piece of journalism.

A year ago, Sophie published a story in Ms. Magazine. It started as a piece about Reshaping Reality — the Staples club that helps middle schoolers and their parents deal with body image, eating disorders and social pressures. But it soon became much more.

Sophie’s piece highlighted teenage feminists who started clubs at their high schools. She interviewed students in all over the US. It was “interesting and exciting,” she says. She worked with an actual editor, Katina Paron.

Sophie Driscoll

Last summer, Sophie joined 83 other rising seniors for a 5-week journalism program at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. While she was there, Katina called. She was looking for students with “good research skills,” for a project she described only vaguely.

In early August, Sophie and dozens of others participated in a video conference. They learned a bit more about “Since Parkland.”

Sophie was assigned 6 stories. There was Nicholas Glasco, 18 of Stone Mountain Georgia, shot accidentally by a friend a month before his high school graduation.

Christopher Jake Stone, 17, was one of 10 killed and 13 injured at Santa Fe (Texas) High School, 3 months after Parkland. He was trying to block the door to his classroom to prevent the gunman’s entry.

Tahji McGill, 17, was shot outside an Illinois club.

Chavelle Tramon Thompson, 17, was murdered while walking with friends to a store in Union City, Georgia.

In Virginia, a 2-year-old died when his 4-year-old brother accidentally shot him in the head. The very same day — also in Virginia — another 2-year-old was killed. He shot himself with a handgun he’d found.

The story that resonated the most with Sophie was Xantavian Pierce’s. She wrote:

The Brunswick High School athlete played basketball and football. The numbers on his jerseys were 15 and 28, respectively. Throughout his athletic career, the 17-year-old worked to make his mother proud. She said he succeeded.

“He was amazing,” his mother said. “He was wonderful. He was a loving, God-fearing child. He  was just a wonderful person. He was my heartbeat.”

Xantavian “Tae” Pierce was helping someone move when a gun went off inside a box he was carrying, accidentally shooting him in the stomach at the Eagles Pointe Apartments in Brunswick, Georgia, on March 25, 2018.

“He was a straight arrow, close with his family,” Sophie says. “He was just like someone I’d know at Staples.”

Xantavian Pierce

The process was wrenching. Sophie tracked down news reports, and scrutinized Facebook pages. She read what family members, friends and teachers said.

“They seem like such vibrant, alive, regular kids,” she notes.

Each profile is 3 paragraphs long. The first 2 give life to each young person. The 3rd describes his or her death.

That was hard. “I had to take a step back, and write as if he was alive,” Sophie says. But they were not.

The research itself was arduous. Sophie was stunned to discover there is no national database to track gun deaths. State records might list a date — but no name. Sometimes, there was not even a local news report.

It was a truly collaborative process. The 200 young writers — from across the nation — used the Slack app and Zoom video conferencing to work together. They helped find information, and supported each other through tough times.

Still, they did not realize the scope of the project — or how it would appear online — until nearly the end.

And “the end” was, literally, 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. Just as they had every day — Since Parkland — young people were killed that night.

The project drew immediate attention. The New York Times highlighted it. Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy — a staunch gun regulation advocate — tweeted about it.

Sophie — who hopes to pursue journalism in college, and beyond — notes, “this was journalism, not activism.” But — like all good journalism — she hopes it will force people to think about an issue in deep, different ways.

Her goal — and that of every student journalist — was to humanize all 1,200 young people lost to gun violence Since Parkland.

“The statistics are staggering,” Sophie says. “But each statistic is a human being.

“These kids are not statistics. They’re athletes, artists. A lot were college bound. It’s so hard to think about the people they were, and could have become.”

It is hard. But — thanks to Sophie Driscoll, and scores of other determined high school students across America — right now we are doing just that.

(Click here for the 6 stories written by Sophie Driscoll. Click here for the “Since Parkland” home page.)

Staples Students Demand Action

In March, over 1,000 Staples High School students walked out of class. Massed in the fieldhouse, they honored the 17 slain students and teachers of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and demanded sensible gun legislation.

It was a powerful display of activism. But many Westporters wondered whether the teenage leaders could sustain their momentum.

A month later, a smaller — but still substantial — group of students headed to the high school courtyard. In the afternoon, a few dozen assembled on Veterans Green, across from Town Hall.

Again, their message centered on stopping gun violence.

And again, the question hung: Are these kids in it for the long run?

They are.

Last month, Staples High School students stood in the courtyard to demand action on gun violence. (Photo/Ali Feder)

There’s now a Staples chapter of Students Demand Action. That’s the national organization — affiliated with Everytown for Gun Safety — fighting for common sense gun reform and usage. Westport leaders include Elana Atlas, Audrey Bernstein, Ruby Coleman, Kaela Dockray, Brooke Kessler, Peri Kessler and Eliza Oren.

The end of the school year is in sight — the busiest time of year. Seniors have already headed off to internships.

But Students Demand Action are in the thick of things. They meet regularly, to strategize and plan activities.

Their first big event is a #WearOrange campaign. That’s the official color of gun violence — because it was what Hadiya Pendleton’s friends wore to honor her. She was killed at age 15 — just a week after performing at President Obama’s 2nd inauguration.

On the weekend of June 1-3, the group will paint the town orange. It’s part of a nationwide effort.

“We’re fighting to take back power from the gun lobby,” says Staples chapter co-founder Elana Atlas.

“We would love for the rest of the community to fight with us as we demand action from legislators on a local, state and federal level, as well as businesses and schools to implement common-sense gun reforms. We need to end the epidemic of gun violence in America.”

(For more information, email westportstudentsdemand@gmail.com)

And In Westport, They Marched For Our Lives Too

All day yesterday, Westporters attended “March For Our Lives” rallies. They traveled to New York, Washington, Hartford and Shelton.

Former Westporters marched in places like Roxbury, Los Angeles, Delray Beach, Florida — and West Palm Beach, getting as close as they could to Mar-a-Lago.

Westporters temporarily finding themselves in places like Patagonia, Chile also marched.

And when it was all over — as dusk was falling — Westporters marched here too.

Over 1,000 friends and neighbors rallied on the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge, and on Main Street. Their message was loud and clear: This American scourge must end.

One of many signs, as marchers gathered at the Westport Library. (Photo/Chuck Greenlee)

Poppy Harrington, Marin Banks and Ella Harrington joined over 1,000 Westporters last night. (Photo/Robert Harrington)

On the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge. (Photo/Janette Kinnally)

A small part of the large crowd on the Post Road at Main Street. (Photo/Ellen Lautenberg and Kristan Hamlin)

Senator Richard Blumenthal with “Westport Moms.com” Megan Brownstein and Melissa Post.

Marchers on Main Street. (Photo/Annette Norton)

Members of the United Methodist Church stood together. (Photo/Ellyn Gelman)

Their message is clear. (Photo/Bridget Curtis)


Rob Feakins was in Washington yesterday. He compiled this short video. It’s a fitting coda to a passionate day.