Tag Archives: Harold Bailey

Dr. Kendi’s Journey

Exactly one year ago, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi was the keynote speaker at Westport’s annual Martin Luther King Day ceremony. A full house listened raptly as the winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Nonfiction described exactly what it means to be anti-racist.

It was a powerful, insightful lecture. Attendees contributed almost $3,000 toward anti-racism training in Westport.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi

In the weeks following, the MLK Planning Committee — TEAM Westport, the Westport Library, Westport Playhouse and Westport Weston Interfaith Council — worked with Dr. Kendi and his team to develop anti-racism training for senior management of key organizations in Westport. It includes town government, the police and the school system.

The year-long, successful pilot project is now in the action stage.

Dr. Kendi’s impact on Westport has been profound.

And it came while he was engaged in his own, very different struggle.

Last week, the Atlantic published a first-person piece by Dr. Kendi. Titled “What I Learned From Cancer,” it describes his whipsawing emotions as he was diagnosed with — and then battled — Stage 4 colon cancer.

It’s powerful, personal and raw. During grueling chemotherapy, he continued to research and write his new book, “How to Be an Antiracist.” It was, he says, “perhaps my way of coping with the demoralizing severity of the cancer and the overwhelming discomfort of the treatment, furiously writing and fighting, fighting and writing to heal mind and body, to heal society.”

Dr. Kendi’s Atlantic piece ties together his professional work, and his new insights into America’s healthcare. He writes:

America’s politics, in my lifetime, have been shaped by racist fears of black criminals, Muslim terrorists, and Latino immigrants. Billions have been spent on border walls and prison walls and neighborhood walls, and on bombs and troops and tax cuts—instead of on cancer research, prevention, and treatment that can reduce the second-leading cause of death.

Any politician pledging to keep us safe who is drastically overfunding law and order, border security, and wars on terror—and drastically underfunding medical research, prevention, and health care—is a politician explicitly pledging to keep our bodies unsafe.

Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, who with Rev. Alison Buttrick Patton of Saugatuck Congregational Church has helped lead the local anti-racism initiative — notes that Dr. Kendi’s Playhouse talk last year was his first public appearance after being diagnosed with cancer.

Bailey — but few others — knew of that back story as they worked through the year together.

Today, Dr. Kendi stands a good chance of joining the 12% of people who survive a Stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis.

In fact, on Wednesday, January 30 (8 p.m., Quick Center for the Arts) he will be the keynote speaker at Fairfield University’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Convocation. (Click here for details.)

As for Westport: This year’s 13th annual Martin Luther King celebration scheduled for tomorrow (Sunday, January 20, Westport Country Playhouse) has been postponed. A new date has  not yet been announced.

The keynote speaker will be James Forman, Jr. He wrote the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for general nonfiction: “Locking Up Our Own: Crime and Punishment in Black America.”

James Forman Jr.

He is a leading critic of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on people of color. The Brown University and Yale Law School graduate clerked for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. He then spent 6 years as a public defender.

Forman has contributed op-eds and essays to the New York Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, The Nation, and the Washington Post.

(For Dr. Kendi’s full Atlantic article, click here.)

CNN Covers “White Privilege” Controversy — And Adds A Prize

The Great White Privilege Essay Contest Debate reached CNN this morning.

A few minutes ago, Michael Smerconish interviewed TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey on his TV show. The segment was long, detailed, fair and balanced.

And — before it ended — the host invited the eventual essay winner to come on the show.

(That should spur entrants from Westport high school students! Interested? Click here for details. To view the segment on the CNN website, click here.)

michael-smerconish-cnn

(Hat tips: Lyn Hogan. Barbara Wanamaker and Lisa Metz)

“White Privilege” Essay Contest: Separating Facts From Fake News

The essay contest sponsored by TEAM Westport — our town’s multicultural commission — has sparked worldwide coverage. An AP story using “outrage” in its headline went viral. Outlets from the Christian Science Monitor to the Onion ran stories.

Like a game of Telephone, each telling brought more inaccuracies.

This AP photo of Main Street ran with many news stories about the

This AP photo of Main Street ran with many news stories about the “white privilege” essay contest.

This morning, TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey issued a fact sheet about the contest. It won’t get as much press as the kerfuffle story, but for “06880” readers fielding questions from friends around the world — generally framed as What the hell is going on there?! — it’s a start.

The actual essay prompt reads:

White privilege surfaced as a topic during the recent presidential election. In 1,000 words or less, describe how you understand the term “white privilege.” To what extent do you think this privilege exists? What impact do you think it has had in your life — whatever your racial or ethnic identity — and in our society more broadly?

The challenge asks students to research the concept of “white privilege,” and describe to what extent they think it exists.

It does not

  • Make any statement one way or the other about its existence
  • Imply a right answer
  • Imply or signal anything about the town of Westport, beyond an openness to explore the topic.

The essay contest is voluntary. No student is forced to enter. Nor is it a part of any school curriculum or classroom requirement.

TEAM-Westport-logo2The contest is open only to residents of Westport in grades 9-12 attending any school anywhere, and non-resident students who attend public or private schools located in Westport. It is not open to individuals or groups outside the town.

The contest requires written permission of a parent or guardian for entry.

No taxpayer dollars are involved. All funding comes from private contributions (email info@teamwestport.org to donate!).

All members of TEAM Westport are volunteers.

This is the 4th consecutive year that the group has sponsored an essay contest. Previous topics involved race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation.

The takeaways:

The essay topic is meant to allow Westport students in grades to 9-12 write about what the challenge means to them.

It is not about what older people, people outside Westport, the press or political groups think.

Think about that!

TEAM Westport contest judges (from left) Jaina Shaw and Dr. Judith Hamer, and (far right) Mary-Lou Weisman flank 2016 essay contest 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 2016 essay contest winners Ellie Shapiro, Ali Tritschler and Jacob Klegar.

Teens: What Do You Think Of White Privilege?

Since its founding in 2003, TEAM Westport has tackled some of society’s — and Westport’s — most intractable problems.

Now the town’s multicultural committee is asking teenagers to join them — and write about it.

TEAM Westport’s 4th annual essay contest focuses on the hot-button issue of white privilege. In 1,000 words or less, students are asked to describe the term; reflect on the extent to which they think white privilege exists, and address the impact it has had on their life — whatever their own racial or ethnic identity — and in our broader society.

TEAM WestportTEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says, “A primary focus and concern of our organization since its inception has been the impact of the town’s relatively low levels of racial and ethnic diversity on our children. This year’s essay topic provides our young people an opportunity to reflect upon that impact, and make their personal statements about it in very meaningful ways.”

The 1st place winner will receive $1,000. Second prize is $750; 3rd is $500.

All students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School or another school in Westport, or who live in Westport but attend school elsewhere, are eligible.

That’s a somewhat diverse group. And if past essay contests are any indication, this contest will spur diverse reactions — and plenty of insightful essays.

TEAM Westport’s acronym stands for Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism. In many discussions of multiculturalism, the default identity of whiteness is simply assumed. That can be particularly true in Westport.

Let’s hear what today’s teenagers — tomorrow’s leaders, in an increasingly multicultural society — think.

The winning essays will be published on “06880,”

(Click here for contest applications. Essays are due February 27. To help sponsor the contest, click here or email info@teamwestport.org.) 

TEAM Westport Asks Teens To Reflect On Race

It’s often said that Westport students live in a bubble. The outside world seldom intrudes — particularly when that outside world involves racial issues.

TEAM Westport — the town’s multicultural organization — works to engage teenagers in “the real world.” One way they do that is through an annual essay contest.

This year’s premise says:

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 US. 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, entrants are asked to describe how you, personally, make sense of the events that have occurred.

It’s a wide-open topic. It invites thought — and thoughtful, nuanced responses. The contest is open to all students in grades 9 through 12 who attend Staples High School, another school in Westport, or who live in Westport but go to school elsewhere.

A multiracial group marched to protest the Ferguson shooting last year.

A multiracial group marched to protest the Ferguson shooting last year.

Winners will be announced at a ceremony at the Westport Library on April 4 (coincidentally, the 48th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s assassination).

Up to 3 prizes will be awarded. First prize is $1,000; 2nd is $750, 3rd $500. “06880” will highlight the winners.

TEAM Westport chair Harold Bailey says, “The focus of this year’s topic is to help extend the perspectives of Westport teens beyond those which would  normally be driven by demographics. This topic has touched our community and others in Fairfield County directly over the past year.”

TEAM-Westport-logo2This is the 3rd TEAM Westport essay contest. Last year’s prompt asked students to reflect on who sat where in their school cafeteria — and how to break down barriers that prevented them from knowing others who were different from themselves.

In the inaugural contest, students reflected on demographic changes in the US — describing the benefits and challenges of the changes for Westport generally, and themselves personally.

This year’s entry deadline is February 26. Applications are available on the TEAM Westport website (www.teamwestport.org). For more information, or to help sponsor the contest (as individuals or organization), email info@teamwestport.org.

TEAM Westport: Celebrating 10 Years of Diverse Progress

Growing up in Tennessee, Harold Bailey attended segregated schools.

The Supreme Court decided Brown vs. Board of Education when he was 6, but Bailey’s city integrated its schools s-l-o-w-l-y: one grade at a time. Not until 10th grade did he and his black classmates have the chance to attend school with whites — and even then, it was by choosing vocational offerings.

He and some friends wanted to be engineers. So they took drafting classes, adding as many academic subjects as they could. “That’s how we ‘integrated’ the high school,” Bailey — now a longtime Westporter, a business executive with IBM and other companies, and a former Brown University trustee — says.

Harold Bailey, today.

Harold Bailey, today.

White parents yelled; white students pushed the few black students into lockers. In late November, 1963 things came to a head. Everyone expected a big fight — but the next day, President Kennedy was assassinated. Bailey and his other friends talked to administrators when school resumed; things settled down.

Half a century later, Bailey recalls that “profound experience. It had a seminal effect on me.”

Realizing that racial prejudice has negative effects on members of the majority as well as minorities, he’s worked all his adult life to bring people together.

In the early 2000s, Bailey’s wife Bernicestine McLeod Bailey — owner of an IT consulting firm, and a Brown trustee emerita — talked with then-first selectwoman Diane Farrell about the need to address diversity in Westport. Local realtor Cheryl Scott-Daniels had the same idea, at the same time.

The "Jolly Nigger Bank," as described in the Westport Library exhibit.

The “Jolly Nigger” bank, as described in the Westport Library exhibit.

In February 2003, the Westport Library recognized Black History Month with a display of “black memorabilia.” Unfortunately, Bailey says, it was filled with “kitschy, offensive” items like a “Jolly Nigger” bank.

“There was no context,” he recalls. “Nothing showed how far we’d come.” Library director Maxine Bleiweis was away. When she returned, she immediately closed the exhibit. But damage had been done.

Bailey and other African American leaders in town met with library officials. (Bernicestine had just been named the first black library board member.) Soon, Farrell appointed a “Multicultural Steering Committee.”

The 16 original members — including Bailey and his wife — worked hard. Fairfield University professors led intense discussions on the history of race in the US. “We read 100 pages a week,” Bailey says. “We talked about the experiences of Chinese Americans, Hispanics and American Indians, and why Middle Easterners are considered ‘white’ here. It was intense.”

The group  evolved into TEAM Westport. (Member Ivan Fong came up with the acronym: Together Effectively Achieving Multiculturalism. Miggs Burroughs contributed the logo.) Farrell named it an official town commission. I was the 1st white male to join (representing the LGBT community). Al Puchala  and Nick Rudd followed.

TEAM-Westport-logo2“We never wanted to preach,” Bailey — the 1st, and so far only, chair — says, as TEAM Westport celebrates its 10th anniversary.

“Our aim is to work with different organizations, in a way that’s natural for Westport. And to have fun.”

Over the past decade, TEAM Westport has hosted an event on the former slave ship Amistad, and sponsored discussions at churches and synagogues.

They organized speakers for Staples High School US History classes: men and women who lived through segregation, were interned as Japanese-Americans in US camps during World War II, and suffered discrimination as Hispanics.  One year, all sophomores saw the Westport Country Playhouse production of “Thurgood,” starring James Earl Jones.

TEAM Westport brought a jazz master to work with the Staples band, as well as a black chef, authors and playwrights. The group also worked on issues of integrity and race relations with principal John Dodig. Each year, TEAM Westport presents 1 or 2 graduating seniors with scholarships, in recognition of their work around diversity issues.

2013 TEAM Westport scholarship winners Rusty Schindler and August Laska pose with Harold Bailey and then-1st selectman Gordon Joseloff.

2013 TEAM Westport scholarship winners Rusty Schindler and August Laska pose with Harold Bailey and then-1st selectman Gordon Joseloff.

The group also partnered with the Playhouse during “Raisin in the Sun,” sponsoring 24 lectures and discussions on topics like race and housing, and talkbacks following other productions. This fall they’ll offer programming around “Intimate Apparel,” the capstone of the 2014 Playhouse schedule.

TEAM Westport has awarded “Trailblazer” honors to people like Andy Boas, who works with Bridgeport schools; former superintendent of schools Claire Gold, and longtime pediatrician Dr. Al Beasley.

TEAM Westport Trailblazers (from left) Andy Boas, Claire Gold, Dr. Al Beasley.

TEAM Westport Trailblazers (from left) Andy Boas, Claire Gold, Dr. Al Beasley.

Earlier this year, TEAM Westport organized 7 weeks of panels around the famed “Eyes on the Prize” series. The group is also sponsoring an essay contest for high school students, on the theme of America as an increasingly pluralistic country.

Some of TEAM Westport’s most crucial work is done out of the limelight. “If someone is treated the wrong way by a merchant in town, or there is some sort of incident in one of the schools, we can talk about it,” Bailey says. “Maybe we can help get a resolution. That’s so rewarding — especially as we see children grow.”

Looking back on 10 years as Westport’s low-key, but very important, official multicultural organization, Bailey says, “So many people have told us, after a discussion or event, how touched they were. They say, in various ways, that what we do has enabled them to connect the dots of their lives — and talk about it all. That’s when we realize we really are making progress, and moving in the right direction.”

Some TEAM Westport members in 2010, at the home of longtime supporter Ann Sheffer. Front row (from left): Dolores Paoli, Patricia Wei, Stephanie Kirven, Susan Killian, Amy Lin-Myerson, Catherine Onyemelukwe. Rear: Barbara Butler, Glenn Lau-Kee, Nick Rudd, Harold Bailey, Bernicestine McLeod Bailey, Stu Losen.

Some TEAM Westport members in 2010, at the home of longtime supporter Ann Sheffer. From left: Dolores Paoli, Barbara  Butler, Patricia Wei, Glenn Lau-Kee, Stephanie Kirven, Nick Rudd, Susan Killian, Harold Bailey, Amy Lin-Myerson, Bernicestine McLeod Bailey, Stu Losen and Catherine Onyemelukwe.