Tag Archives: Natasha Johnson

Staples Grads CARE

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, many social media users observed “Blackout Tuesday” by changing their cover photos to black squares.

Max Herman was one. The 2019 Staples High School graduate was amazed at how many friends and people he followed did the same.

Max Herman

But he felt compelled to do more. The Vanderbilt University student — a double major in computer science, and the communication of science and technology, with minors in business and vocal performance — wondered what he could do.

An actor and singer at Staples, he realized fellow Players and musicians could help.

Max enlisted the help of Natasha Johnson, a 2020 Staples grad headed to Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania to concentrate in marketing or finance, and Anna Maria Fernandez, another recently graduated Player who will double major in theater and dance at Muhlenberg College.

They created  CARE. Its mission is to “educate, raise awareness, and expunge the inherent, deeply rooted issues surrounding racial inequity in voting and education in our community,” with a focus on “the next generation of young people.”

Natasha Johnson

The organizers created an online library that illustrates decades of injustices, unveil hidden biases, and challenge people to “ask themselves uncomfortable questions regarding their own relationship with race.”

Resources include books, articles, videos, podcasts, petitions and links.

“We decided to tackle racial inequity with a local lens,” Max, Natasha and Anna Maria say. “We feel it is critical to first acknowledge the issues that exist in our own community before undertaking the arduous task of stitching up our divided nation.”

So they’ve teamed up with 3 nearby organizations that target racial disparities in voting and education: Bridgeport-based Connect-Us and Faith Acts, and Project Morry.

They’re the beneficiaries of a virtual concert this Sunday (August 9, 7:30 p.m.)

Anna Maria Fernandez

Professional musicians and Fairfield County teens will perform selections by black artists, based on the theme of “change.”

The talent so far incluldes Kid Sistr, Niki Harris, Jacob Heimer, Riley Wells, Camille Foisie, Mia Kobylinski, Anna Maria Fernandez, Jake Greenwald, Avery Smith and Max Herman.

There will be brief remarks by leaders of CARE’s 3 partner organizations too.

Donors of any amount (click here) will be sent a link. The goal is $20,000.

What a great way to show they — and we — care.

AJ Konstanty Keys Staples Awards List

“06880” has never covered Staples High School’s annual awards ceremony before. I’ve figured: The folks who care, go. The others don’t.

But there was no live ceremony this year — one more casualty of COVID, along with internships, prom and graduation. So it’s time to give the honorees of the Class of 2020 their due.

AJ Konstanty

AJ Konstanty won the Staples Key — the school’s highest award. recognizing superior academic achievement, loyalty to Staples and contributions to the Staples community. Candidates are chosen by the faculty; seniors select the winner.

AJ — a multi-sport athlete, singer, and fundraising chair of Best Buddies — enriched the school in many ways. As a sophomore he met a student from Ghana, who arrived in the middle of the school year from another country, and struggled with multiple disabilities. They forged a friendship that went beyond the school day.

AJ is described as “a happy, kind, personable (and) modern Renaissance man. He can do it all, and make it seem effortless.”

Audrey Bernstein

Two years ago, Staples Key finalist Audrey Bernstein was shaken by the Parkland shootings. Inspired after meeting survivors, she helped organize Staples’ student walkout.

She co-founded Students Stand Up (an anti-gun violence group), and was the Westport lead for Students Demand Action.

Besides her activism, she served as co-editor of the school newspaper Inklings.

Natasha Johnson

As a sophomore, Staples Key finalist Natasha Johnson created a club to promote greater diversity in books offered as part of the English curriculum.

Then — realizing they could do even more — Natasha and her club changed the charter, to create a safe space for anyone interested in diversity to discuss, learn and teach.

She also mentors a group of middle school girls from Bridgeport.

The James Bacharach Service to Community Award — for leadership and service to Westport — went to Kayla Dockray.

The Young American Award, presented to a senior who demonstrates academic excellence, love of country and strong leadership qualities, went to Colin Corneck. He leaves soon for the US Naval Academy.

The Peter Weisman Memorial Awards, for hard work and academic achievement, was presented to Michael Guanalouisa.

The Fairfield County Community Foundation awarded 3 scholarships. The Excellence in Scholarship Award went to Max Pace, “a self-starter with an incredibly ambitious nature and creative mind.”

The Charles A. Dana Cultural Scholarship Award was given to Victoria Caiati, described as “naturally creative and talented,” with a passion for fashion design.

The Frederick A. DeLuca Foundation Scholarship went to Katherine Meszaros, who demonstrated a “positive attitude, tenacity, diligence and a strong work ethic.”

Guiding Principles Awards go to students who enrich and bring joy to classrooms, demonstrating the key ideals of the district. The 2 senior recipients were Kalina Kinyon and Bennet Staffa.

Principal’s Awards are presented to seniors who have demonstrated a superior ability to act as responsible members of the Staples community. This year they went to Tamikah Boyer, Cordelia Chen, Michael Farnen, Kathryn Enquist, Annamaria Fernandez, Grace Kennedy, Maximus Pace, Benjamin Schussheim, Jake Thaw and Caroline Vandis.

Congratulations to all awardees. Now go out and change the world!

To see all the senior awards — for academic and other achievements — click here. Principal Stafford Thomas does the honors.