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From the First Selectman 6/26/20

I was honored to be a part of the Black Lives Matters rally and march in Woodbridge on June 13.  There were several hundred participants.  This was an inspiring event organized by resident Micaela Cardozo with powerful speeches by Micaela, Tobenna Nwangwu, Ryan Rattley, and Zoie Reed.  Reverend Shepard Parsons, of the First Church of Christ Congregational, led us in a poignant remembrance of the last minutes of George Floyd’s life.  With this event, as I said then, I believe our Town participates in a new burst of energy, a protest movement across this country and beyond our shores, in cities and towns in all 50 states, a movement that crosses racial, ethnic, political and generational differences, a movement that binds us together by our common humanity, a movement poised to inspire new policies and new legislation.  Martin Luther King Jr. said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  I think Dr. King believed that the arc doesn’t bend toward justice on its own.  That’s our responsibility.

The powerful words of our young speakers speak for themselves.  I would like to share some excerpts with you.

“We’re aware that this conversation we’re here today to have, about police brutality, racism and the lack of police accountability will never adequately compensate George or his loved ones for the life lost; we’re here today remembering George’s words, ‘I can’t breathe’ which he said more than 16 times, ‘please,’ ‘MaMa,’ ‘Please, the knee in my neck, I can’t breathe,’ and what his words mean for so many who look like him:  another agonizing account that flows into the ocean of accounts of disproportionate violence black people experience at the hands of police and a fresh reminder of other more subtle and humiliating experiences black people endure.

“You know it was once said a frog in a well cannot conceive the ocean—no matter how beautiful the well, no matter how wealthy or educated the frog.  But it doesn’t escape me that Woodbridge was originally called “Amity” a term that means friendship based on mutual understanding.  Our understanding about moments like this and their consequences should incentivize us to firmly act out against racism.

“Woodbridge has seen this before.  We know what happens when we allow racist rationalizations and bigoted behaviors to continue to exist unexamined.  We know what happens when we underreact to intolerance and hate.  We know the cost:  that the blow of those intolerant rationalizations and behaviors always fall on a body.

“For our community that body was Jewish Amity High School students.  It was only two years ago when our community was stunned by examples of anti-Semitism at Amity High School.  Nearly 50 Amity students crowded into a Monday Board of Education meeting to share testimony of how small the anti-Semitic climate made them feel:  the swastikas in the bathroom stalls, the vandalism of Jewish houses pummeled with eggs, hearing in the hallways ‘we are the Nazis;’ ‘Jews deserve to die.’  At that time one of our students said, ‘I do not feel safe here,’ and another student remarked, ‘The hate in this school is bigger than us.’” – Tobenna Nwangwu, Woodbridge resident.

“People have been asking me why I decided to organize this [event], and to be completely honest, it’s because I am angry.  I am angry that black and brown people in this country are being killed because of the color of their skin.  I am angry that our communities have done nothing to show the black community support at a time as crucial as this.  I am angry that people view this as a political stance.  I am angry that people all through our country have to argue that Black Lives Matter.

“I know very well that I have lived a sheltered life.  I am a biracial baby, but most people would not know by looking at me.  I have not personally experienced the same outright racism that my dad, my uncles, my aunts, my cousins, or just my best friends have experienced.  Let me tell you that does not make it any less real.  Just because you do not see it yourself, does not mean that your neighbors, your loved ones, your classmates, your co-workers or any of the black or brown person in this country does not experience it every single day.  I am angry because this is not a big city problem, it is an American problem.  I am angry because this is not a political issue, it is people’s lives.

“There should be no argument when all that people are asking for is to recognize that Black Lives Matter which is something should go without saying, and yet it still needs to be screamed for people to hear it.”  –Micaela Cardozo, Woodbridge resident

“It’s painful to try to find words to explain to people why your life matters as much as the next person.  How do you explain to someone every time you wake up in the morning, you’re worried you’re going to die on the side of the road because you breathed the wrong way or your hair’s too thick?  You have no idea how lonely of a feeling that is:  when you are so superficially different that everyone else, it costs you your life because people are afraid of educating themselves on a different culture, perspective, or notion because it doesn’t fit with their standards.  Therefore, you’re constantly against a system that doesn’t care about you or your family.  Your perceptions of black and brown people are more dangerous and problematic than the people themselves and if you’re questioning this, it’s not us, hon.  It’s you.  Why do we have to explain or debate why racism is wrong?  Why is this a conversation?

“That’s the thing with difficult conversations; they’re worth having because it needs to be said.  Sometimes it takes one conversation with different people to rearrange your perspective, muddle your emotions, and tip you towards certain predilections you’ve never experienced before.  Every difficult conversation leaves a mark—it matures you, teaches you, and guides you towards an excursion you’ve never trekked before.  You don’t get to choose what’s comfortable for you when it comes knocking on your doorstep.  That’s privilege:  you trying to decide what pain level is comfortable enough for you because you’ve never experienced it and you tell yourself ‘I don’t need to know this because it has nothing to do with me’ is complacency and this adds to the destruction of our humanity.”  -Zoie Reed, Woodbridge resident

“I cannot remember a time in my life when we were not active participants in the Amity community, but at the same time I cannot remember a time when I did not feel alienated from that very same community, and not without reason.

“I did not have a black teacher while in the Amity Regional School District until I was a junior in High school.  The first time I was ever called the N-word was on the bus home from elementary school.  When I was in middle school the police were called on me, my brother, and our father while we were sitting in our car outside of the house I had lived in for my entire life.  What lesson does that teach a middle schooler about how welcome he is here?  I only live about a mile from the high school, so often when I could not get a ride, I would just walk home.  I remember crossing the street if I saw a white person coming the other way because I was afraid they would perceive a young black kid walking in a white neighborhood as a threat and the police would be called on me.  I thought those fears might become reality, or worse, once when I was skateboarding around town and was followed by a white woman in her car until I was able to make it back home.  Even then she sat outside my house for a couple more minutes just for good measure.  These are things that most of the residents of Bethany, Orange and Woodbridge have never experienced and will probably never have to worry about, but for black kids growing up here that is the unescapable reality.  I had to accept that my community would praise me when I was on stage or scoring goals for the lacrosse team, but that they would also turn around and vilify and fear me when I was seen in any other setting.

“Amity is not a hateful community and this experience for young black people growing up here is not unique but echoed across the country.  If we want to improve we need to become a place where everyone truly feels accepted and safe, where a mother doesn’t have to console and convince her panicking son that he’s safe after he was followed home by a stranger, then we all must personally make an effort to listen, learn and educate ourselves on the struggles and experiences of other people.  Not just black people but also people in the LGBTQ+ community, women, immigrants, and any other historically marginalized or oppressed group of people.  We cannot address the systematic oppression in our country until we address our own personal ignorance and the issues within our own community.” – Ryan Rattley, Woodbridge resident.

Thank you, Woodbridge.  As always, my virtual door is open to you.  Please do not hesitate to reach out with questions or concerns.  I can be reached at 203-389-3401 or bheller@woodbridgect.org.

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