Tuesday, January 16, 2018

You Can't Fight Ignorance With Ignorance

This essay is printed with permission.  It first appeard on her mother's Facebook page.  As Tara Hightower explains, she is an African American VoAg student at Middletown High School.  On Friday, another VoAg student created a serious situation at the school when he was recorded waving a confederate flag and reportedly shouting racial epithets.

My name is Tara Hightower and I am a student who was closely affected by the incident on Friday. 

As a black student who is in Ag (the Vocational Agricultural program at Middletown High School), I was interested in hearing what some of the parents were thinking. Through reading your comments and concerns I felt there was a need for me as a student to reach out to you. I myself am not on social media at the moment, as a personal goal to let myself be free, but I was fully aware of the situation by 7:30 Friday morning. 

As soon as I heard what had happened I was completely devastated and disappointed in his actions. As a person who considers the student a part of my Ag family, I knew he was going to need support although I didn’t agree with what he did. The actions he took on Friday were not because of ignorance or hate towards the non-whites of this community, it was a thoughtless act of stupidity. 

From the start of my first class, everyone was talking about it and I had to bite my tongue because I didn’t want to make the situation escalate more than it already had. I went through two classes and then during my third class one of my fellow Ag students and classmates, who is also black, had to leave the room because she was so frustrated with what happened. 

I then received the message that one of my friends was in the guidance office crying because she was being threatened by other students. I was one of the students who decided we should all go down and get her so she wouldn’t have to feel afraid anymore. We were trying to combat the heat that was coming towards everyone and trying to de-escalate the situation. 

It is unfortunate that had to happen, but shortly after we had a meeting with all of the Advanced Ag students. In our two hour period, we discussed the situation with our class advisors, a few of our security guards, and many of our administrators. During this time we talked about what had exactly happened and how it had affected not only the people in our school but our reputation as a program. 

For years the Ag program has been seen as a group of racists and that is a hard stereotype to be held under. We try our best not to talk about it but to make sure all of our accomplishments raise our program up rather than bring it down. 

We want people to know all of the good we have done for the community and not the unfortunate mistake one of our students displayed. I want to make clear this is not to single out the kids in the Ag program from the rest of the student body, I just want people to be aware of what kids went through from my perspective (I want to let people know I was not aware of the protest Tuesday morning until I read these posts). 

We also talked about how to try and recuperate and how to respond to comments being made to us in the hallways and in class. We were told to not fight and bicker with other students but to tell them that we care and we know what happened was not okay. From what I have read a lot of people were talking about how everyone including the teachers were affected. I know this is true but it wasn’t specifically because of the one student, it was because of how fast the situation escalated and all the students that were crying because of the situation. 

I feel for all of the teachers and students that were affected and I feel as though social media changed the way our town heard the story. I don’t think anyone who posted about it told the true story of what happened.  Mind you, the video shouldn't have been posted to begin with, nor should the situation have occurred. I believe that is what made the situation blow up so fast. As I sit here at 10 pm trying to relay this message I can’t help but think about what social media and ignorant comments can do to a situation. 

There have been many comments by people of the community that have not been bringing us together but breaking us apart. We need to all support each other no matter what.

I think Dr.Martin Luther King said it best when he stated: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” That quote to me is truly related to this situation. As a community we are all banded together, we need to all be friends, not acquaintances or enemies. 

Although other people may not be fighting for exactly what you are, everyone needs support. Even the student who committed the act needs support in this time of weakness. You can’t fight ignorance with ignorance, you can only fight it with love. 

We cannot let our peers be alone when they need a shoulder to lean on, we can only raise them up and give them exactly what they need. Because as a society we are all connected in one way or another no matter what, it is truly important we keep those bonds strong. 

As I wrap this up I want to leave you with this: “The time is always right to do what is right” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Thank you so much for listening to what I had to say. I hope this cleared up anything people were wondering about, I wish you love and peace in this time of conflict.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Dear White Residents of Middletown

Letter submitted by Lisa Loomis, member of the Board of Education. Loomis states that she is not writing for the Board of Education.
The Middletown Eye welcomes writing from all perspectives.

Dear White Residents of Middletown,

We live in what may be the most polarized time in modern history. Most of us consume media that reinforces our own world view; we interact with people online and in person who look and think like we do. Not only that, but that media and those people demonize and denigrate people whose world view is different from our own. This is human nature, and I am as guilty as the next person.

I’m not writing about the incident that happened at Middletown High last Friday because to limit the conversation to that incident would be missing the point. It was not an isolated incident; it is a symptom of broader issues confronting Middletown. I’m learning the only way to reverse the polarization that has occurred nationally is to start dialogues locally. After the riot in Charlottesville last August, we had a vigil in Middletown, and at the vigil, I told the story of Derek Black, an up and coming leader of the white supremacist movement, who eventually renounced white supremacy because a man named Matthew Stevenson chose to build a relationship Derek rather than shun him.

I’ve addressed this letter to white people because challenging racism is our job. It is our mess, and we need to clean it up. First, we need to find out from people of color how big and deep our mess is because we really have no idea. We need to go to communities of color, and we need to listen: what are their experiences and feelings and perspectives and what do they want and need us to do? Then we need to go to white people who think differently from us, and we need to listen to them too. Dialogue only really happens when you seek first to understand.

I’m hopeful. I have faith in the people of Middletown and in our leaders that we are ready to do this hard work. What better way to honor Dr. King’s legacy? Who’s with me?

Lisa Loomis

Friday, January 12, 2018

Drew Ends Campaign For Governor

Dan Drew just sent this email to his supporters declaring that he and his partner in the campaign, Liz Linehan, have decided to withdraw from the gubernatorial, and lieutenant governor race.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Drum Fest Service begins 350th Year at First Church

Other drums, other times.

Let’s Connect!

The highly charged beat of African drums and other percussion instruments will highlight the service
at First Church on Sunday, January 14, 2018,
as First Church begins its 350th anniversary year celebration.

Come and experience the powerful effect of the primal drumbeat--it will stir your blood, give your heart a boost, and recharge your spirit after these several cold and snowy weeks.

Caution: Dancing might break out during the service! ... But it's unlikely that people will be playing cards. (Both dancing and card playing were taboo on Sundays in the early days of the Congregational-UCC church in America.) There've been lots of other changes in this church, too ... as God is still speaking.

First Church is Open and Affirming. All are welcome. Bring your friends, bring your family, bring your children & babies! 

First Church in Middletown, CT
190 Court St., side door
Middletown, CT
On Facebook at First Church-FB  
for more information.
Or call our office 860-346-6657.
Child care available. Ample parking nearby.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Voices of Joy at Adath Israel

This Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m., Congregation Adath Israel presents "A Jewish A Cappella Concert" featuring Magevet (Yale) and Shir Appeal (Tufts).  Both groups have a long history of performing on campus, in Congregations and concert halls in the United States and around the world.  The concert takes place in the small sanctuary on the first floor of the synagogue.  If you look closely at the poster above, you'll see that the concert is being billed as "Elephants and Towels" -  read on.

Shir Appeal (pictured above) was founded in 1995 and is the only mixed-gender vocal group on the Tufts campus.  They perform a wide range of material, from Israeli classics (such as "Yerushalayam Shel Zahav" to Sabbath prayers ("Lecha Dodi") to contemporary songs ("Like The Dawn" by The Oh Hellos) by arranged by members and former members of the ensemble.   The mix of voices, harmonies, beats, and more makes Shir Appeal's music attractive to listeners of all ages and faiths. The ensemble has issued 10 CDs with the latest being 2016's "Perspective."  To find out more, go to www.shirappeal.com.  Tufts University mascot is Jumbo the Elephant - go to www.tufts.edu/about/jumbo to find out more about the monicker and the story behind it.

Magevet (above) has also been in existence since the mid-1990s, one of many vocal groups on the Yale campus.  Their repertoire also ranges from liturgical melodies to contemporary Israeli pop songs to pieces sung in Ladino (a combination of Spanish and Portuguese with Hebrew, Aramaic, Ottoman Turkish languages) to Yiddish classics.  Various versions of Magevet, (a Hebrew word that translates to "towel" - maybe they will explain - well, they better), have recorded eight albums since 1995, the latest being "Naveh Katan (a Small Oasis)" released in late 2016.  For more information, go to magevet.weebly.com.  

The concert is free and open to the public.  Thanks goes to the Edythe and Arthur Director Family Music Fund for sponsoring the concert. The goal of the Fund is to provide members of the Adath Israel community as well as the Greater Middletown community access to entertainment from around the world, artists and performers who work to illustrate the great scope of Jewish culture.  

Parking directly behind Adath Israel, 8 Broad Street, is not allowed but there is plenty of free on-street parking as well as several parking lots in the area (for instance, the lot behind the former Wesleyan bookstore on William Street or several lots off of Church Street). 

For more information, call the Synagogue office at 860-346-4709.  

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Progressive Slate Overwhelms Drew Team

A large and organized group of Democrats today upended the established party leadership and ushered in a new era for the city.

Voters chose between two competing slates for the Democratic Town Committee (DTC). The slate put forward by existing leadership, which is loyal to Mayor Dan Drew, was composed almost entirely of people who have been on the DTC for many years, if not decades. In contrast, over half of the alternative slate was composed of people who have not previously been on the DTC.
Blanchard and Drake

The alternative slate won in a landslide, by a vote of 118 to 41.

The Democrat (and Republican) Town Committees are elected for two year terms in the January after each municipal election. Their most important function is to determine who is on the ballot. They have complete control of party endorsements for all municipal elections, and for the two state legislator seats that are entirely in Middletown. They also select delegates to the nominating conventions for Governor and other state-wide and regional elections.

This makes the election of the DTC of great importance to Drew, who is a candidate in this year's election for Governor.

Nesci objects
Current DTC Chair Sal Nesci opened the caucus, and called for nominations for a chair and secretary of the caucus. The DTC leadership nominated former Councilman Todd Berch and Dan Ryan, while the backers of the progressive slate nominated Councilman Rob Blanchard and Chair of the Board of Education Chris Drake. The votes for each were lopsided, Blanchard and Drake receiving the overwhelming majority of the votes.

Two slates of candidates were then nominated, 75 individuals put forward by the executive board of the existing DTC, and 70 individuals put forward by a loose affiliation of progressive activists looking to change the direction of the DTC.

Nesci and other leaders of the existing DTC protested that in a meeting immediately preceding the caucus, they had increased the size of the DTC from 70 to 75, arguing that this made the alternative slate invalid.

Click to enlarge 
Drake pointed out that by state law, the
party was required to follow the bylaws filed with the State Central Party by November 10, and that the rules of the state take precedence over the rules of the town committee. The caucus became raucous during this discussion, as panicked supporters of Drew and the DTC realized that they had neither the votes nor the law on their side.

After nominations were closed, and the arguments abated, voters were asked to choose between the DTC slate printed on white paper, and the alternate slate, printed on yellow paper.  The yellow slate received almost 75% of the votes.

DTC Executive Nominated Slate
 (click to enlarge)
If Drew and his supporters wish to overturn the DTC election, they have the option of petitioning for a primary election in March. One activist who was on both the DTC slate and the alternate slate expressed hope that Drew would not mount such a challenge, "If Drew wishes to receive the support of progressives, he should not push to overturn the election of progressives to our city's DTC."

Disclaimer. I am one of the members of the alternative slate.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Scare At High School Monday

This image went out on social media Sunday night and sent a scare through Middletown High School students who received it, and parents who saw the image of guns, with the message "Don't go to school tomorrow at MHS."

The image, of several weapons, was reported to the Middletown Police Department and the Middletown Board of Education.

A reported investigation late last night showed that the image came from a source in Georgia, and an "MHS" school there.  Reports suggested that a suspect had already been apprehended in Georgia.

According to Board of Education sources there will be a strong, visible police presence at the high school today, which has a late start Monday morning.  

Sunday, January 7, 2018

New Year's Resolution Number 2

Make Art.

See more of Fred Carroll's extraordinary oeuvre later this month at MAC650 Gallery, 650 Main Street, Middletown; opening on January 20th, 2018. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Opinion: City Should Show Wesleyan How To Prize Its Heritage

COMMENT on "Oh the things you'll find under Agendas" (too long to fit in the comments box); submitted by Downtown Village District resident, trained architect and city planner Catherine Johnson. The Common Council voted Tuesday to acquire the building, in order to have it demolished by Wesleyan, and replaced by a parking lot. 

The [Forest City Dry Cleaners] building is not abandoned - it is simply empty. The owner passed away and the widow allowed someone to use it so it would be looked after - and it was. Now the family wants to sell it. I thought we vowed to not rip buildings down anymore? We have erased so much already.

Yes, the site needs attention but, unlike other brownfield sites, this pollution is finite and easily remediated. Why the whole building would have to be removed when this particular contamination does not involve walls, I am not sure. It does need a new roof and a rebuilt clerestory. Ideally, if there really were a need for parking and the floor was already being removed, you'd plan for parking in the basement and retain the building above to use.

I am glad the city would take possession of the site so we can access grant for clean-up of the previous dry cleaner use and historic preservation to repair the roof. This is something the person caring for the building came to ask the city for help with over the past  4 years. But what I find odd is that it would instantly be considered as a parking lot when the building offers more promise as a space for activity.

Wesleyan doesn't need any more parking nor does the Village District. What we need is human beings doing things. What the school and the community could use is a building like this for performances, rehearsals, singing, yoga, recitals, exhibits, parties, celebrations, classes - oh, look! It could be used as a classroom during the day ...

People often think the best route is to tear a building down because they think it'd be cheaper or more efficient. But we now know, living in the age of LEED-certified buildings, that The Greenest Building is An Existing Building. All the time, energy, and raw materials that went into producing and transporting the bricks, beams and stone to the site to erect that building cost something. Pulling it down would throw all that investment into the landfill. All we'd end up with is an expensive, empty space. The usual reason demolition is suggested is not a result of a thoughtful reflection on the options, but instead because no one wants to make the effort to come up with a smaller, more time-intensive solution. Contractors, engineers, and architects are used to proposing new construction: Bigger project = Bigger fee. No one wants to admit that you could scrape,  repaint and re-glaze windows for pennies. It almost could be community project - instructing people how to do this for their own windows. The Town of Hamden retained the original windows when the old town hall was renovated simply because there was nothing wrong with the existing windows: they just needed some attention.

Once cleaned, I think this building could be renovated for less than $500,000 to make it useful: new roof, new floor, bare bones heating system and toilets. I would like the front saved to use as a wonderful porch - a truck hit it when someone working on the steam plant. This can be easily repaired. The front could also be a small store - it is a well-built space.

That building is an chance to reverse what we've done downtown for 5 decades. Were it rebuilt, we'd have something that could bring town and gown together in a way nothing else does. As Wesleyan leaves the Green Street School, where is the Venn Diagram intersection of our two worlds? We don't have another building like that next to campus on the downtown side.We've lost the Downey House. The Student Union, which architect Henry Bacon designed for the steam plant location was never built. Wesleyan wanted to rip down this dry cleaning building for years but the owner didn't want to sell it them.

I say, let's keep the building as a Monument to Alternatives that go farther than serving  the car. The car doesn't need our help! What we do need are places for purposes that the Russell Library Hubbard Room now serves somewhat - a place to gather, to talk, to meet, to discuss, to perform,to exhibit, to sing, to tell stories, to plot our future. We need a place we can get together when it's 5 degrees Fahrenheit out.

Pulling down a building to put up a parking lot is SO 20th century! Why not take this opportunity to do something that will reap a higher return on the investment?   If Wesleyan doesn't prize our heritage, than we should show them the way.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Common Council Votes to Fund Investigation of Mayor

It was an unusual moment in Council Chambers.

Not a single member of the Common Council wanted to discuss the resolution.

A resolution was made to fund an independent investigation of the office of the mayor and the city counsel based on complaints alleging gender discrimination .  Typically when a motion is made, Council members jockey for cable face time as they explain why they are voting for or against a motion.

The resolution was read: Approving a waiver of §78-10, Contracts for Professional Services, of Chapter 78 of the Middletown Code of Ordinances to allow for the hiring of an outside law firm or January 2, 2018 COMMON COUNCIL MEETING Page 4 professional organization to assist the Common Council in conducting an investigation of the Office of the Mayor and the Office of the General Counsel as well as in responding to the letters from members of UPSEU Local #6457 Union Executive Board; and approving that a subcommittee, comprised of the Majority Leader, Deputy Majority Leader, and Minority Leader, be appointed and authorized to sign an agreement on behalf of the Common Council to retain such outside law firm or professional organization and that a majority of signatures of said subcommittee shall suffice to authorize such an agreement; and authorizing that such agreement shall provide that a report of findings and recommendations shall be completed by such outside law firm or professional organization within sixty (60) days of execution of the agreement, unless such report date is extended by the Common Council; and authorizing that, in the event the investigation hereby authorized and

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Wesleyan Reconsidering Demolition of Historic Buildings

319 Washington Terrace

According to an email from Joyce Topshe, Associate Vice President for Facilities at Wesleyan University, the plans for demolition of existing buildings on Washington Terrace, and the expansion of the Film Studies building are being reconsidered.

The Eye reported earlier that plans to demolish the historic buildings at 319 and 329 Washington Street had been presented to the City of Middletown Design Review Commission.

Topshe writes: "We are exploring the feasibility of using 319 Washington Terrace to house the new Film classroom that would otherwise displace the old building. Today (December 21) there are engineers on site investigating more thoroughly both 319 and 329 Washington Terrace. If the outcome of the testing is favorable, and the revised plans are agreeable to Wesleyan leadership, we plan to submit a revised proposal to DRPB on January 10."

329 Washington Terrace
Topshe also indicated that the development was a $15 million development and not a $50 million as earlier reported.

This Weekend at The Buttonwood Tree

Story City Troupe

Story City is a troupe of storytellers based in the Hartford, CT area and trained by Matt Dicks, one of The Moth’s champion storytellers. Story City Troupe uses The Moth Formula: all are true, personal stories, often funny, sometimes amazing, poignant or ironic and based on a single theme for the evening. The troupe members range in age from their 20’s to their 70’s, proving you can come up with a good story at any age.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll identify!
This group is led by Sue Huggans and welcomes new members.
This Month’s Performers:
Maire Greene
Tarn Granucci
Mike Isko
Wendy Marans
Anna Bninski; an editor by trade; outside of the office she pitches style manuals in favor of stories. She lives in New Haven, where she is a part of the storytelling community based at the Institute Library.
Matt Dicks
This Months Theme: "Egg on Face"
Friday January 5th | 8-10pm | $10 admission

"Mystic Collages" Art Reception

Flo Bartosiak

       Flo doesn’t consider herself a traditional artist. She’s not skilled at painting or sketching representational objects, but she finds collage a way of expressing a sense of inner connectedness that she explores through various images overlapping and flowing into each other.
Flo discovered collage as an art form through her friend, Mylene Poitras, an expressive artist. It was part of a process they did every morning, beginning with meditation and followed by collage, which was also done in silence. Mylene would set a timer so they were aware that they needed to surrender to the art and allow it to flow  through them without over analysis, perfectionism, or hesitation. Whatever they were feeling found it’s expression through images from magazines, pieces of material, feathers, rose petals, whatever was in the room and on the table to use.
When they finished the collage, they would share what they had done and very often Flo was surprised by the final result. It was as if a super conscious part of herself was creating something her conscious mind was unaware of. The collage was the vehicle of expression that allowed information to be brought to her conscious awareness. Sharing it was another dimension of that process and She’s thrilled to be able to do this at an even greater level here at The Buttonwood Tree.

Sunday January 7th | 2-4pm

Visit buttonwood.org for more info/reserve seats
Call 860.347.4957
TBT is located next to It's Only Natural Market at 605 Main Street, Middletown