The following is an open letter to Mike Barbis, Chairman of the Norwalk Board of Education.
We, as the Board of the NAACP, were surprised by your email, dated Friday October 5, 2018 to Board of Education members, suggesting that Board of Education members and staff not attend the NAACP’s annual Freedom Fund Gala. Your letter is unfortunate on many levels, especially since all the proceeds of the event provide scholarships to students from Norwalk Public Schools. This event is attended by both national and state congresspeople, city officials, and leaders in education and industry, as well as “ordinary” citizens who prize the kindness, unity, diversity, common sense and comradeship that are intrinsic to this event.
It would seem, from your email and recent actions against our president and against our choice of award recipients, that your pettiness, arrogance and capricious style of communication resulted in a bullying and, perhaps threatening, instruction to good people who may fear you enough to kowtow to the implicit instructions within your email. This behavior on your part is clearly in line with the unfair treatment given to a trio of black and brown former members of the Board of Ed, as evidenced by court documents available at https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Lyons-depostion-first-mention-no-emails-to-Trio.pdf and https://www.nancyonnorwalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Lyons-depostion-second-mention-no-emails-to-Trio.pdf. Your denial of the unfair and unprofessional treatment of former members of the Board of Ed and false accusations that you made public may indeed give you some responsibility for the lack of diversity on the Board today.
You refer to the Greater Norwalk Chapter of the NAACP as “unstoried”. By definition, “unstoried” means that our chapter isn’t interesting… that we don’t have an interesting story. Happily, there are hundreds of Norwalk citizens, black, brown and white, who have benefitted from gains in fair housing, courtroom procedure, civil justice, criminal justice and educational advocacy that were facilitated by our “unstoried” branch. We are in fact, “storied” by our involvement within the community that we serve. Our “unstoried” chapter has included many local heroes, as have our leaders and members over the past many years.
It is striking that you invoke the names of Medgar Evers, Roy Wilkins and Thurgood Marshall. You undermine so much of what they fought for and, in Medgar Evers’ case, died for. Your failure to acknowledge unfairnesses spotlighted by the NAACP, failure to take responsibility for their improvement, and your pomposity in blaming and punishing people who simply have a different point of view is not only contrary to the teachings of those you so carelessly mention, but contrary to the qualities of an educational leader, and potential role model, such as the chairperson of the Board of Ed should be.
As mentioned above, the NAACP Freedom Fund Banquet is not a forum for cheap politicking; it is a celebration of diversity and the accomplishments of our friends and neighbors. We hope that you find your way to join us next fall.
On behalf of the Norwalk NAACP Board of Directors