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Norwalk hires DEI Officer

LaToya Fernandez, explaining what “Defund the Police” means in a YouTube video.

NORWALK, Conn. —Norwalk’s first DEI Officer has been hired and will start work Nov. 1.

LaToya Fernandez served as the director of a Restorative Justice project in Hartford for nine months before accepting the Norwalk job in October, according to her LinkedIn page. Previous work includes a 16-month contract with the City of San Jose, Calif.

“She brings with her a wealth of experience,” Mayor Harry Rilling said at Tuesday’s Common Council meeting. “This is something that it did take a little bit longer than we expected, to get the DEI officer on board. But there are a variety of reasons for that.”

Council member Nicol Ayers (D-District A) suggested a DEI (Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion) Officer in February, when a report developed by Bridgeport-based consulting agency Led By Us was released. Led By Us was hired in March 2021 to lead an equity initiative inspired by the murder of George Floyd but the firm was let go the following August, capping an initiative start thought to be “disappointing” by some.

Rilling first announced the equity initiative in June 2020, promising a Equity and Justice for All Commission. “I envision this as being a permanent standing committee in the city to constantly evaluate situations and equity and injustices,” he said.

Norwalk Chief of Social Services Lamond Daniels announced Fernandez’ hiring at the Oct. 19 Council Community Services Committee meeting.

Ayers said, “I’m having mixed emotions – I want to scream, I want to cry, I want to jump, I want to have a moment of Jubilee. … This is a time where we’re moving from effort to action as a city.”

She added, “The work that this person is going to do will be felt for generations.”

The DEI Officer is a “keystone part” of the Equity and Justice for All Initiative and now Council members can work on an ordinance to create the expected Equity and Justice for All Commission, said Chairwoman Dominique Johnson (D-At Large), adding that the work will probably begin in December.

Daniels said more than 38 applications came in for the job and the three finalists were “all amazing with different unique skill sets and experiences.” The top choices “were presented to the Mayor and then we are excited to have LaToya.”

“LaToya has a deep knowledge of community engagement, just her awareness of working with people, her love for people,” Daniels said. “She’s worked in juvenile justice as well as a track record of bringing a diverse groups of people together, especially in these most sensitive times that we’ve all have experienced over the past several years.”

LaToya Fernandez. (LinkedIn)

Fernandez has done extensive work in San Jose, working with the Mayor’s Office “empowering youth, working with marginalized communities,” Daniels said. She will be dedicated to making Norwalk a “welcoming city for all people.”

Fernandez, on her LinkedIn page, said her new position as Chief Diversity Equity and Inclusion Officer is “That Equity work I was born to do!”

She is the CEO-Founder of YouthHype.org, her page states. Her San Jose work, in multiple capacities, took place in 2021 through May on a City-level and before that, she focused on Restorative Justice at Downtown College Prep for nearly three years. She began her career with nearly five years as an English teacher at Rocketship Public Schools.

During the Floyd protests, Fernandez “was called upon to lead re imagine public safety and policing, re imagine juvenile justice, and re imagine equitable transportation working directly with the Mayor’s office and other local officials,” LinkedIn states.

Fernandez graduated from Newbury College in Brookline, Mass., with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications, San Jose Spotlight states. “She helped create a Black Lives Matter mural downtown and brought youth into her discussion with the mayor about creating banners at City Hall.”

In 2018, she earned a certificate in the history of the Supreme Court/law and policy and in 2019, she attended the Asian Pacific Islander and people of color leadership institute, according to her LinkedIn page. In 2020, she earned a Harvard University certificate for women in educational leadership.

Her hiring is “great news for us on so many reasons,” said Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large) on Oct. 19. “… We’re bringing focus to diversity, equity inclusion here in Norwalk. Not that we didn’t have the focus, but we have even more of a focused approach by having an individual to lead the effort as a key focus of their job responsibility.”

He asked Daniels what Fernandez might be expected to accomplish in her first 90 days on the job.

“I just want to make sure that we manage our expectations,” Daniels replied. “Having myself been a new employee to the city of Norwalk, 90 days is not a long time. It takes time to meet people.”

Outreach will be important to let Norwalkers know “that we delivered on this promise while it took some time,” Daniels said. Obviously, Fernandez will need to learn how Norwalk works and “from my opinion, want to respect this is one person, and just have to do to be very clear on what the expectations are, and what is possible with one person for a city our size.”

Ayers said everyone should work together to lighten Fernandez’ load. Daniels agreed that “the success of this work is relational” and “we can support her to build those relationships.”

On Tuesday, Ayers said, “I want to just remind everybody is that we have valleys to cross, hills to climb, and oceans to swim through. But that doesn’t mean that we are not committed to the work.”

She said, “We must understand that the position of a DEI is not a band aid. But it is a person to help us forge through and organize and address the needs of the work that needs to happen on a daily basis. We need to extend grace, we need to understand that we need to partner not critique. We need to lift up and we need to have an open mindset going forward so that the work that has to be done can be done with a collective mindset.”

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Information added, 10:30 p.m.

15 comments

John O'Neill October 27, 2022 at 8:44 am

Congratulations and Good Luck to Latoya. I hope she succeeds in making Norwalk a better community.
I’d like to also wish Chief Kulhawik Good Luck — Based on what I’ve read, he’s going to need it. Should be an interesting 18 months.

Johnny cardamone October 27, 2022 at 9:15 am

I hope this is good for the city the sad part to me is that we even need such a position in the United States of America in 2022 over 150 years after the Civil War🥵🙏🏼🇺🇸

Tysen Canevari October 27, 2022 at 1:48 pm

Boy what a crock of S#*T!! what the mayor and council will do in a year of election. Director of how to manage yourself? Isnt that your own responsibility? Another 6 figure income handed out by Harry to surround himself with directors of everything but how to tie your shoes. We need a rap artist from California to come in and remind us what a diverse community Norwalk is? Meanwhile, raw sewage is still pouring into the sound and we are doing nothing about it council. It is really sad that people just pull the lever repeatedly for Harry and company. Retire already! We will name the plaza in front of the police station after you like you always wanted so you will be relevant. Please make some educated decisions council. BTW Latoya must not have done a great job in California if she transplanted all the way here! (unless we are overpaying her like everyone else). Shameful

James Cahn October 27, 2022 at 2:54 pm

I can’t help but recall Fanon and Malcolm when I see talk of various government offices breathlessly announcing their newly hired “Diversity Officers.” I can imagine what they might have thought.

Though I wish LaToya the very best of luck, it’s unfortunate to see such a clearly inspired, idealistic and passionate voice so willingly absorbed into the monolith of municipal government. To wit: her robust CV tells me way less about her than I learned from her set here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eUahB7p414 The way her voice cracks on verses of “Legend” and “Fight” tells me all I need to know about her. “Fight” is particularly good, Latoya. Great bars, there. Love it.

One can’t help but imagine that her talents are better leveraged as an engaged activist than a newly minted bureaucrat. Nonetheless, that’s what she will now be. So, while I agree with Nicole Ayers’ instinct towards “grace” I take issue with the idea that being a member of the political class somehow uniquely shades one from critique. In fact, the opposite is true and our politicians must be constantly reminded of that.

With that in mind, and in the spirit of Latoya’s “Defund the Police” explanation of the need to effectively spend public monies, I’m curious as to what this position will cost Norwalk tax payers and the specific metrics to which she will be held accountable so that we may determine her success. I’m not suggesting that “there are none” can’t be an answer. Rather, that if that is the answer, the payers of the bill are owed it.

Lamond Daniels being asked what Fernandez will accomplish in her first 90 days and then immediately excusing her with the old Norwalk pass of, ‘it takes a long time for Norwalk politicos to learn how Norwalk works…So it’s unfair to ask anything of them’ speaks volumes about the culture of East Avenue. I’d be excited if LaToya might, herself, remedy this by addressing what HER specific commitments are for her first 90 days.

Good Luck, LaToya. And upload a studio version of “Fight” somewhere so I don’t have to rip it off your live set.

Greg Helms October 27, 2022 at 3:48 pm

And now we’re supposed to believe that BLM protesters, when they were yelling “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon”, were really only concerned about how our city budgets for policing included too much overtime? And spending six figures on a new DEI Officer is a better way to spend our money? We all get that the insinuation here is we’re all racists. I for one am highly insulted by that insinuation.

Tysen Canevari October 27, 2022 at 6:15 pm

I cant even make it through her video. Lets cut from the police and fire to feed programs in Norwalk. How many programs do you want? How about trim the fat at city hall and the board of ed? Suddenly she is a specialist on police. Two officers should show up instead of 5? She should watch the tape from Bristol when two officers were down and the one who is wounded says send everyone. Should Latoya tell them only 2 officers per call because we need more free programs. It really makes you sad to be part of Norwalk to read and hear this garbage. Soon my youngest will finish school and I can move from the town I love. 5th generation here and more disgusted everyday in our local government.

Drew Todd October 27, 2022 at 8:49 pm

I guess we now know where City Hall & the CC stand on backing our police. What a shame. Why did we need to hire her again for?!?!? Because the WOKE mob demanded it??!? Talk about a waste of tax payers money.

Skip Hagerty October 27, 2022 at 11:02 pm

It’s very sad. I didn’t realize that discrimination and racism has been so pervasive in the city’s administration that it required the hiring of a person with the experience and credentials of Ms. Fernandez to fix it. That said, I am not sure why it took Mayor Rilling until 2020 to wake up to this terrible problem and then 2022 to finally hire a professional like Ms. Fernandez. Nevertheless, I am just happy that we now have a highly distinguished DEI Officer that can help the Mayor in his newest crusade; battling racism, inequality, and exclusion that is apparently plaguing this great city.

Michael McGuire October 28, 2022 at 12:13 pm

No one is qualified for a position like this simply because everyone is biased in some way, shape or fashion.

Everyone understands fairness, we can all understand ‘one for you and one for me’, that’s common ground for everyone. But there is no common ground for equity.

We all need to keep Ms. Fernandez in our prayers as she is tasked (burdened?) with the impossible.

Benjamin Gates October 28, 2022 at 2:35 pm

what a complete and total waste of money by the city of Norwalk. Another 6 figure salary for someone who is beyond biased and whose work is not needed in this city. I cant wait to get out of here. It literally just keeps getting worse. These politicians spend our tax dollars like they are the fed printing money in the backroom. Its pathetic.

Tysen Canevari October 28, 2022 at 3:25 pm

The best part Benjamin is she gets hired with no concrete job description. Its gonna take time they say. LOL

Evan Spears October 28, 2022 at 10:03 pm

“Restorative Justice” is a bunch of radical leftist ideas. Just punish students according to their misdeeds. Dont sugar coat things. Main issue with kids these days is a lack of consequences for their actions. Stop coddling them.

Tysen Canevari October 29, 2022 at 9:19 am

So as I sit and watch her videos I cant believe my eyes. She talks about its ok for black women to be angry and that they have a right to be and they need to stand together to be unstopable! What a friggin joke. How bout people working together and coming together as 1. She is going to divide the races even more. Norwalk is a melting pot of people who get along great for the most part and is comprised of diverse backgrounds and socio economic statuses. What in god’s name was Harry and his lackluster council thinking giving this woman our tax money to be on the payroll? Next they are going to hire Darnell Crossland to be a city attorney.

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