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Norwalk Speaks! looks to inspire equity progress after George Floyd’s death

Screenshot of the Norwalk Speaks! homepage.

NORWALK, Conn. – An initiative by the City of Norwalk, prompted by the murder of George Floyd, to “root out real and/or perceived injustices and inequalities” has launched under the banner “Norwalk Speaks!”

The effort, headed by Bridgeport consulting agency Led By Us & Associates (LBU), will “develop guidelines and recommendations to ensure that the municipality will conduct itself in an equitable, diverse and inclusive manner going forward,” a news release said.

LBU focuses on “responsible urban development,” according to its website. In addition to building an app to facilitate community input, the consultancy plans a slate of activities, including the development of a Norwalk Equity and Justice for All Commission within the next year.

The commission will “have teeth,” with legal powers, “otherwise we’re just gonna end up with more documents… and a lot of plans,” LBU spokesman Kelvin Ayala said.

The firm was hired in March, with the help of a $50,000 grant from the Fairfield County Community Foundation, after Common Council members touched on many issues related to the effort, such as “Norwalk’s biggest challenge from a DEI (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion) lens,” in the words of Council member Greg Burnett (D-At Large).

Among the biggest challenges, Ayala said, will be “rebuilding trust” among marginalized communities, convincing them their voice matters. Trust (and the lack thereof) took on greater urgency after Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, died after being handcuffed and pinned to the ground by a police officer’s knee in Minneapolis on May 25, 2020, triggering nationwide protests.

“We are well-aware of the potential for pushback…” said Kim Bianca Williams, LBU’s director of community development. “It’s going to be extremely important that we allow people, first of all, a public place to share their concerns, give them the courage to speak openly and honestly, because when you have been in a situation where you’ve been shut down for so long in so many different ways, you have the mindset of, well, why even bother?”

To that end, if you’ve ever felt marginalized, LBU wants to hear from you.

An illustration on the Norwalk Speaks! website. “Equality has become synonymous with ‘leveling the playing field.’ So let’s make equity synonymous with ‘more for those who need it,’” the website says.

If you’re doing well, your opinion is wanted too. People on the “white privilege side” also need a seat at the table, Council member David Heuvelman (D-District A) said, because “that’s how we start to change culture, because sadly, that culture was created by people who look like me.”

LBU’s role, according to Ayala, will be to “use our knowledge and expertise to help facilitate and guide conversation, hard conversations, difficult conversations. And we need to be respectful of disagreeing opinions.”

Since the discussion in March that led to their hiring, “LBU’s team of consultants and the City of Norwalk have been working together to develop an ambitious schedule of research, events, communications, reports, and other items that they will produce over the next 12 months,” the news release said.

Norwalk Speaks! has rolled out its social media app via Mighty Networks, as a download for Android and IOS. It provides “a platform for sharing information about upcoming events, surveys, updates about the project, and discussion of issues that are important to Norwalk residents,” the press release said.

In addition to a project website and additional social media platforms, Norwalk Speaks! is beginning a two-month period of gathering data and documenting stories and interactions to facilitate discussions.

Led By Us leaders and Norwalk officials kick off the Norwalk Speaks! campaign recently in Ryan Park. (Courtesy photo)

“We recognize that now is the time for us to stop talking about making things more equitable, diverse, and inclusive in our city, and for us to roll up our sleeves and get to work making it happen,” Mayor Harry Rilling is quoted as saying. “We need to build back trust between the city and our residents by delivering on this promise, by doing the work necessary to make substantive changes, and putting systems in place that ensure those changes are long-lasting.” Rilling asked that policing issues be included.

Last week on the app, Ayala posted an announcement that the Connecticut House of Representatives had passed Senate Bill 1, which, among other things, declares racism as a public health crisis.

Sarah Roy of Led By Us posted a link to Pride events, and also asked, “If you could make one rule that everyone in Norwalk had to follow, what rule would you make?”

She had two replies as of Saturday morning.

  • “Stop dumping your animals,” one person said. “It’s cruelty and it’s wrong.”
  • “Have limits on water!!! Some people don’t care and expend the water like crazy’s!!” another said.

 

The app also announces Zoom events. There was a conversation Tuesday; Ayala informed NancyOnNorwalk that a youth forum is planned for Wednesday.

“We want to inspire people to act, to get involved, and to share in the Norwalk Speaks! transformative experience,” Ayala said in the press release. “We give the City of Norwalk credit for being willing to hold a mirror up to itself and take a long, hard look. It may be uncomfortable at times, but that’s where the growth happens, where the real change can unfold.”

“It’s not lip service,” said Community Services and Personnel Committee Chairwoman Barbara Smyth (D-At Large), who helped select Led By Us. Change “needs to happen.”

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14 comments

John O'Neill June 7, 2021 at 10:13 am

I’ve read and reread the above 2 or 3 times. I guess that means I care about Norwalk.
Some observations:
1) The above comments are skewed. They are implicitly biased. Not one person quoted above should be on this committee. Why? Because they already have their end result. They just need to find facts to fit their narrative.
2) If you want progress, look no further than Norwalk School system. Do you really think NOT holding struggling students accountable and not demanding respect actually helps a child? How come teachers aren’t speaking out?..(Now that I have the attention of Central office media monitors I’ll continue) If teachers aren’t allowed to speak publicly about controlling classrooms, what about their representatives?
3) There seems to be many who’ve been feeling socially guilty over their lifetimes. I wish them well and hope they find solace somewhere/sometime.

As for me – I’m feeling great and have enjoyed living in Norwalk. One of my coaches once told me excuses are for Losers, and Winners find a way. — That’s a core principle in my life. Maybe others should look in that mirror and tell themselves that once a day. It can’t hurt.
IN CONCLUSI0N, I’M CALLING OUT THE NORWALK PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM — They should be inspiring, challenging our children — NOT giving them an excuse to FAIL. Their policies need to be scrutinized by this committee. BUT I also fear this committee is looking for more excuses. Now that I think about it, the word “excuses” should be banned from the English Language. It really is a nasty word…

Taxpayer June 7, 2021 at 12:43 pm

Real and/or perceived injustices? Did I read that correctly?

My tax dollars and going to fund the hiring of a consulting firm to root out real injustices, which we shouldn’t need a consulting firm for in the first place, and “perceived” injustices? What a total and complete joke.

Harry, how about to spend some money on something like paving the roads?

There are so many things Norwalk can spend money on that would benefit every single resident on the town, but instead were spending money on a consulting firm to root out “perceived” injustices. Just when you think it couldn’t get any worse..

John C Miller Jr June 7, 2021 at 2:48 pm

Let me see if I have this right. The City is going to create a new commission with “teeth and legal powers” to root out “perceived” injustices with an already biased consultant leading the effort and, by the way, people on the “white privilege” side will be allowed a seat at the table. The Common Council member who made the “white privilege” comment might want to rethink his position.

Query: How do we eliminate discrimination the basis of race by discriminating on the basis of race?

Michael McGuire June 7, 2021 at 4:53 pm

Equity is ripe for abuse because Equity reflects the biased viewpoint of the individual(s) tasked with deciding what is “Equitable”.

Equity does away with equality and I’m happy to have that debate with anyone.

I hope this new Equity and Justice for all Commission (EJC) will bring to light all those uncomfortable issues for meaningful dialog such as equal treatment in the education and legal systems, and equal opportunity etc.

But I fear Mayor Rilling’s EJC will be a one-sided social wrecking machine based on anger, fear and power that will do great harm to Norwalk.

To quote Mr. Ayala ‘the [Equity and Justice for All] commission will “have teeth,” with legal powers,’

Frightening. Consider that a group of un-elected, un-accountable commissions appointed by who knows, will create laws with legal powers to impose upon others. Is it fair, does it provide for equal treatment? Apparently fairness and equality are now irrelevant. What matters is what the EJC deems Equitable.

Does this make you hopeful? Or fearful? Given the rhetoric today its hard to be hopeful.

What ever happened to Martin Luther King’s principle that ‘a man should be judged by his character and not by the color of his skin’. Show me a man of good character and I guarantee he will be well respected by all who know him…regardless of his color.

John O’Neil is right, NPS should be part of the team that builds character in our children, not giving them excuses to be less than they can be.

What to do? Step up, speak out and use your God given common sense and remember the golden rule. These bad ideas are just that bad ideas, and they crumble under public scrutiny. NPS parents, get involved, find out what is being taught to your child. If you don’t agree let the School Board know. Critical Race Theory (CRT) is right around the corner so find out what it means, and don’t settle for the first page of what comes up on Google.

JustaTaxpayer June 7, 2021 at 7:38 pm

If this helps move the metric of intact black families, I’m all in. The breakdown of the black family unit has been a major issue. With the browning of CT and Norwalk, opportunities and dollars will be pushed elsewhere. I wish our leaders would wake up

James June 7, 2021 at 10:40 pm

Is perceived injustice an exaggerated severity of loss?

If equity is in, equality is no longer desirable, According to the illustration

James June 7, 2021 at 11:11 pm

The principle of equality has powerfully stood at the core of America for more than two centuries. But now equity is preferred over equality.

Peter Franz June 8, 2021 at 9:39 am

@James, with respect while equality may have been the stated ideal at the core of America, the undeniable truth is inequality has been the practice.

I read the objections to shining a bright light on this reality, and am certain that while some are happy to maintain the status quo and some are content in denying that there’s any such thing as “white privilege,” there are many more who are ready to face reality, understand that there has been two Norwalks just like there have been two Americas for far too long.

Seve June 8, 2021 at 2:24 pm

Equality is objective and supported by law. “Equity” is subjective and perceived in the eye of the beholder. “Equity” provides the cover of vagary that Marxists need to turn people against each other.

John O'Neill June 8, 2021 at 3:09 pm

#Peter: There are not 2 Norwalks.. Anyone who knows Norwalk knows there are about 10 Norwalks.. Painters who paint with broad brushes tend to do a poor job painting.. Literally and Figuratively

Michael McGuire June 8, 2021 at 5:09 pm

Peter Franz

With all due respect, addressing the real and perceived problems of “oppressed” people regarding schools, incarceration, the legal system, economic opportunity etc. etc. by simply assuming it is all due to “White Privilege” and CRT is intellectually naïve. The arguments for CRT, intersectionality etc. hence White Privilege lack common sense.

I do agree with you that the United States is a somewhat tiered system. But that is a product of meritocracy, not race. I would posit the claimed oppression is based on economics/education since education is the primary pathway to obtaining economic status, regardless of color. Education leads to opportunity plain and simple.

Consider that CRT’s very survival requires bullying and blatant racism on the part of its leaders and most strident supporters. Hardly a winning platform. I believe most Americans (of all colors) question how it got so far in the first place. But we are beginning to understand.

Character counts more than economic status. We only need to look to the political and cultural leaders of both sides being called out for their glaring lack of character. Hard to hide these days with all the coverage.

Critical Race Theory is just that. It’s a theory that needs to stand it ground in the harsh light of public scrutiny and free speech without being propped up by institutionalized thuggery. It needs to pass the sniff test.

Bryan Meek June 8, 2021 at 7:52 pm

Some are more equal than others. Society loses, but the permanently aggrieved get to make sure everyone else is dragged down to their level

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