Opinion: Norwalk needs to build bridges, not walls

If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive today, Norwalk could use his help, Mark McElween said Monday. (The National Park Service)

This is Mark McElwen’s speech from Monday morning’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast.

We gather today to celebrate the life, beliefs, and vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a Baptist minister and became the predominant leader in the Civil Rights movement to end racial segregation and discrimination, in America during the 1950s and 1960s and who was a leading spokesperson for nonviolent methods of achieving social change.

Dr. King’s involvement in the Civil Rights movement began during the bus boycotts of 1955, and in 1957 along with several others, Dr. King found the SCLC – Southern Christian Leadership Conference – where Dr. King was elected president, and whose strategy was to coordinate the action of local protest groups throughout the South in fighting for Civil and Political rights.

Unfortunately, Dr. King’s fight for civil rights was ended in 1968 by an assassin’s bullet.

But during 1957-1968, Dr. King in his role as SCLC president traveled across the country and around the world, giving lectures on nonviolent protest and civil rights as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders.

If the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was living today, would he have to travel to Norwalk?

Would our local Religious, Community and/or Political Leaders have to call on him today for help?

“Let’s Build Bridges, Not Walls”

Our chosen theme for this hour – Once spoken by Dr. King

Our local MLK Community Committee has chosen this theme

“Let’s Build Bridges, Not Walls”

How appropriate a theme, for such a time as now

What does it take for bridges to be built?


I’m sure each of us could come up with many different, yet essential components – (love, equality, diversity, and respect) – but truth and honesty are the two essential components I’ve chosen to talk about this morning in the start of helping us to build bridges, not walls.


Truth and Honesty

Essential twins in building every and any healthy relationship

After all, wasn’t that what Dr. King was talking about

When he made the statement “Let’s build bridges, not walls”


Building bridges –

Asking opposing sides, to set aside their differences

Building bridges –

Coming together for the good of the masses.

Building bridges –

Getting out of your feeling and being willing to deal with the truth


Building bridges –

Being willing to understand others who thinks differently from you

Building bridges –

Understanding that it’s a give and take, not just a take.


Building Bridges –

Being willing to compromise


For what good is it that once we gather together to discuss our differences

That if either side refuses to be honest and truthful

So often we come together to discuss our differences and the results we get are lies and deceit


We’ve learned to say what we think the other side wants to hear, ‘we’ll say whatever to pacify them’

Not a good start – If we want to begin Building Bridges.

Proverbs 10:9 says –

“Honest people are safe and secure, but the dishonest will be caught.”


Zechariah 8:16-17 out of the message Bible says,

“And now here’s what I want you to do: Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Don’t do or say what isn’t so. I hate all that stuff. Keep your lives simple and honest.” Decree of God.


God expects those of us who have a right relationship with Him, to always be

Truthful and Honest

For if we who have the right relationship with God, are obedient to His Word,

When the opportunity comes for us to be at the table for Building Bridges, we will be prepared, actually we just have to show up and God will lead us.

Are you prepared / are you where God needs you to be?

Do you bring Trust and Honesty everywhere you go?

Did you bring them with you today?

Norwalk City Elected Officials and Religious Leaders do you always bring Trust & Honesty with you?

Norwalk Community Leaders and Politicians, do you keep the twins with you as you conduct your business?

Teachers, students, friend, foes, is Trust and Honesty with you everywhere you go?

It is impossible for us to Build Bridges if we don’t bring Trust and Honesty with us


Fredrik Nael – once said, “It takes both sides to build a bridge.”


I asked the question earlier, if the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was living today, would he have to travel to Norwalk Conn.?

My answer would be yes.

And this is what I would share with Dr. King: “Norwalk is experiencing some significant walls that are up and we need some major Bridge Building to take place.”

Norwalk was once a city where diversity was always present and respect for each other’s differences was understood. City Officials, Community Leaders, Local Politicians respected each other and their positions – They put aside their differences and did what was best for the City.

I’m pretty sure they did not always agree on every issue – but because walls were down and bridges were built, they were able to come to an agreeable solution.

Fast forward to now:

  • What happened to the bridges that were once built?
  • What happened to the differences being put aside and we coming together?
  • What happened to “let work together to build a better Norwalk?”
  • How and when did the divide take place?  When did the racial tone walls get built?


We have a Board of Education Elected Member sending intimidating emails to BoE employees, demanding that they don’t attend the NAACP Banquet. Now, one would say “Brother Mark, why are you bringing that up again? That happened two years ago.” Understood.  Yet a year later that same BoE Elected Official sends a racially insensitive email, expressing his dislike and disrespect for certain local minority Political and Community Leaders.

Our Mayor, his Deputy, and the Democrat Town Committee Chair and Vice-Chair, receives that racially insensitive email, held on to it for several months and did nothing with the email. That was wrong.

And regardless of the reasoning, the decision the Mayor made by doing nothing, left a distrusting feeling and many unanswered questions to many in the minority community.

And yet that same email, was mysteriously released several months later, right before the elections.  Was this a ploy used to help the mayor get re-elected?

In Zechariah 8th chapter it says – “Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others.”

Other issues I would share with Dr. King –

  • Minority administrators working for the city, being wrongfully removed / demoted from their positions and being replaced with less qualified people
  • CVA, Norwalk’s once alternative High School, a school that was attended predominately by minority students, closed.  Students attended CVA because they struggled in a mainstream setting.  Where are these students now?
  • The DTC pitting minority against minority in certain elections.
  • These are some of the loud racially motivated undermined tone that is being played out here in Norwalk.  And we are just scratching the surface, we don’t have enough time to get into everything.


At this point many people would love to shift the focus of conversation to the national stage and talk about how dysfunction Washington D.C. is and how President Trump has changed the tone of racism in America since he’s been in office and how the bridge-building process is so badly needed in the country, instead of addressing our local concerns.

But I say, before we focus on Building Bridges on the national level, we need to start here in our own back yard.

These issues I mention because they are still fresh in the mind of many minorities. We have been wrongfully treated and disrespected, and not truly and honestly given a fair explanation.  If we are to start Building Bridges, we need to clear the air.  We need to know that the people at the table moving forward are Truthful and Honest. Regardless of how long ago these issues may have taken place, if they’re a gap of understanding – In order to start the Bridge Building process, lets close that gap.

How do we begin to change this loud tone, here in Norwalk – How do we begin to tear down these racial walls and begin to BUILD BRIDGES?

Many people feel we need to brush these issues under the rug and just move forward.  Many saying, what was done, is done, move on.  Others may even say why is he living in the past, Well those of you who feel that way, don’t understand what it takes to start tearing down Walls, you are being insensitive to the minority community.

How can we begin to Build Bridges if we are insensitive to others concerns?

Many of us in the minority community need to have these issues addressed head-on, and they need to be dealt with in a sincere, serious, truthful, honest and respectful manner. Why? I’m glad you asked – Has anyone heard of the word Sankofa?

Sankofa – S-A-N-K-O-F-A  – Sankofa


Sankofa is an African word – which means remembering our past to protect our future.

So yes, we need to address these issues past and present.

We need honest and truthful discussions on these issues that are still fresh in our minds from our past.

We need honest and truthful consequences or solutions so that we can begin to move forward.

So, the building process can begin.


SANKOFA – We will remember our past, so we can protect our future

Mr. Barbis, I’m sure you’ve accomplished many good things during your time served on the Board of Ed and no one can take that away, but you must realize that now because of the email you have become a distraction for the Board and the community.  Many of us have forgiven you for the emails that were sent, but you need to understand that although you have been forgiving, they are still consequences.

If you care about the well-being of your City, you would do the right thing and resign from all City positions, so that the healing process can begin and the chance of rebuilding bridges can begin.

How can the Bridge begin to be built, with you in place, when the community has lost all trust in you?

2 Samuel chapter 11 tell a story about King David

King David – sinned by having an affair with a married woman named Bathsheba. Bathsheba became pregnant as a result of the affair, King David tried to cover up the pregnancy, but it didn’t work.  This led him to becoming a murderer of Bathsheba’s husband.  After the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, King David thought he was in the clear, so he married Bathsheba who was now a widower.  But GOD was watching.  When Bathsheba gave birth to their son, the baby was born sick.  King David realized that the baby’s illness was due to his sins.  David prayed and asked God for forgiveness and God forgave King David, but his newborn son died, the consequence for King David’s sin.  As mentioned above Mike you have been forgiven for your hurtful emails, yet your consequence, resign from the all city positions.

Give the City a clean slate to begin Building Bridges that are long overdue.

Mayor Rilling, it was wrong for you to hold on to that email and not reach out to the minority community or its leadership

It was wrong for the email to mysteriously surface right before the election and we know it was stated that no one has an idea on who or how the email got released.

Please don’t insult the community’s intelligence – Due the right thing.

Remember – Zechariah 8:16-17 out of the message Bible says, “And now here’s what I want you to do: Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Don’t do or say what isn’t so. I hate all that stuff. Keep your lives simple and honest.” Decree of God.

William Jefferson Clinton, our 42nd President, had an affair while in office and he got caught.  He held a press conference and lied and denied any wrongdoing on his behalf.  The evidence stated otherwise, so the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Clinton and they sent the articles of impeachment to the Senate, for a vote to have him removed from office.  Someone said, something deep down inside President Clinton got stirred up, something he learned back in Arkansas when he was a child and attended Sunday School, this stirring inside caused him to call a second press conference, before the Senate vote and he apologized for lying to the American people and his family.  When the Senate took the vote to remove him from office, the vote failed.

President Clinton knew that his future could not stand on a lie.  He had no choice but to do the right thing, he tapped into the Word of God.

Proverbs 28:13 – “You can’t whitewash your sins and get by with it; you find mercy by admitting and leaving them.”

Ephesians 4:25 out of the message Bible: “What this adds up to, then, is this: no more lies, no more pretense. Tell your neighbor the truth. In Christ’s body we’re all connected to each other, after all. When you lie to others, you end up lying to yourself.”

The minority community is ready to come together and start the process of Building Bridges.

We are tired of working in a city where subtle racial walls are up, where we are constantly being lied too and being disrespected – We have value and substance to bring to the city.

We need to know that moving forward we will be treated with dignity and respect, as we work to better this city.

We need to do better and it needs to start now – let’s get out of our feelings and let’s get real, true and honest with each other.

Let’s begin Bridging Bridges

Let’s tear down these undertones, racial Walls

Let’s begin telling the truth to each other

Let’s begin to be honest with each other



Let’s begin to build a solid diversify bridge, so that in four or so years when these high school senior community award winners, graduate from college and decide to return home to give back.

That we leave them a healthy functional diversify city, where they can be proud of.

Let’s Build Bridges, not Walls.

Let us begin to deal with each other in Truth and Honesty.

Let’s Build Bridges, not Walls.

Let’s capture Dr. King’s vision & spirit for Norwalk

Let’s start working to promote and display the values of equality, diversity, and respect.



Remember, Zechariah 8:16-17 out of the message Bible says, “And now here’s what I want you to do: Tell the truth, the whole truth, when you speak. Do the right thing by one another, both personally and in your courts. Don’t cook up plans to take unfair advantage of others. Don’t do or say what isn’t so. I hate all that stuff. Keep your lives simple and honest.”

Decree of God.

Let make Dr. King proud of use here in Norwalk, let’s put aside our differences and come together to better serve our community, city and one another.

Let Build Bridges, Not Walls

One comment

John ONeill January 20, 2020 at 8:24 pm

The one thing I can say about Mark McElveen AND the entire extended McElveen family is that they are terrific people. Very nice speech, and I hope the bridge gets rebuilt. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of patching some potholes!
I agree that we need to focus on NORWALK. Too many have blamed Trump and DC for all the ills caused by the ineptitude of our local leaders. Our politicians seem to be focused on everything else except Norwalk. To them I say – Step Up or Step out. We need support from our State on education – We are not getting it. Building a new Norwalk High school is nice, but the reality is we don’t need a new high school. We need almost everything else but a new high school. The reallocation of city funds to other programs is hurting the kids who need it most. Thank you Mark for a GREAT speech.

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