Rowayton marchers chant ‘Black Lives Matter;’ resident cites ‘taboo’

Sunday’s Black Lives Matter protest concludes at Rowayton’s “old school fence,” the topic of recent controversy. (All protest photos by John Levin.)

Brigitte Van Den Houte speaks Sunday in Rowayton. (John Levin)

NORWALK, Conn. — Participating in a Black Live Matter march is a natural for Rowayton resident Brigitte Van Den Houte.

Not only does Van Den Houte work professionally at the executive level to increase diversity in company hiring, her two grown children from a previous marriage are people of color, she said. She thought there would be less racism in America when they moved here from Europe eight years ago. But no, “I was naive to think that it would be better in the United States.”

Up to 100 people marched Sunday through tony Rowayton, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and Black women matter,” and Van Den Houte was one of them.  A flier distributed at the protest indicated that a Black Lives Matter sign is central to their complaints.

The sign was posted on the “old school fence,” a community bulletin board of sorts, but removed in July. An anonymous letter writer who alerted NancyOnNorwalk to Sunday’s protest called that “embarrassing,” accusing the Sixth Taxing District of “hindering, obstructing and ignoring the call for justice from the majority of empathetic anti-racism forward thinking residents in our special town.”

A Black Lives Matter sign formerly posted on the Rowayton fence, as depicted by protesters. (Courtesy photo)

“We believe the handful of your dissenters against the sign in town are motivated by their wish to keep blacks and persons of color out of town for their real estate interests, or out of their own (conscious or unconscious) complicity with racism,” the email continued. “We feel the board of commissioners has a vested interest in the town, and genuinely does mostly good, and we are grateful and appreciate your work. However with members of the real estate business running the 6th TD with a public history of racist remarks and conflicts with the BOE at the helm making unilateral decisions, I fear the best interest of the few of we people of color in town, and future would be diverse residents is not fairly represented well here.”

Sixth Taxing District Commissioners Mike Barbis, Tamsen Langalis and John Igneri did not reply to a Saturday email from NancyOnNorwalk asking for a response to the comments.

Langalis led the July 6TD meeting where the decision to remove the sign was announced.

“We’ve had a number of residents inquire and let us know that they feel it is actually a political statement,” she said. “The sign has been up for four weeks, and we feel that that has been longer than our two week notice for most signs. And we would like to suggest to residents, that they take that movement and bring it into their own yards.”

Langalis said, “at least six people” had asked that the sign be removed.

Priscilla Feral said that the sign had helped raise $5,000 for the Carver Center. “I think there’s a good result here that has nothing to do with anybody’s political campaign,” she continued. “…I know there were detractors. Of course, there were juveniles who deface the various signs, but the last one that went up, it felt as though the community had reached a feeling about the importance of addressing institutional racism. So I’m happy for that.”

“It’s not a political message. It’s a message about equality for all people, and I think that’s something that really should be behind,” Jane Seymour said.

Langalis said the issue would be revisited and that’s happening: the flier handed out by Sunday’s marchers said the Sixth Taxing District plans to discuss it Wednesday. It advertised a petition; the petition does not indicate how many people have signed it.

A Rowayton waterfront home. (John Levin)

Van Den Houte on Monday said there are indeed signs in Rowayton saying “equity matters” and “all lives matter,” which “makes me happy,” and it’s “surprising” because many of them are at big houses on the waterfront.

“I don’t belong to that richer community, but there’s a lot of rich people here and some of them … at least they show it,” she said. “I think that’s very courageous because there’s a lot of people in Rowayton who don’t want to talk about it, and I think that’s the biggest problem. …It’s still a taboo to talk about racism.”

It’s “disgusting” that the sign came down, she said.

Protestors march Sunday through a private neighborhood. (John Levin)

Van Den Houte has worked for Pitney Bowes for nearly 15 years and is Senior Vice President, Human Resources, Global Talent Management, according to her LinkedIn page.

“I have been responsible, for many years, for diversity, equity and inclusion,” she said, calling the issue “very important to me.”

When the Belgium native married the first time, it was like probably one of the first mixed marriages in her town and region, she said. Her kids were “the only kids of color in their school.”

Neither lives in Rowayton. Her son, Brooklyn resident, feels self-conscious when he goes to the Rowayton market, but her daughter has lighter skin and fares better, she said.

“They’re very sensitive to it and how they’re being perceived, and they’re always worried and scared,” Van Den Houte said. “Again, that was the same in in Europe, you know, believe me, it’s not much that’s better there. So it’s, it’s just different.”

It would have been better if there were more marchers Sunday, but there was also an event in Stamford, she said. She had no friends out marching and that was “disappointing.”

Some drivers honked in support and one “was like really screaming out for window ‘you are all Communists’… but there are more positive reactions and negative reactions,” she said.

“It’s almost unaffordable for people of color to live here,” Van Den Houte said. “So that also is something else, like how can you have a community where all lives matter, all life matters? There is not even a possibility for them, who have lower incomes, to get a house here.”

Three of five Norwalk Police cruisers on scene. (John Levin)

(John Levin)

(John Levin)

(John Levin)


Sam Tyler September 15, 2020 at 6:47 am

The only issues I have:
Look at how many marchers are not wearing masks.
The price of real estate in Rowayton is not discriminatory.
Like any other town, the value is based on location.
I am a Jew and cannot afford to live in Greenwich. Does that make it anti-semitic or racist?

Norwalk Dude September 15, 2020 at 7:21 am

Though I agree with Sam, I also feel that Rowayton breeds a separatist feeling to those who live there. They do not identify with being a part of Norwalk but by being their own town… maybe almost trying to be seen as being a part of Darien instead of Norwalk. I’d also love to see them allow ALL of South Norwalk into Bailey Beach on a hot summer day. And who was there protecting their little march?… That wasn’t the Rowayton Police. Putting up a sign and actually doing something about inclusivity are two different things. But what do they know? They pay way too much money for the same dolled up cottages that 75-100 years ago housed most of Norwalk’s seafaring folks and smelled like dead fish. 🤷🏻‍♂️

Char Nix September 15, 2020 at 12:45 pm

What a joke? If you can afford it…you can live anywhere! The new hobby for lonely & bored people…race baiting & breeding class division Great job!!

Victor Cavallo September 15, 2020 at 1:03 pm

There go the property values. Doesn’t BLM believe that suburbs are racist and low-cost housing should be imposed, irrespective of zoning? Will riots in Rowayton be next?

Jen Stevens September 15, 2020 at 4:21 pm

MOST of the participants are indeed wearing masks, except for those speaking from the microphone, and the three participants leading the chants at the front of the march. They should be wearing masks, without a doubt. I can tell you that I have taken numerous photos of unrelated residents sitting at packed panic tables for dinner at Bayley Beach not a one of them wearing a mask. Wearing a mask is a requirement to join these protests. If the leads at the front have their masks down (they have masks in the photos that are down on their chins) while they chant, they need to be at the very front and a far safer distance ahead of the followers and put their masks up. There was sanitization of the microphone between each speaker, and other precautions taken very seriously. In terms of the affordability of Rowayton, it is true – it’s simply a fact that its not affordable for all income levels. The other unfortunate fact is that POC census data shows that this disproportionally disadvantages POCs from living here, and that my friends is structural racism. Rowayton was far more affordable when we first moved here 20 years ago, but the taxes and RE values have skyrocketed.

Rica Mendes September 15, 2020 at 5:21 pm

People were wearing masks. It was very difficult to walk, and speak out at the same time, so briefly, some of us moved our masks off her face to catch our breath. Did it occur to you that it just happened that was the moment that the camera was on us? I would not have stayed for a second if people were not practicing social distancing, and wearing masks. I know I was wearing a mask that was thicker than I thought, and I found it with a hot breath, it was making it damp, which made it a little difficult to breathe. I am sure I’m not the only one.

But, as a fellow Jew, not only am I troubled by the fact that that’s the issue that you decide to hone in on, but the fact that you cannot recognize discrimination against another minority just because it’s not ours. I spoke up at this event because, I hate to break it to you, the same people that want to keep blacks from our towns, and or discriminatory against them, will come for us too. And they already are lining it up. And they will come for Hispanics, and they will come for east and west Asians, and everyone that’s not like them. It’s just a matter of time. So perhaps, instead of pointing out the fact that one individual in the crowd was not wearing a mask for a photograph, you could speak out against the actual injustice is taking place in our backyards?

Tikkun Olam, my friend. And think about that as we approach the high holidays. Because, as you know, judgment day is literally around the corner for us.

CT-Patriot September 15, 2020 at 5:31 pm

Guess Greenwich is next on the list for BLM (Marxists) to appear. Residents will love it and just as usual and in Greenwich fashion, they will open their checkbooks as a tribute (reality is go away).

Those of you whining about cost of living in Rowayton…try Greenwich. Anyone with the money can live where they choose.

Instead of “protests” it’s time to bring folks to the table facing those they have issues with, (police) and have a sit down with police, state troopers, sheriff’s etc along with all young black men, women, clergy, leaders and find common ground.

Maybe showing exactly what happens, how people truly fear, how to resolve it and monitor the progress, how folks can teach younger kids not to fear police, police learning to work together with people to end the violence, help with local issues etc.

Marching around to draw attention does just that, attention. What is needed is sit, discuss, debate, argue, get points across. Then, maybe with more dialog can issues improve.

As for the actual group (BLM), it’s nothing more than a Marxists group which they openly admit.

If I was young seeking justice for issues, I’d not allow a group associated with Marxism to be a voice or speak for me. I’ll do it just fine thank you very much. I hope others do as well.

Odd that some of the policies of the Democratic party are moving people back to segregation that we all worked so hard to abolish. It’s no longer the JFK Democratic party that’s for sure. Sad.

Ex-Rowaytonite September 15, 2020 at 11:52 pm

Glad to see folks in Rowayton demonstrate their commitment to civil rights and inclusion for people of all races, creeds, orientations and confessions. Having lived there for several years I certainly enjoyed living amongst a population of extremely open minded, socially responsible citizens. Despite their wealth and success I found most Rowaytonites showed a commitment to issues regarding wealth disparity, access to education for disadvantaged communities and beyond. As the hot button issue of housing equality returns to the forefront we shouldn’t kid ourselves, living in Rowayton (among other towns on the Gold Coast) ain’t cheap and most folks acknowledge that the only color that matters in town is the color green. If there is evidence that a person of color or certain creed, confession or sexual orientation was denied the ability to purchase a home in the 6TD this should be investigated immediately. Otherwise let’s acknowledge that home prices are still dictated by market forces and don’t really discriminate on the basis of color. No matter what the color of your skin is the highest bidder always wins! As per the last US census 70% of the low income population in the country was white and would naturally be excluded from living in a wealthy town or neighborhood like Rowayton, other Gold Coast towns and beyond. The citizens of Rowayton in general are warm, welcoming folks who (unlike their surrounding towns who really warrant a march) continue to demonstrate their commitment to inclusion and understanding in Norwalk and beyond. Stay strong Rowayton!

Lisette September 16, 2020 at 5:57 pm

Yes, I do take part in the protests in Rowayton and I’m proud to stand up for BLM. It’s amazing to me that the 3 marches we had in Rowayton NO ONE came out of their homes to show support (maybe 2-3 people). Just a reminder, Latinos, blacks, immigrants will always be around whether some like it or not we are here to stay… and raise our voices because it’s our human right . No one is protesting to start trouble or riots , tell that to the man who drove by us in a blue buggy convertible and yelled out “TRUMP 2020” coming from a middle aged man. What about the lady who yelled out to the entire crowd as we were ready to march “YOU ARE ALL COMMUNIST” she drove a black Subaru and she came back looking for more. The only anger coming out of this March are from the people whom are yelling out of their cars and the few who stood alone on sidewalks glaring and laughing, they know who they are. Racism needs to stop 🛑 and although I am Not from Rowayton I feel someone has to stand up to it. There are many in town whom I adore and you know who you are I love you guys. See you all again soon.

I protested there September 16, 2020 at 6:37 pm

Working in Rowayton I have experienced racism right in my face. I have had a man approach me at work who stated ” Why do black lives matter? Have you ever even seen a black person in this town because in the 40 something years I have lived here I’ve never seen one”. That my friends was fueled by him seeing a black lives matter sign right in front of him. That’s just one of many who were fueled by seeing the same sign. The majority of “Norwalks” middle aged Rowaytonites that I have met are truly great people but the older generation were definately fueled because they want to keep their old traditions which included telling me that black lives did not matter. That really disappointed me and broke my heart to the core. Yes we all matter but right now “Black Lives Matter”. Protesters did wear masks during every protest except for the speakers for obvious reasons. They were all peaceful, no riots ever, and for those of you digging up whatever flaws you can find
to make it appear as a problem in Rowayton…well you are the problem and this is why we march. #blacklivesmatter

Jen Stevens September 17, 2020 at 4:26 pm

I couldn’t agree more with the above from “Lisette” and “I Protested There” . As someone who attended this Sunday’s 100% Peaceful, Mask Wearing, Precaution Taking and Anti-Violence participants, I can tell you there was nothing but UNITY PEACE & LOVE from the protesters themselves, 100%! I’d only like to add that in addition to the three cowardly counter-protester drive by’s (powder blue VW Bug Convertible, Black Subaru, there was also a third that I’d like to describe here: A Blue Convertible SAAB w the Top Up, Brunette younger thin woman rolled up, stopped and was an instigator causing divisiveness, she interrupted a speech and screamed like a hyena you’re all terrorists and communists three times at the top of her lungs out her window. Hate Speech. So my message to the woman instigator of hate in the dark navy blue Saab, WE HAVE YOUR PICTURE AND YOUR PLATES! Good Luck spreading hate speech, a crime. Peace to all the loving caring majority of residents in Rowayton WHO CARE!

Jenny Write September 17, 2020 at 8:02 pm

Most of the marchers are children of affluent parents and have been given everything in life. As a result they believe that all white people are like them therefore they do not understand that most people despite race are not so lucky. Since they believe that all white people are like them, they do not have context to understand that what they call “white privilege” is just an economic privilege unique to them and worked for by their parents . To the people in Rowayton complaining about a lack of integration and not enough people of varying ethnicities and economic levels, put your money where your mouth is and start renting your house out to recipients of section 8 vouchers at prices they can afford. Come on you are rich enough and surely you can afford to take the loss. To the rich kids whose mommy’s and daddy’s bought them cars and sent the to $70k/ year BS liberal schools, give up that privilege and send four poor kids to college and donate your cars to the poor that need them to go tho their low wage jobs. Until you are ready to do this, stop your virtue signaling for Instagram likes get back in your Jeep Wrangler and go thank your mommy and daddy for being so awesome.

Ryan September 17, 2020 at 8:46 pm

All lives matter.
If you have to place any word before that statement you need to examine e your own motivations.
What has BLM done for the black community?
Built a house?
Rehabbed a neighborhood?
Granted a scholarship?

Lisette September 18, 2020 at 3:00 pm

We would love to hear you speak up when we all talk before the march and not in these posts. You are more than welcome to speak up that’s your right as well as ours. Thank you.

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