October 27, 2020

Residents Turn Out to Support Resolution on Racism at Old Lyme Board of Selectmen’s Meeting

OLD LYME — Almost a dozen residents showed up at the Sept. 22 Old Lyme Board of Selectmen’s Special Meeting to voice their support for the proposal made by Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal that the board of selectmen should sign a Resolution on racism. There were several more who expressed the same opinion when First Selectman Timothy Griswold opened up the phone lines in Public Comment.

During the meeting, Nosal had again reviewed with her fellow board members the draft Resolution, which she introduced at the Aug. 8 meeting. It was not on the agenda at the Aug. 17 meeting, but was discussed at the Sept. 8 meeting and then again at the Sept. 22 meeting.

Summarizing the key points of the draft Resolution, which originated from the Town of Windsor, Conn. and is printed in full below, Nosal noted particularly that the Resolution asserts, “… racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut.” Mentioning it has now been passed by a number of other towns in the state, Nosal reported that she had received, “A lot of feedback in favor of signing.”

She also commented that in previous discussions, other members of the board had said, “The tone [of the Resolution] seemed disagreeable.” Nosal therefore asked them for their latest thoughts.

Griswold opened by saying, “We all feel strongly that racism is a bad thing … but Old Lyme does a very good job. This document has a very negative tone.”

He added, “I’m still not comfortable with this type of a Resolution. I personally don’t see that there’s a problem in Old Lyme.” Elaborating on that opinion, he said, “I hesitate to have a Town Resolution with this language. I think our major purpose is to manage the town and not to sign on to Resolutions like this.”

Selectman Christopher Kerr asked Nosal where the closest towns (geographically) were that had already signed the Resolution. She responded that New London and New Haven had both signed the document, but also Old Saybrook and Lyme currently had it under consideration. He then indicated agreement with Griswold’s opinion, but commenting, “I’m not saying never.”

Kerr added, “I wouldn’t mind seeing what Lyme and Old Saybrook say.” Nosal reacted rapidly to that statement with the words, “I’d like us to be a leader rather than a follower.” She went on to say, “There is significant support that we acknowledge the problem,” pointing out that some different formats of the Resolution have been presented by members of the community.

Nosal distributed a shorter version of the Resolution and asked Griswold and Kerr to “Take a peek” at it. Saying that doing nothing was, “Similar to ignoring the pandemic,” Nosal urged the board, “… to use this as an educational moment,” adding, “I would really appreciate if you’d read this and give it some thought.”

Rev. Dr. Stephen Jungkeit, Senior Minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme, was one of the first speakers during public comment. He said there were three reasons the board should sign the Resolution, the first being that there are members of black and brown communities living in Old Lyme, and, “Signing this resolution sends a message that we care.”

Secondly, Jungkeit suggested that endorsing the Resolution would, “Send a signal that we understand [the issue of racism] … and are in a relationship with other parts of the state.”

Finally, he reminded the board that “Racism is built into our history,” with over 100 named enslaved people identified in Old Lyme and around 60 unnamed. He cited Jane, who was “sold off” in the town at age three to be, “Used, possessed and enjoyed.”

Another speaker commented that regardless of whether there was a racism problem in Old Lyme, “We have a responsibility as a nation [on this matter.] It doesn’t matter how small we are,” while another noted, “We have an opportunity to affirm our position with this Resolution … we can affirm we act fairly and justly to all.”

Candace Fuchs spoke passionately on the subject of “micro-aggression,” declaring “Our white authority does not give us the right to ignore the scourge of racism.”

Recalling her youth growing up in Old Lyme, Kim Thompson explained, “The issues were not discussed here. What I learned about diversity, I learned outside Old Lyme. She continued, “Supporting this [Resolution] would be a first step in showing we agree racism is a problem.”

The overriding message from all the speakers was echoed in another’s words, “We need more diversity here. We need to have a statement like this [Resolution] to show where we want to be.”

In a voice filled with emotion, Nosal then said she wanted to, “Thank everybody that came tonight,” and express the wish that, “We can make amends and make our community healthier.”

Griswold opened the phone lines and Megan Nosal was the first to speak. Reminding the board of the famous quote, “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be ant-racist,” she continued, “Old Lyme should lead a positive change,” adding, “Your town and your people are looking for change.”

Another resident who grew up in Old Lyme, Anna Reiter, called in to say if the Resolution were not signed, it “Would be an incredible disservice,” whereas approving it, “Would help us going forward as a town.”

Reiter concluded firmly, “I encourage the entire board of selectmen to tailor this Resolution,” [to something, which can be approved] urging them to be, “The leaders on the Shoreline,” and reminding them, “This is not going away.”

***

The following is the original DRAFT Resolution that Nosal presented for discussion:

WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks;

WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; 

WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources; 

WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; 

WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; 

WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; 

WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; 

WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and 

WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of TOWN depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: 

Now, therefore, be it Resolved, that the TOWN Board of Selectmen

(1) Assert that racism is a public health crisis affecting our town and all of Connecticut; 

(2) Work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;

(3) Promote equity through all policies approved by the Board of Selectmen and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;

(4) Improve the quality of the data our town collects and the analysis of that data—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;

(5) Continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;

(6) Further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;

(7) Support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and

(8) Identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Board of Selectmen, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.

 

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Comments

  1. Thomas D & Christina J. Gotowka says

    This is so heartening. There is really no question now that there is support in the Community to issue a charge to the Board of Selectmen to develop a Statement of Values regarding racism on our collective behalf.
    Our response to the COVID-19 pandemic had already confirmed the important role and responsibility borne by local and State leaders in addressing such crises of national significance.

  2. Paula Sadlon says

    Mr. Griswold is correct in stating that the proposed resolution is outside of the purview of the BOS of Old Lyme.

    Duties of Selectmen are set forth in Sec 7-12 of the Connecticut General Statutes, that states in pertinent part:

    They shall superintend the concerns of the town, adjust and settle all claims against it and draw orders on the treasurer for their payment.

    There have been no reported incidents or health concerns in Old Lyme.

    Further, if health is the primary concern, these issues should be directed to the Ledge Light Health District, which now serves as the town health department,

    Ms Nosal indicated she wants Old Lyme to be a leader. This is a disingenuous statement as Ms Nosal is following Windsor and New Haven. Of note is that these communities have sizable minority populations that have been greatly affected by the pandemic.

    As I have written before, the recitals in the draft resolution posit several conclusions not supported by submitted documents. Is Ms Nosal prepared to list the studies, state which studies she personally read and report on this?

    The statements concerning the desire for change are similarly unsupported. What specific changes are sought and by whom?

    I would strongly advise the BOS not to endorse this resolution. The language and source of support for this resolution indicates that it would very likely be used to attempt to refute legitimate concerns on future proposed projects and initiatives.

  3. Given that the Black Lives Matter sign at the Congregational Church was slashed this week, where are the collective voices of our elected representatives calling out this vandalism that certainly appears to be racist?

    What do Tim Griswold and Chris Kerr say?

    Is vandalising a sign that calls out racism what Griswold has in mind when he says “Old Lyme does a very good job.” ?

    Where is Devin Carney? What does he have to say about church property being vandalized?

    We can try and pretend as long as we want, but that won’t change reality. Staying silent isn’t an option; silence is complicity.

    • Maureen Haseley-Jones says

      I was a signatory to the resolution and urge the Board of Selectman to approve the resolution. Being silent is complicit and denying that racism is all around us in our town, our state and throughout the country. We must take action to stamp it out for good so that we can be the unified, fair and equal country that we strive for.

  4. Bill Folland says

    Are we trying to create a problem where there is no problem? Those who see a problem have every right to express their concerns, and I believe they have been given that opportunity, however the vast majority of OldLyme’s residents have spoke, by their silence, which I believe supports First Selectman position.

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