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Dream Teamwork: MLK’s vision still beckons

Updated: May 30

• Valley Leaders Seek Fruition of MLK’s Racial-Equity Vision


This article is as relevant today as when it first appeared in the February edition of Today Magazine, our monthly publication


In the wake of the horrific killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day 2020, many citizens across America have embarked on a renewed journey toward greater racial equity. This is an appropriate juncture to take stock of our efforts here in the Farmington Valley to realize more fully the dream Martin Luther King Jr. voiced nearly 50 years ago.

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Today Magazine reached out to the legislators, town leaders and police chiefs of the five core Farmington Valley towns — Avon, Canton, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury — for comment regarding coverage of our recurring series, Equity and Race in the Valley.


• These five core Valley towns are represented in the U.S. House by two congressional representatives, in the Connecticut House by five state representatives, and in the Connecticut Senate by four state senators, though not strictly along town lines — italicized below underneath the legislators’ names are the Valley towns they represent.

D = Democrat • R = Republican


• Town leaders and police chiefs are listed in alphabetical order by town. State senators and state and U.S. representatives are listed in alphabetical order by last name.


Today Magazine asked these Valley officials these three questions:

• Maximum word count for their answers — 210


1 — As our nation continues to deal with the fallout of George Floyd's tragic death on Memorial Day 2020, what do you see as the most essential issue related to racial equity in 2021?


2 — What do you see as the most constructive step toward addressing the issue you've identified in Question #1?


3 — In view of the dream Martin Luther King Jr. voiced nearly five decades ago, what is your hope for race relations in America in the next decade?


TOWN LEADERS


Heather Maguire • Avon Town Council Chair

1 — In Avon we have strived to be an inclusive community. In the months since George Floyd's tragic death, Avon has run programs and held forums that bring awareness to racial inequity.


2 — Keeping the lines of communication open, educating our community and honest discussion will lead to greater understanding.


3 — As I reread Dr. King’s memorable message of hope, I too find hope that our country can move forward and learn from the experiences of the past year. I hope that racial tensions will subside and people can come together in a show of unity. The words of Dr. King are so powerful and the message so strong, but the line that truly moves me to tears is that “little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Dr. King’s words show the faith and hope that he had in humanity.


Bob Bessel • Canton First Selectman

1 — George Floyd’s death is a call for each of us to see our own role in racial inequity and to take action that changes the social climate that allows these tragedies to happen.


2 — The deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many others have generated a broad sense of urgency in our society. Inaction is recognized for what it is: acceptance of future tragedies.


3 — I hope that we can judge each other by the strength of our character, not the color of our skin. With more citizens and local governments launching equity initiatives, we have the best chance yet to realize Dr. King’s dream.


C.J. Thomas • Farmington Town Council Chair

1 — Communication and education are the most essential issues. Only when we all understand and recognize that racial inequality exists, can we take action to address and improve our national situation.


2 — In July, Farmington created our Racial Equality Task Force “to examine and create a plan to develop strategies and community partnerships to address racial inequality, to educate residents and to increase awareness about Black Lives by identifying areas of improvement in the community and to recommend an action plan to eliminate factors that lead to inequality.” Action items presented to the Town Council in January have already begun to be implemented.


3 — In MLK’s words, “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy … to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood … to make justice a reality for all of God’s children. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity.”


B. Scott Kuhnly • Granby First Selectman

1 — There are too many essential issues related to racial equity; we must do better to address racial inequalities that exist in healthcare, education, housing, community policy, etc. It must start by committing to anti-racist practices, within our own selves and our own communities.


2 — We must continue to educate ourselves and provide access to resources in our communities that address racial inequality and promote anti-racist practices.


3 — I hope for the day when no American has to live in fear. When we can truly feel proud to be united, knowing our fellow Americans, especially Black Americans and people of color, are receiving equitable care and housing and living in communities with inclusive policies.


Eric Wellman • Simsbury First Selectman

1 — It starts with acknowledging there is a problem and for every person to treat others with kindness and respect. Since the spring, I have had deep and personal conversations with our Black and African-American neighbors and have developed a more nuanced understanding of the nature of racism. It is difficult for people who are in a majority group to fully appreciate how other people can have very different lived experiences.


2 — In Simsbury, we have an incredible group of volunteers who serve on our SPIRIT Council. I believe you can’t solve a problem that you can’t measure, so one of the Council’s first priorities is working on establishing a baseline of qualitative and quantitative data to drive factual conversations and inform policies. Another priority is holding events to encourage dialogue and understanding like the Simsbury Let's Talk series.


3 — My vision for Simsbury is a place where all people are fully welcome and where people feel comfortable to be their whole selves. Meaningful work starts with understanding that racism is not a single action, but an institutional and systemic inequity we need to address. My hope is that communities across the country, Simsbury included, develop the discipline to review policies, ordinances and decisions through an equity lens.


STATE SENATORS


State Sen. Rick Lopes • D-6th District

Farmington (about 25%), Berlin, New Britain

1 — The pandemic has shown that we still face large disparities in health care availability and outcomes depending on the color of a person’s skin. This is not acceptable considering we are a leader in the world in terms of development, wealth and democracy. Most of us understand that we still have a way to go to reach equality and parity, but we must work together to push for all types of equality and we can never be complacent and satisfied with the status quo when there are American citizens who are not receiving the same quality of care as many of us.


2 — Statistics and science have been brought to the forefront of how to tackle this pandemic. They have also shown where we as a country and state have failed some residents. When statistics show we are failing certain communities, that is where we need to focus more resources.


3 — I am a realist. There is maybe no possibility of true racial equality in terms of economic prosperity, healthcare and education possible in my lifetime. But this does not mean we give up. This country prides itself in leading the world and always striving to get better. Even if it is incremental change, we must always work to aspire to it.

The MLK in CT Memorial at the Simsbury Free Library honors the legacy of Martin Luther King and his two summers in town

State Sen. John Kissel • R-7th District

Granby, East Granby, 5 more

1 — Education is most essential. Part of our national healing process must center around listening to each other, as opposed to talking past each other. We all have had different life experiences. We all can learn from each other’s shared experience. We all want to live in — and to watch our children and grandchildren grow up in — accepting and tolerant communities. We achieve that goal through talking, questioning and collaborating.


2 — As the proverb teaches us, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The most constructive step is the first one we take together. Education is a beautiful thing. Learning more about each other, and truly understanding each other, enriches all human beings of all ages. Those steps can be taken every day of our lives. Never stop learning and growing, both spiritually and emotionally.


3 — Dr. King refused to accept that mankind is bound to racism and war. He believed that peace and brotherhood could become reality. He once said, “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” Amen to that sentiment. May it endure in each of us, and may we always strive — together — toward Dr. King’s goal.


State Sen. Derek Slap • D-5th District

Farmington (about 75%), Burlington, 2 more

1 — Connecticut is one of the most segregated states in the nation. Many towns use restrictive zoning practices to prevent multifamily housing from being built. According to the nonprofit group Desegregate Connecticut, "Our land use laws erect walls of exclusion that diminish the housing choice of low-income residents and people of color." One of the most effective ways to address racial inequity is to create more diverse housing in more communities.


2 — When towns have diverse housing stock, everyone benefits. The environment, property values and local businesses all do well. Reforms are needed. When we live, work and attend school with people of different ethnicities, we are more connected and we can counter systemic racism and build equity.


3 — I hope that we address the full scope of Dr. King's message — which includes economic justice and the fight against poverty. Dr. King famously said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. It's time for all of us to work together and bend that arc. Disparities in health care, housing, employment and education must be addressed for us to truly turn Dr. King’s dream into a reality.


State Sen. Kevin Witkos • R-8th District

Avon, Canton, Granby, Simsbury, 7 more

1 — We need to do all we can to root out instances of institutional discrimination. Unfortunately, even in 2021, policies exist that either by design from a bygone era or inadvertently have a disparate impact on minorities. We also need to work to create opportunities that may not have previously existed for minorities, or were intentionally out of reach for some.


2 — We need to identify instances of discrimination and take appropriate action to address the issue. This should be a collaborative effort with input and feedback from those impacted by these issues. We also need a concerted effort to ensure that opportunities for advancement in education, employment and elsewhere are within reach for minorities. Success on these two issues won’t be achieved overnight, but as a society we must continue to make progress.


3 — My hope is that our country can come together and achieve a much greater sense of unity. We need to embrace and celebrate each other's backgrounds and experiences and not be so quick to divide ourselves. This requires respect, understanding and a willingness to listen and learn from others. Part of what makes our nation so great is our diversity, and I'm hopeful that we can always embrace and support our fellow Americans regardless of race.


STATE REPRESENTATIVES


State Rep. Mike Demicco • D-21st District

Farmington (partial %), including Unionville

Today Magazine hasn’t seen answers after several requests for comment.


State Rep. Tammy Exum • D-19th District

Farmington (partial %), Avon (about 25%), 1 more

1 — The essential issue that needs to be addressed is systemic racism. As we tackle the health pandemic brought on by the coronavirus, we are also battling the impact of racial inequity. We need to acknowledge our history of slavery and understand how its legacy connects to the disparities that manifest today in healthcare, education, housing, economic opportunities and the criminal justice system, to name a few.


2 — We must be honest about our history. We need to have difficult conversations, acknowledging our country was enriched by free labor of enslaved individuals, brought to this country against their will. Education can be an equalizer if we teach the history of all people so that we all appreciate our collective contributions, how they intersect, and how we can learn from our past to build policies to support all people.


3 — I hope we’ll really see each other’s humanity, understanding that each person is intrinsically valuable. When we see and value each other, we’ll want to take care of one another, help create opportunities and reduce barriers. As a child, part of Dr. King’s dream that resonated was his wish that his children not be judged by their skin color, but by their character. I hope this dream will be realized.


State Rep. John Hampton • D-16th District

Simsbury

Today Magazine hasn’t seen answers after several requests for comment.


State Rep. Eleni Kavros DeGraw • R-17th District

Canton, Avon (about 75%)

1 — We must focus on destigmatization of mental health care in our black and brown communities. Many POC experience trauma and stress given disparate violence, rate of incarceration, and disparity of resources. This trauma was exacerbated throughout 2020 given the public display of police brutality and disproportional impact of COVID-19. We must destigmatize mental health and create a better, more inclusive system to provide care within these communities.


2 — A crucial first step is the development of a mental health awareness campaign created by the state via DPH or DMHAS which would specifically focus on community outreach with our black and brown communities to demystify and address any concerns. Local municipalities can utilize the state’s awareness campaign for a local initiative and reach out to constituency groups to further engage.


3 — In coming years, we need to ensure that the government, and country, is asking black and brown communities what they need. We need to ensure that we are providing effective solutions by collaborating with these communities, rather than providing what we think is an effective solution. With the increase in dialogue surrounding racial justice this year, I hope to see white community members take their racial awareness education into their own hands, while ensuring the black community has control of action plans.


State Rep. Mark W. Anderson • R-62nd District

Granby, Barkhamsted, Hartland, New Hartford

Today Magazine hasn’t seen answers after several requests for comment.


U.S. REPRESENTATIVES


U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes • D-5th District

Avon, Canton, Farmington, Simsbury + many other towns/cities

Today Magazine hasn’t seen answers after several requests for comment.


U.S. Rep. John Larson • D-1st District

Granby + many other towns/cities

1 — We must work to address systemic racism. To do this, we must address a variety of issues, including housing discrimination and segregation, education, poverty, and more. I'm proud to work with the Congressional Black Caucus on many of these issues and I support HR40, which would establish a commission to study the consequences of slavery and segregation that still impact Black Americans today, and examine appropriate remedies to address these disparities.


2 — We need to pass bill HR40, the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. We need bold action to address systemic racism in America and this legislation is a strong starting point. I also voted for the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a bold effort to prevent police brutality and make systemic reforms to empower our communities. This is a first step to end racial profiling and systemic racial injustice.


3 — One of the greatest honors of my career has been working beside the late Rep. John Lewis. To hear him speak about his experiences during his youth working with Dr. Martin Luther King and to see how far we've come as a nation, but also how far we still have to go, motivates me and gives me hope for the future. I hope we address reform of our justice system, desegregate our communities, and have more equality for all.


POLICE CHIEFS


Christopher Arciero • Canton Police Chief

1 — While our unequivocal words after the George Floyd incident unconditionally condemned such police misconduct, complacency is far from a sufficient response today. We should ensure that salutary aspects of public messaging, whether signs or slogans, while appropriately principled and aspirational, need to be more than notional evanescent fixtures. We need an enduring commitment and sentiment that solidifies a universal empathy, passion and compassion to attain a united state.


2 — Heeding the transgenerational words of Abraham Lincoln, “We are not enemies, but friends … though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection” — and Dr. Martin Luther King, “People fail to get along because they fear each other … they don’t know each other … they have not communicated with each other” — and Poet Amanda Gorman at the president’s inauguration, “We lift our gazes, not to what stands between us, but what stands before us ... to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside” — we can forever relegate, to the dustbin of history, the caustic underpinnings of words such as racism and discrimination.


3 — Collaboration and success in identifying and prioritizing the lower-level issues (i.e., balanced legislation, educational accessibility and personal accountability) will govern the future framework of more perplexing issues. Over the next decade, we will have succeeded if we don't have to discuss divisive issues related to an eminent societal problem, long overdue for resolution.


After several requests for comment, Today Magazine hasn’t seen a reply from the Avon, Farmington, Granby and Simsbury police chiefs.

— Special to Today Magazine


• Today Magazine covers the heart of Connecticut's Farmington Valley — recording the underreported upside of the Valley's five core towns: Farmington, Avon, Canton, Simsbury and Granby


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