Inspired To Be Allies: Two Residents Join To Inspire A Movement For Change
This new series of profiles taps Newtown residents who are finding passion and inspiration as part of the growing ‘Newtown Allies For Change’ community, which gives powerful hyper-local voice to the social and racial justice movement.
It has only been scant months since local residents Nicole Maddox and David Weiss joined with others as part of the Newtown Allies For Change (NAFC), but since its formation the group’s mission has already inspired about 1,300 other supporters to rally around its private Facebook site.
That mission as stated on the site reads: We are a group that aims to educate and inform those in our community of the experiences of people of color. This is a space to learn how to be the best allies we can be. We are in full support of our brothers and sisters of color and using our voices to stand with them always!
In separate interviews recently with The Newtown Bee, the two early NAFC supporters and executive leadership committee members introduced themselves.
During a combination of conversations and in written submissions, they each talked about their respective backgrounds and related some of the experiences that spurred them to become voices for this movement they hope will move Newtown residents to walk the talk when it comes to promoting and personally advocating for social and racial justice.
They also each expressed a deep desire to see Newtown rid itself of the racism and bigotry that they, their loved ones, and friends have witnessed or been victims of — and that Weiss said he was witnessing on the national stage in recent years. Both Maddox and Weiss also experienced the theft of “Black Lives Matter” signs they had posted on their property.
“The George Floyd killing definitely moved me, and around that time was when Kendall (Elizabeth Euler) created the Newtown Allies for Change Facebook group,” Weiss said. “I had contacted her early on and told her I wanted to help her plan the rally that we held in June. And things just kind of took off from there.”
Weiss moved to Newtown about seven years ago, after growing up in Wilton. He is a former Spanish teacher who pivoted to software engineering. He is currently a home-based web developer working on front end design and visual aspects of clients’ internet sites, and his two children attend local public schools.
Weiss said his mother is from Central America, so he has always identified as being half Latino, and he embraced that heritage and the language growing up. He said that experience opened his eyes to different cultures all over the world. He also studied abroad, giving him a first-hand experience and appreciation of different races, ethnicities, and cultures.
Weiss said what he and a “lot of other people in town” have come to realize “is that there are definitely incidents of racism in Newtown — especially in our schools.”
“I think some of that came out at the rally we had in June,” he said, “and a lot more of that is coming to light on a ‘BIPOC in Newtown’ Instagram page, which includes anonymous accounts from students and parents who have experienced racism in our schools.”
That site — @bipocinnewtown — also has more than 1,300 followers, and aims to provide “a platform for BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and People Of Color] students, alumni, teachers, & parents in Newtown, CT to share their stories.”
“I think people may want to think and say this isn’t a big deal or an issue because Newtown is predominantly white, but there are many minorities in town. But people are coming out to bravely speak about racist incidents, showing that it not only exists, but it needs to be addressed,” Weiss said.
Similarly, Weiss said, Newtown Allies For Change began with just a few people, grew to a core of a couple dozen participants, and has since grown to organizing almost 1,300 interested supporters.
“I think it’s a great sign for the entire community that so many residents want to see things change, and be allies to and support people of color who live in Newtown,” Weiss said. “A lot of these members are fired up right now and they want to be part of this national discussion going on right now, and doing whatever they can locally to make changes happen.”
Weiss said that support could manifest in individuals voting for candidates who support anti-racist policies; speaking to the school board and superintendent about how racist incidents are being handled in Newtown’s schools; and participating in a growing number of initiatives revolving around the NAFC group.
“It’s powerful that so many people want to participate and support the Allies movement,” he said.
Weiss, like other parents he knows, wants his own children to grow up with a broader world view, and to embody respect and kindness that, by extension, promotes anti-racism while embracing diversity.
“Instead of promoting a kind of ‘all lives matter’ philosophy, I hope they will not be color blind, but will instead notice diversity and be able to celebrate it,” he said. “Children spend so much time with their parents, especially when they’re young, and parents play such a key role in shaping their children’s beliefs and morals, they should be the number one source of lessons.
“If you live in a city like New York, it’s probably easier to raise your kids to be more culturally aware and more inclusive of different races. But I think it is more challenging to do that in a place like Newtown. But there is still enough presence of racial diversity and cultures that they can be celebrated and learn about those different cultures,” he said.
Weiss said he appreciates the effort that Maddox has put forward reporting racism incidents in the schools, hosting a Zoom event with a students from Newtown High School who were also subject to racism, and sharing information about policies that might need to change.
“There’s a lot of energy right now with the Newtown Allies For Change in regards to identifying racism in our schools and trying to solve that problem,” he said, adding that the group also hosted a couple of book discussions, and has invited local political candidates to respond to questions in virtual forums being organized now.
“We want Newtown Allies For Change to be a great resource and an outlet where people can learn about anti-racism, and to further educate people on social justice.”
Looking at the bigger picture, Weiss said the ultimate goal would be “to eliminate racism in Newtown schools, help people embrace diversity and inclusion, to support political candidates who will work to create anti-racist policies, and to inspire Newtown residents to champion efforts to improve the quality of life for people of color here.”
Prioritize Addressing Racism
Maddox said she has been individually pursuing addressing racism in the Newtown school system for more than a year, and until just recently, she was frustrated beyond words.
“Each time, there was some reason why we hadn’t moved forward in implementing ideas,” she recalled. “It was budget issues, COVID, starting up the school year. Yes, I understood that all of these things are important, but I wondered if there would ever come a time where issues related to racial incidents in our school system were made a priority.”
Thankfully, with awareness rising across the country and the actions of NAFC, Maddox said, “it seems that our superintendent has put our concerns back on the agenda.”
“At the BOE meeting on the evening of October 6, she laid out the BOE resolution and future commitments, and NAFC is pleased to see the plans in place. It hopes that the timeline for these initiatives is also published for the sake of accountability and is not delayed as they have been in the past,” she said.
On August 24, alongside members of NAFC, Maddox hosted a call with recent Newtown high school graduates.
“Current students and parents attended that call and the resulting message was astonishing,” she said. “Our children are suffering. The pain they have endured and continue to endure is being pushed to the side as it has been historically.”
At the October 6 BOE meeting, Maddox said Superintendent Lorrie Rodrigue “commented that listening to our students is something, ‘to be honest with you, we should have done long time ago.’ [But] our concerns aren’t just with the school system... I believe that is certainly a key starting point. My hope is that by the time my 7-year-old gets to high school, she will not have to endure the same pain that my 15-year-old has had to endure in her educational experience.”
What’s the answer? Maddox believes it is transparency.
“Officials need to develop a plan, publish said plan, act on it,” she said. “Have a clearly defined process for reporting racial incidents in our school system and make it widely available to all. Although Dr Rodrigue spoke of the current reporting system, it is severely lacking. In fact, I’m not sure that most people know that it exists.”
By extension, Maddox would like to see a similar system developed for reporting issues in town outside of the school system.
“Publish general findings from the system annually — within legally acceptable confines — so that everyone understands the status of issues in Newtown,” she said.
“Bringing in teachers, administrators, and counselors of color has now been established as a future commitment of the BOE. However, even after we make it a priority, are we likely to retain these educators of color? Not in this hostile environment. A welcoming environment leads to retention and that’s what we need.”
It also means that more Newtown residents need to step up with something more than lip service supporting the cause.
“If you see something, say something,” she said. “Many people have learned [about] or witnessed racial incidents here in town. How many of those people have been so pained by what they’ve witnessed that they took it upon themselves to report it? Very few, I imagine.”
So what will key indicators of progress look like to Newtown Allies for Change?
As far as Maddox is concerned, “It will be when the local police address the harassment of people of color that consistently happens in the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot. It will be when Newtown is no longer regarded by people of color in other towns as a place that is not safe to pass through due to a history of racial profiling. It will be when countless signs advocating for an improved state of affairs for people of color aren’t constantly vandalized and stolen in our town.”
In Part 3 of our series, we will continue introducing other key supporters of Newtown Allies For Change and who have been victimized by racially insensitive behavior.