I chose chamomile tea over my usual peppermint tea for the occasion.
A night-time city hall meeting discussing the introduction of zip lines as its main agenda piece for the town of Norwalk, Connecticut was published in The Hour newspaper, a local publication for my town. With coat and tie and colorful socks I attended such a meeting to bring to the foray awareness of a campaign I am championing for the voiceless, poor people of South Norwalk.
Entering, I sat in the front facing the council and the sharply-dressed mayor standing to one side. He was addressing the press and the town constituents on this matter and that matter as I made myself comfortable. Taking my seat I put my notebook, my bible and my black hat aside and began to listen. About seventy-minutes into the discussion which swayed from mall zoning and traffic sound issues and the sporadic compliment to council members by people in the audience, it was my turn to speak.
“Mr. Mayor, I am a Special Educator of almost a decade and a half and am focused on the revitalization of the South Norwalk Community Center. Currently, there are no direct programs available to youth or the families in the immediate South Norwalk vicinity, as it pertains to the South Norwalk Community Center. There are no sports programs for anyone. There is no chess, art, music or dance. There are no basic programs like the one’s you may find at a YMCA in more affluent towns, like Greenwich, were I lived for over ten years. What there is are wide-spread allegations of mishandling of close to one million dollars in funds by its CEO, Mr. Warren Pena. I have nothing personal against that man, but I am here today to see that we do the right thing by these people. I am seeking no credit, nor fame but to help bring positive change and straight-forward simple programs that can benefit the people of this area.
In the last sixty days, though not singlehandedly, I have facilitated the ouster of the director of the community center and the resignation of one of its board members, Mr. Rees Morales, of whom I have a good talking relationship with. I am seeking to bring awareness to the matter of what shall be done for the people of South Norwalk.”
The mayor, Mr. Harry W. Rilling, then spoke his piece respectfully and informed me that there was current litigation going on in court involving the South Norwalk Community Center and that as a non-profit organization, a 501c 3, only fifty percent of the funding directed towards the bottom floor of the center was coming from government coffers. He also pointed out that a public school program that bussed children into the center afforded them access to technology within the building. To this I calmly and respectfully responded to the mayor that the computer room was lackluster and that I had spoken with many of the residents of the immediate area and had been told that the computer program was not really a ‘program.’ To be fair I mentioned that there was a financial assistance program which gave monetary help to low-income families with their utilities, but that that was the extent to which the community center operated. I also added that having spoken to two of the secretaries in my attempts to be part of the community center I was informed that there are no programs available to anyone, except again, through the public school system and the supervised computer room that they had.
What shall be done, Mr. Mayor? What shall be done for the poor blacks, hispanics and whites of South Norwalk?
I sat down and rested my case for the night. After me, a hispanic man had his turn to speak and he also spoke at length about the plight of the people of South Norwalk. He addressed the housing issues and its regulation of low-income apartments but brought heavy emphasis on how South Norwalk had been ‘forgotten.’ He said that he heard a great deal about East Norwalk and the bringing in of ‘jobs,’ and the talk of a new mall, yet in South Norwalk, he said, “it use to be solidly, middle-class and now was a ghost town with no hope.” After this man spoke, a well-dressed, black man arose. He was a grandfather, (though he appeared to be like a pillar of strength to me from another time) and an active member of the community. This man spoke of the gentrification of Norwalk and how poor people wanted to be a part of the political process but were not being heard. His own children cannot afford to purchase a house in Norwalk where they were raised. He addressed various council members by name and spoke with controlled passion with a tinge of fury. It was a sight to behold the man speak. Poor people were being edged out and not heard. His own house, he told all of us, is going up on the market because he cannot afford to live in Norwalk anymore after all his decades there. The man went on with great emotion, speaking articulately to the mayor, the council, the press and the audience.
For me, it was emboldening to hear such energy in motion at a city hall meeting. The white man, the hispanic man and the black man stood up in unison speaking on the same causes from different perspectives, yet all regarding the condition of the poor man.
I will wait for the political wheels of city hall to turn, but informed the mayor and the council that I was garnering signatures to continue the process of revitalizing the community center, starting with the removal of Mr. Warren Pena and the introduction of good programs for the people.