By Ann-Marie Adams, Op-Ed Columnist
HARTFORD — Connecticut is ground zero for a new civil rights movement that will be centered on educational and other disparities among the minority community.
This state has the widest academic achievement gap. Its capital city has a 20 percent unemployment rate. And both factors impact health disparities.
So when news came that the Congressional Black Caucus, “the conscience of the nation,” was coming to town, some people had high hopes for the Harriet Beecher Stowe-sponsored town hall meeting at the Bushnell Theater.
After all, it was indeed an historic event because the Caucus had never been to Connecticut to participate in a town hall meeting about social justice. This was a chance for them to really make the kind of history their predecessors made.
For some, hopes were dashed.
Alas, there was not going to be a replay of the 1960s, when brave Americans gathered in Birmingham, Alabama because it was ground zero for the racial injustice throughout the South. Mississippi also exemplified the evils of the Jim Crow era and the world bore witness when television showed Martin Luther King Jr. and others marching against fear.
Decades of struggle prompted the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act, which gave way to many opportunities for blacks, Latinos, white women and other disadvantaged population.
Nothing of that magnitude happened in Hartford on Friday. It was a missed opportunity for the Caucus to actually be the conscience of America.
The significance of representational politics was poignantly present, though. Although from a specific district with specific constituents, the Black Caucus, like it or not, symbolically represents all blacks across America, including those in Connecticut.
There are no black congress person from Connecticut. So blacks in the state cling to white surrogates. A popular joke at gatherings is that Sen. Richard Blumenthal is a “brother from another mother.” And most people like 1st District Congressman John Larson (D-CT) because he maintains close relationships with his constituents. In the black community, he has an interesting relationship with so-called black leaders, who get rewarded with invites and tickets to parties with VIP guest lists.
So when nine members of the Caucus came to Connecticut to participate in a town hall meeting about social justice, there was some expectation among many blacks that the body of leaders would be the conscience of the nation, especially in a state with alarming disparities.
That conscience was not on public display much, except by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) and Rep. Yvette Clark, (D-NY)—but that was after the panel discussion. During the town hall meeting, local black politicians such as Rep. Gary Holder Winfield, (D-New Haven) and Sen. Eric Coleman (D-Hartford/Bloomfield) articulated briefly the disparities and the historical roots of those inequities. Rev. Michael Williams eloquently placed the educational disparities in its proper context of race. And Larson’s youth cabinet was outstanding.
But still, many expected the Caucus to speak truth to power in Connecticut, given the tenor of the political debate across the nation. The Caucus was supposed to be that voice in this particular “call for action,” which marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Stowe. This former Hartford resident was dubbed the woman who wrote a book, Uncle Tom. It sparked a conversation about slavery.
On this historic occasion, none of the local black mouthpieces mentioned another historic event unfolding in the state: Tanya McDowell, a black female mother of a six-year old boy, is facing 20 years for “stealing a quality education” from Norwalk.
There was no call to action on that matter at the town hall meeting. Local community representatives were too busy trying to promote themselves and their community programs. But U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-Illinois) gave them a reality check: Larson will not have funding for those programs. The House Republicans have made sure of that.
Sadly, the only history that was made in Hartford on Friday was that nine Black Caucus members came to celebrate 200 years since the birth of Stowe.
And Stowe’s celebration was an opportune moment to help self-interested parties write their own story.