Meditations on diversity
In May, the First Selectman’s Community Diversity Advisory Committee, chaired by Pamela Toper, will hold its tenth annual awards ceremony, recognizing six finalists in the 2019 “Defining Diversity Writing Contest” that the town has sponsored ever since the first 2010 awards presentation.
The contest is open to high school students enrolled in a Greenwich school and Greenwich residents attending school out of town. Entries are limited to 1,000 words, and may be fiction or non-fiction, in prose or poetry, with only one entry allowed per student. All six finalists — students who place first, second, and third as well as three with honorable mention recognition — receive gift cards and an award certificate from the first selectman. Greenwich Time publishes the top three award-winning entries.
Danielle Sittol, Youth Services Bureau Administrator for the Town of Greenwich Department of Human Services, unveiled the writing topic for 2019 this week at the diversity committee’s Tuesday meeting.
In her 2009 Ted Talk, Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi talks about “The Danger of a Single Story.” She describes what happens when dynamic, multifaceted people and experiences are reduced to a single description. When reflecting on Greenwich, many people offer a single, stereotypical account of a homogeneous community defined by abundance, influence, and access. This is not true. Share your stories of Greenwich. What stories contradict the stereotypical narrative of your community?
Full disclosure: Danielle has just taken over my job of coordinating the writing contest, a responsibility I’ve had since the contest’s inception.
I’ve left the diversity committee, as I have other committees, to make more time for writing. I haven’t attended a diversity committee meeting for a while. I was suspicious, therefore, when First Selectman Peter Tesei, an ex-officio committee member and ardent supporter of its mission, summoned me to attend Tuesday’s meeting for an undisclosed reason.
I suspected some kind of farewell after serving more than two decades on the committee and coordinating the writing contest for nearly 10 years. But I never imagined the committee would name the contest after me.
Wouldn’t Narea-Rutgers writing contest be more accurate? Sometime in the fall of 2009, when I chaired the committee, Hernan Narea proposed we sponsor a writing contest on diversity topics. I put his proposal on the agenda, thinking we would explore it for possible future implementation. But he insisted on immediate implementation, which is how I came to coordinate the contest all these years.
The accolades at Tuesday’s ceremony overwhelmed me. Peter Tesei even resurrected a November 1990 Greenwich Time editorial that endorsed my candidacy for the state legislature. Without a prepared speech, I neglected to thank all those who have contributed to the contest’s success over the years. I might begin with Hernan, whose idea it was, and who has provided financial support, and whose wife, Connie, served as a contest judge until recently.
The judges are the contest’s backbone. In 2018, judges were author Sarah Darer Littman, librarian Margaret Walsh, teacher Shelley Karlen, and Greenwich Time Editorial Page Editor John Breunig. Tom Mellana, managing editor of Greenwich Time and the Stamford Advocate, has also served as a judge. Greenwich Time’s willingness to publish the winners has been a significant component in the contest’s success.
Also contributing to this success are the teachers who bring the writing contest to their classrooms, notably Greenwich High School social studies teacher Aaron Hull. His students have been among the finalists every year.
At Tuesday’s ceremony Aaron gave a touching speech about the contest’s impact on his students.
“My students have benefitted ... as several have taken on this committee’s captivating and engaging essay prompts, and have become better for it. Be it a long discussion of Fisher v. University of Texas, a heartfelt poem about inclusion, or a reflection on The New Colossus at the base of Lady Liberty, my students have been inspired to deep and meaningful reflection about the town they wish to have, not the town they are told is fixed. This committee has done that for my students ...”
The 2019 writing prompt inspires new students to reflect on diversity, and how it’s defined in our town. Thankful to all who make this ongoing, meaningful reflection possible, I’m grateful to have played a part.
Alma Rutgers served in Greenwich town government for 25 years. Her blog is at blog.ctnews.com/rutgers/