Darien launches new inclusivity campaign

Darien Nobu Miki's painting shows a diversity scene.

Darien Nobu Miki's painting shows a diversity scene.

Sandra Diamond Fox / Hearst Connecticut Media

DARIEN — A new initiative launched this past weekend as a way to celebrate diversity and promote an inclusive community in the form of Darien United.

The campaign aims to make the town a welcoming place, particularly for people color, LGBTQ individuals, immigrants, and people with mental or physical disabilities. It is organized by the YWCA Darien/Norwalk, the Darien YMCA, Darien Library and Minority Voice.

Nobu Miki, a local artist, came up with the idea from the virtual discussions she led during the pandemic between residents and local leaders on different diversity issues.

“I have learned that there are many people who’d like to have more diversity and inclusion in Darien through these discussions, especially young white families want to raise their children in a diverse environment,” said Miki, who is also the founder of Minority Voice, a support group for women of color in Darien. “We have already lots of open-minded, wonderful people here in Darien, and I thought that we needed a townwide campaign.” 

Miki said the town has already had promising developments throughout the year among the town’s youth, but recent incidents at the high school show there is more to be done.

Teenagers have taken part in Black Lives Matter events, and the Darien High School Community Council gave out “DHS stands together against hate” bracelets after a series of racist, hateful messages were posted on social media, she said.

“However we, as a community, have missed critical points last year to discuss issues of diversity and hate crimes,” Miki said. “The DHS incident was shocking, but I was not surprised. There were disturbing incidents at the schools before the recent DHS bathroom incidents. The pride flag incident was embarrassing. We have many Asian families in town, but we didn’t talk about Asian hate. We, (the) Darien United team, is planning more events and educational programs to help spread awareness and tangible steps people can take to help the cause.”

Miki said she had been thinking about how to make the town more diverse and inclusive since she first moved to Darien in 2003. She came up with this idea as a way to foster kindness and raise awareness for all types of hate without undermining individual social movements, such as Black Lives Matter and Stop Asian Hate.

Miki reached out to members of the other three groups in July for a meeting to discuss how they could jointly address diversity and inclusion in town, said Marli Hayes, interim CEO and director of the YWCA Darien/Norwalk which has taken the lead for the effort.

“All three organizations have been very focused on DEI work for a while, and have supported Nobu’s individual efforts, but it was Nobu who brought us together with the idea of joining forces,” Hayes said.

She said it resonates with the YMCA’s mission and is excited to be a part of it.

The other groups agreed.

“Every day, the Darien YMCA works side by side with our friends and neighbors to strengthen our community,” said Jennifer Gardner, CEO of Darien YMCA. “Together, we work to ensure everyone — of any income, faith, ability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, ethnicity, national origin, cultural background, or other unique personal characteristics — has the opportunity to live life to its fullest.”

Kiera Parrott, director of Darien Library, was also an enthusiastic early supporter.

“The library has long been a place that residents turn to for information, education, and important community conversations,” Parrott said. “It is also one of the first places that new residents visit as they begin putting down roots in the community. We are thrilled to support Darien United and to continue strengthening our commitment to being a place that lifts up a diverse array of voices and cultural perspectives and traditions through our events and resources.”

So far, Miki has made bumper stickers with the Darien United logo, which depicts a diverse group of Darienites holding hands atop Rings End Bridge. Miki hopes having the bumper stickers on cars throughout town will remind people to be kind.

They were sold at the art show as part of the campaign launch and are still available online at artbynobu.com. A portion of the proceeds will go toward future community events and outreach for the Darien United campaign.

Some initial ideas for future events include music and food festivals, as well as educational programs hosted by the different partners.

“The more folks involved and committed, the more we can do,” Hayes said. “The sky is the limit.”

Hayes said they hope all of Darien’s businesses, organizations and nonprofit organizations sign on to the effort as a way to commit to uphold the values of the initiative’s mission statement.

They also hope other towns will follow suit and look to Darien as an examle of how to proactively embrace all types of diversity.

“It is an ongoing effort that we hope will become an integral part of the fabric of Darien,” Hayes said.

Anyone interested in joining can visit ywcadn.org/darienunited for more information.