Getting heard: Young people share their feelings on race relations

Photo of Sandra Diamond Fox

When 18-year-old Gray Roedel learned about the death of George Floyd and the recent protests in town, he said it struck a chord with him.

“It has opened my eyes to the many injustices that all minorities have to face,” said Gray, a member of Darien High School’s 2020 graduating class.

Additionally, he said that in Darien schools, he would like to see more discussions about race as it relates to the present time, including the topics of racial diversity, white privilege, and systemic racism.

So, he decided to take a direct approach — He has set up a Zoom meeting next week with teachers in Darien High School’s English and history departments to address those issues.

“I sent an email to all the teachers in the history and English departments,” Gray said. “I will express my passion for these causes.”

About a dozen teachers in total have signed up to be on the call.

Some of Gray’s friends, who share his views, will speaking on the call as well.

Additionally, Gray said he feels there’s not enough education about gay issues in Darien schools as well. Since he came out on social media his freshman year, he said not all reactions he received were favorable.

“There was a lot of people who are very uncomfortable around that. I was treated differently by many people because of that,” said Gray, who will be attending Drexel University in Pennsylvania in the fall.

“Drexel was my top choice,” he said. “I wanted to experience more diversity than what I experienced growing up in a town like Darien. I feel I’m so unexposed to what the real world is like here.”

By not learning about different cultures, ethnicities and different types of people, “you are missing a part of your educational experience. Associating with those groups is so essential to becoming your own self,” he added.

Gray said that in English class at Darien High School, he would like to see more black authors incorporated into the curriculum.

“Also, when we read books on black authors, I think there is too much of a basing on the past, and a lack of talking about how they relate to now,” he said.

“A lot of issues in these books are so reflective in our society today,” he added.

He said he would like to see how those issues can be incorporated into the school curriculum going forward.

“Since a very high percentage of Darien is white, I think it’s vital for kids growing up in town to learn about those topics,” he added.

According to Gray, in school, “it’s almost implied that racism is over, but really it isn’t.”

The Darien Times will be following up with the Darien High School English and history teachers that are on the Zoom call, to learn about some of the classes and lessons that are taught at the school.

Black Lives Matter protest walk

For many of the organizers of Sunday’s peaceful Black Lives Matter protest walk, as well as those who came to the event, feelings of discrimination in regard to race run deep.

The Darien Times spoke with some of those young people, many of whom were holding up signs or wearing shirts with strong messages against unfair treatment and race relations.

The march organizer, 20-year-old Steven Gomez, who said he is Palestinian and Chilean, addressed the comment he heard on social media, that he said called the organizers “terrorists.”

“That’s not a new name to me or Barak [Mustafa],” said Gomez— “He being a Muslim-American and I being Palestinian — That’s just the name and a term being thrown around at us all the time and it’s hurtful, but it’s all just words. There have been much worse said to us at school.”

Gomez said did not just organize the march to spread awareness for Black Lives Matter and the issues going around in the nation, “but essentially, to burst the bubble, which is Darien.”

“It’s a very niche community of richer, upper white middle class people who stay in the cycle of living in Darien, going to universities that are similar, and coming back and living around the area,” he said. “We want to expose the town to actual, true issues that are going on.”

Gomez continued: “The people of Darien need to be aware of it and help out wherever they can with the privileges that they have.”

He said that he and Barak are people of color “but we’re not black. However, we have to help the black community, just like all people should help one another.”

“This isn’t a left or right issue, or a conservative or Democrat issue. This is a human rights issue. We are doing it because we are people trying to support people.”

To show his pride in his Palestinian heritage, he pointed to a traditional Palestinian scarf he was wearing.

He also said he’s an elected member of the Middle Eastern Student Association at Fordham University, where he is a rising junior.

Darien resident Kayin Chisolm, 19, said that sometimes when it comes to issues of race in town, “it seems like no one really cares.”

“No matter where you are or where you live, you should care and speak up anytime you see an injustice — because just ignoring it is wrong.” he added.

Barak, 19, who is a rising junior at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, said he wanted to organize the march to “raise awareness of injustices.”

“I had a buddy who lived above Heights Pizza. He went to Darien High. The first week he moved here, he got pulled over three times. They said they were ‘checking up on him.’ That’s just one of the main examples of what’s going on,” Barak said, with frustration in his voice.

He added that many people in town “are just unaware of the racial injustice. It’s not their fault. People will fight for gay rights, they’ll fight for civil rights, they’ll fight for everything, but when it comes to race issues, they are just quiet.”

Mechai Hayes, 20, of Norwalk, said there are many people who are stuck in their ways — “and that must change.”

“Whether it’s stuff they learned from generation to generation, or past generations, they carry the same traits that their grandparents or parents carry,” said Mechi, who works at Trader Joe’s.

“Not having sympathy” is really the main issue, according to Mechi.

“Someone lost their life and you don’t feel the need to want to speak about it?” he said. “Everyone should be out here, no matter what color you are. Even if someone doesn’t know how I feel, at least try to console me, or say something about it.”

Mechi said he’s not expecting a change in old attitudes overnight.

“I just want someone to feel like change is sparked in their minds, so maybe they will spread the word,” he said. “I probably won’t see change in my generation. I’ll probably be dead before change comes, as the statistics for black men being killed are high. But I do want a change to be sparked in someone’s mind.”

Darien resident Areia Muchhal, 17, who came out to the march, said police brutality “has gone on for so long, and it’s time to stand up.”

“Consistently, black Americans and native Americans are killed by police at a significantly higher rate than white Americans,” Areia said.

She added that being Indian in a town like Darien, “there is obviously some discrimination that goes on. I’m just really hoping that police are taught to not base their opinions on people just by the color of their skin.”

Tammy Mcuyen of Darien, 16, said she came to the march because all people “deserve equality.”

“It’s just awful” that there’s this “systemic racism that exists,” she added, and encouraged people to educate themselves on this issue.

In the weeks and months to come, Gomez said he hopes there will be more discussion on “inequalities, and trying to get people aware.”

“I want to get the conversation open and started,” he said. “That’s the first step to getting actual change.”