Op/ed: Darien has the opportunity to right previous wrongs and take action
To the Editor:
I am ashamed I am about to ask many questions and offer very few answers. I am ashamed I am writing this letter reactively and not proactively. I am ashamed it has taken this much pain felt by my fellow Americans & humans for this issue to finally be addressed. Regardless, I want to capitalize on my shame, and start asking some important questions.
Shrouded in wealth and opportunity, the town of Darien has continuously failed to fulfill basic ideals in human equality despite our resources. The march through Darien on Sunday, May 31 was a tremendous first step in reaction to the recent events in America.
I applaud the Clergy of Darien and all participants, it was nothing short of inspiring. However, these are systematic issues that extend well beyond recent events. Countless lives have been lost as a result of America’s inability to change. There are five core groups and people in this town that I consider the “needle-movers” — those in a position to move the conversations of racial, economic, and human inequality forward in a meaningful way.
They are Darien Police Chief Donald Anderson, the clergy and those of faith in Darien, First Selectman Jayme Stevenson, the “Haves,” and the two youngest generations: Generation Z and Millennials.
To Chief Anderson:
The 51 sworn Darien Police Officers have a duty to uphold state and federal law as much as they have a duty to follow them. “Pride in Excellence” painted on the exterior of our police vehicles —a commitment I think the vast majority of the town would agree is fulfilled by your department.
We have an example of an outstanding police force —one many departments should strive to achieve the quality of. Regardless of our current security, Darien has a history of anti-Semitism and racism —raw hatred of our fellow man that to this day crawls through this town. When you were sworn in on September 14, 2019, you told your fellow officers, “do not take to heart the narrative that our profession is less than honorable” —honor is standing when everyone around you lays down.
Help us stand with you. You described the police force as a family, your father was Darien Police Chief —when your family is hurt, when there is a problem, you do not ignore it. There is a broad issue with America and its police forces, extensions of your family. These are incredibly hard conversations, often painful truths, and it’s going to take a lot of work. The Darien police should be the leaders in these hard conversations; please let the town know how we can help. I want this town and the Police that protect it to begin a transformation into a shining example of those helping.
To the Darien Clergy and those of faith:
Sunday’s march was just a glimpse of the influence you can have on this town, it was a window into the compassionate spirit within hundreds of people. A march alone will not solve the hellish mistreatment of your brothers and sisters in faith and across mankind —I think we can a agree on this point.
The congregations in Darien are some of the wealthiest groups per capita in the United States. Darien’s faith groups are undoubtedly generous in their donations of time and money, however, money alone will fail to stop this injustice.
Local clergy are working with black pastors and attorneys to start having these hard conversations - this is a laudable first step, it should have happened years ago and it should continue well into the future. How can we help and progress these conversations?
Church leaders should stand in their houses of faith blessed by God, and proclaim to their congregation “these aren't chips on our brothers’ and sisters’ shoulders, they’re knees on their necks.”
Challenge your congregations to actively help. Once the near endless resources Darien churches have are put primarily towards the racial injustice the majority of Darien is immune to, we’ll start to see true change in the light of God. Time and time again the church has proven to be a bastion of hope to the hopeless and the disenfranchised, help us ensure Darien’s congregations are at the front lines of these efforts.
To First Selectman Stevenson:
Darien has routinely re-elected you to your position since 2011 and the vast majority of the town would agree you have fulfilled that elected post with passion and leadership. With our resources and influence, how are we going to join this national outrage in a constructive way?
Darien is full of affluent, type-A influencers. Are we prepared, as a town, to join the chorus of concern and disgust? The broad swath of this town is righteously privileged —when we find ourselves in a position like this, the first thing we should ask is how we can help the disenfranchised. If your neighbor fell into a ditch, you wouldn’t walk by and mention how unfortunate that is.
You would jump down in the hole with them, help them up, and tell them you know how to get out. How can Darien start being an evident leader in these kind of conversations on a consistent basis? Our privilege affords us the opportunity to be outspoken —we have the obligation to right some of our previous wrongs, and I’d rather not see my home fall to the wrong side of history.
Lead us in our efforts to help, I’m directly asking for your guidance.
To the Haves:
You’ve separated yourselves from the Have Nots. Possibly by your own hard work alone, possibly by the help of others —regardless of how, you are now in a position of obscene wealth and comfortability. Those making the median income in this town make more than three times that of the American average - and you make even more.
Similarly to the groups I’ve mentioned above —why is that opportunity and influence you have not being used on a large scale? Why is Darien known for its wealth alone, and not for the grand influence we can have with that wealth? Help lead the conversation in changing that - help us open doors, have conversations, and start re-building a broken system.
Again, money alone won’t change this —however, you have robust resources you can engage with to start moving the needle. You’re likely from the older generation and soon enough you will leave behind a world infested with inequality of all flavors. I implore you to reflect on the life you’re leading and the life you're leaving behind - start spending just a fraction of your time ensuring you leave the world around you a more fair and equal place than when you arrived. Tell me how I can help, engage with me and others —I want to have these conversations with you. Guide us.
To Generation Z and millennials:
Congratulations, we’ve been dealt a hand that throws us miles ahead of the rest in our age groups. Around the world, men and women our age are not afforded the opportunity and security we have based solely on their race, location, wealth, and countless other factors entirely out of their control.
I was educated by the Darien Public School system, given the optionality to attend an expensive private university, admitted to law school, and had countless other doors opened FOR me based chiefly on my family and town I grew up in.
You, as do I, have an obligation to tirelessly ensure those disenfranchised by the broken system are given the recourses they need to succeed. This group expands through a broad demographic —some here have families already, some are in the same high school I attended. Regardless of where you are in the stage of your life, you can start having the hard conversations. If you’re younger and still at home, challenge your parents —continuously ask why, continuously challenge what you find unfair, routinely find yourself in good trouble.
Your parents should go to bed exhausted and proud; be the reason your parents have to pause before giving you an answer. And if you find yourself not being able to challenge what you believe to be right, others can help you find resources that will afford you that. Those independent in this group —sitting idly by watching the state of the world is inexcusable. Systematic change is brutally difficult —being passive in the face of adversity is unacceptable given the opportunity we’ve been given. Help this generation become the one that sparked a global change.
This town has a long way to go before the way it acts matches the way it should act. If you’ve read this letter, or watched the news, or watched the knee on George Floyd’s neck take his life and did not immediately ask yourself “how can I help?”— you are part of the problem.
If you’re looking to help:
— Donate to worthy charities. The NAACP and the ACLU are two groups who tirelessly work towards a brighter future.
— Speak up. Refuse to let your discomfort and pain fall on deaf ears.
— Vote. If you’re not happy with the current state of the world, find leaders you believe in and do everything you can to help them win their election.
— Make this a priority in conversations with neighbors, family, friends, and all those wiling to listen.
I’m asking for help — if you are in any of those five categories, please, help. If anyone in the above groups believe they were mischaracterized or I misjudged the work being done within your group, prove me wrong. Make me step back and realize that maybe I was wrong about this town - nothing would make me happier. I’m always available over email at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue this conversation or help in any way I can. My list of flaws are longer than this letter itself —if you’re reading this, its likely we share that quality as humans. Let’s be better a community in every aspect.
Reed Barthold graduated in 2014 from Darien High School & from Boston University in 2018. In high school he was the student body president & played varsity football. Currently, he’s in portfolio management for a transformation consultancy & plans to attend law school in the fall of 2021.