Enfield parent Kelly Jackson is looking to send an urgent message to Board of Education member John Unghire.
She said she wants to help him to understand why her son was called a racial slur while he was out raising money for the football team in August.
That is why she and other residents and activists from Enfield’s Showing Up for Racial Justice and Power Up CT held a Believe Black Boys rally this week, prior to the Board of Education’s monthly meeting at Town Hall.
“He needs to be open to hearing people and listening to people of this town, who are more beneficial. You should be hearing us and knowing what’s going on. Instead he chooses to say ignorant comments, like ‘I have a Black friend…,’” Jackson said.
Jackson was referring to Unghire’s comments that he made at the August 23 school board meeting, where he said that he deplored racism, then shared an example of his friendship with a Black friend, and how he and his wife helped him to raise funds for a church to open on Blue Hills Avenue in Hartford for the friend’s all Black congregation, along with serving as youth leaders of the church for three years.
“It was a labor of love to help all those young people in North Hartford. When I sensed that people say ‘oh, yeah, you’re racist.’ I hate racism. I hate it with a passion, I wouldn’t have done anything like that for three years, every week, if I was a supporter of that kind of thing,” he said, during the meeting.
Jackson and others also took issue with Unghire’s comments when he said that he does not understand the term “systemic racism,” questioning what laws support this.
“I would ask you then please, show me one rule, one regulation, or one law that supports racism here in America, or endorses it? I can’t find one. I can’t find a single one. But I do see a lot of laws that are anti-discrimination laws. I do see a lot of laws that are equal opportunity laws. These are the laws that are part of our system. They are in place to prevent racism,” he said, also during the meeting.
POWER UP Connecticut founder Keren Prescott said one of the things the district should do to make things more inclusive within the town is to listen to Black residents.
“If I’m telling the Board of Education, my son was a victim of a hate crime. There needs to be something done in the schools to protect the kids, to process what happened,” she said. “There needs to be collaboration between the town manager, the Board of Education, the Enfield Police Department, all the other civil service jobs and town officials. There needs to be a deeper conversation about what is happening in Enfield. How do we go about addressing these issues in Enfield?”
Unghire, however, said in an interview that his comments, as a whole, have been taken out of context.
He addressed the comments around sharing his story about his friendship with a Black pastor and serving as a youth leader with his wife.
“It’s not that I have a Black friend. I have many Black friends. I have all kinds of friends from very diverse backgrounds and ethnic backgrounds. I think they took my comments out of context. Obviously, if we were to develop and start a church, and we were the youth leaders in a church for three years in the North End of Hartford, we we have many friends from many ethnic backgrounds,” he said.
When it comes to his comments on systemic racism, he said that what he meant was that the term was broad.
“What I said is that I understand the term to mean that somehow racism is part of our American system. And that’s what systemic means, the system of America,” he said. “So when I look at the system, I look at the rules, the regulations and the laws. I said that I didn’t see any rules, regulations or laws that supported racism, that promoted, supported, [or] endorsed racism, I can’t find it.
“What I find are rules and regulations, that that are anti-discrimination laws and anti-discrimination rules that we have in place that tell me the system is against racism. That’s really what was the essence of my of my talk.” he said.
“I asked [the residents] if they could please show me one rule, one law, or one regulation that supports [systemic racism] and I can’t. No one has been able to do that...So, I don’t fully understand...how anybody can make a claim that racism is systemic in America. I did say that there are some racist people that are stupid. And you know, stupid people say stupid things, they [are] ignorant. If [the parents and residents are] against racism... then I’m with them 100 percent. Because I am too,” he said.
The residents and activists also attended the school board meeting and Enfield’s Standing Up for Racial Justice group is preparing to propose a DEI Subcommittee for the Town Council on Oct. 3.
Enfield SERJ’s Marcy Taliceo said the charge of the committee would be to collect information, along with creating reports and recommendations for the town based on diversity, equity and inclusion criteria.
Taliceo said that the subcommittee is needed, along with bringing more diversity and inclusion into the town’s committees, whose members are primarily white.
“That’s part of what the DEI committee plans to do is to keep…trainings ongoing,” she said.