Editor’s Note: Last week’s events—the shooting deaths of two black men by police officers and then Friday’s sniper attack that killed five police officers and wounded seven others officers and two civilians⎯were devastating to watch. Even though they didn’t happen in Wilton, we are all impacted by the violence, the senselessness, racism and the ugly underside of humanity.
Our GOOD Morning Wilton mission means focusing the lens of coverage through a Wilton eye. One thing we are doing⎯we’ve reached out to the Wilton Police Chief to engage in a discussion around several things: how his department incorporates training and the discussion of race in order to best prevent against incidents like what happened in Baton Rouge and elsewhere; how his officers are coping emotionally after the tragic killings of their Dallas brothers in blue; and how his department stays connected to all the people it serves.
We also offer this article, below, a talk with one Wilton mother who has a unique perspective. Adrienne Reedy and her family have lived in Wilton 19 years. Her three sons, Terrence (24), Calvin (21) and Quinn (18), all graduated from Wilton schools. She spoke with editor Heather Borden Herve about her thoughts on the last week’s events, on what life has been like for her family as one of the few black residents in Wilton, and on what she wants people to think about.
We always hope to further the discussion by helping members of the Wilton community learn more about each another, in the GOOD times and difficult. By learning more about one another, we hopefully make the community better able to see our differences with respect, compassion and understanding.
A Wilton Mom’s Unique Perspective on National News
by Adrienne Reedy, as told to Heather Borden Herve
It always comes back to my boys, my sons. That’s where I think a lot of people don’t understand, you raise your children to believe in humanity, that if you do good, good things will happen. I believe that, but when something like that happens, I go, ‘Whoa, that could have been one of my boys, one of my brothers, one of my nephews.’ Then what ends up happening you start to replay the tapes.
Last year I had to watch Calvin process this, watch him go through the emotional angst. I’m not the type of person who lives a fearful life. I embrace life and engage life. But when stuff like this happens, it sets a person back—it sets an African American back.
I love Wilton, I’m happy we’ve found this place. It’s been a wonderful community to raise our children here. But what I think always surprises me is the inability for others to accept the reality. If I read the posts too much it’s enough to drive a person crazy. What people don’t understand, it’s a hard pill to swallow, but racism exists. It’s 2016, and it’s a reality. It still exists. It’s so insidious in our culture and who we are. If people could simply acknowledge that. When I look at the responses, there will always be one, ‘Yes, racism exists, but…’
No ‘but.’ If I have to continue to try and explain, over and over… I understand, this [points to her skin]…I can’t hide. Not that I want to, I don’t want to, and I shouldn’t have to. None of us should ever have to not be who we are because ignorance will allow someone to suggest my boys don’t deserve to have a good life because of the color of their skin. Or just not have a target on their back, because of just who they are. When something like this happens, you take a step back and just, [breathes deep] what can I do?
The first thing someone else can do is simply acknowledge that racism exists. If white people can simply just say, ‘It sucks, you’re right and I see it,’ that would be the first step. Not to say, ‘Yeah, but my kids go through stuff,’ that’s not what I’m talking about. When this stuff comes up on the news, not to say, ‘What was this person’s lifestyle, did he deserve it?’ No. No, no, no, no, no.
I just wish people could see the bigger problem. We have to acknowledge there’s a problem.
If you look at my Facebook, you’ll see a whole mosaic: black, white, Jewish, Korean, gays … I live my life intentionally. I don’t ever want to get to a point where if I’m just with like-minded people. I celebrate people’s differences, our differences. If people look at their lives and say, ‘I’m only hanging out with the wealthy people of Fairfield County,’ get a new life. We always tried to expose our children to life, and life goes way beyond Wilton and Fairfield County.
I don’t like to hear people say, ‘I taught my kids to be colorblind.’ Look at these flowers. The beauty is that there are tiger lilies over there, some hostas over there and impatiens here. They’re all beautiful, God created such beauty. But those impatiens need shade and fertilizer to grow, while the tiger lilies need sun. To understand that and nurture them in different ways is important. Colorblind to me, when people say they don’t see color, that’s too bad. I see color, and it’s beautiful! If I’m different, celebrate that I’m different, and that’s ok.
Understand what that difference means. So where there is difficulty we can appreciate and embrace it. Celebrate our differences. And we can’t dismiss where those difficulties are. When we get to know each other and each other’s stories, to understand my struggles and what makes me tick, now we’re talking real. Not this superficial, ‘everything is perfect.’ We roll up our sleeves and realize we’re living life together.
We’ve lived here 19 years. For the most part we have had good experiences. Maybe some experiences where I would have to explain to my kids. One time my middle son, Calvin, was out at a restaurant with another Wilton family. Someone approached him on the way to the bathroom and told him he didn’t have the right to be there. Calvin said his friend’s mother told him he had every right to be there and never let anyone tell me that. I had to explain to him that sometimes he’d run into ignorant people.
Another time there was a school bus driver who would tell Calvin he had to hold his cello on his lap because it was taking up seats, but he would let other kids put their instruments on the seats. The bus wasn’t full, and I went on the bus and confronted the driver. I said, ‘As long as my son comes on this bus, I don’t want to hear he can’t do what the other kids are doing.’ And it stopped. But again, I had to explain to my son there are some people… Stuff like that.
After a while, when you have these experiences, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the bus driver had different rules for my son. The minute I see you have different rules for my son because of his skin, I’m going to say something.
Having three bi-racial kids in this community, I would always have to get them to understand that they are just regular human beings. What was frequently placed on them was the ‘cool’ factor. Along with that ‘label’ of ‘cool’ would come things I didn’t want. Just be Quinn, just be Terrence, just be Calvin. Don’t let people put these labels on you, or you have to do those behaviors that come with the label of ‘cool.’
My kids used to hate everyone would come and touch their hair, invade their space and touch them. Parents should learn to teach their children that these are people who don’t want their space invaded to be touched. We can have conversations and learn from each other, things like that. It would make a world of difference to this area.
I love the fact that Wilton has the ABC program, both boys and girls. The community fuels that and the schools work very well with the scholars. I’m very involved with the Underground Railroad program at Ambler Farm. The reason I play Harriet Tubman is for just one minute I have the opportunity to impart some type of experience for all of the fifth graders in Wilton, and that makes me very happy.
I wish there was an experience for all the kids, with the younger kids. The more we can have conversations with these younger kids, the more we can have an impact. I look at how wonderful the Wilton Police Department is getting Officer Friendly into the classrooms early. We can’t underestimate the model in trying to get our kids talking about this kind of stuff early. I’d like to see more minority teachers. In all of the 18 years my kids have been in the school district, there have not been many minority teachers. So getting more minorities in roles of leadership would help Wilton kids engage more.
It would be wonderful to have more community discussions, with children and adults. To have a series, and not just during Black History Month. Have something where we can have good, honest, community dialogue for people to be able to understand. It’s a tough conversation to have but it’s important.
I reached out to the police department myself, because I know Rte. 7 is a major thoroughfare, and I just want to know what they’re doing. We’re going to meet Thursday. I feel I have a very good relationship with the officers, and they responded to me immediately. They know me—I host a prayer group every Wednesday, and as part of that we pray for our police every week. The Friday of Labor Day weekend we brought lunch to them. They know I love them, and from day one, I’ve always felt they have been very good with me.
At the same time I have friends who are fearful to come to Wilton. Fearful that they’ll get pulled over. That’s the reputation. I have friends who will not come here after dark. They don’t feel they belong here. Where does that come from?
There needs to be more dialogue, real dialogue. It’s not a political thing. I’m not interested in Democrats, Republicans. I’m interested in the people, the well-being of the people. Just because we’re acknowledging a problem doesn’t mean everything is bad, or it’s absolute. It’s opening eyes to what someone else’s experiences are.
Because we are different, and that’s ok. We have more in common.
We love it here. But we are in a strange time. I’m sending my son to Nashville for college. And I have great angst. But I just have to leave it to God.
What do I teach them? God forbid, you get pulled over, I have to go through that with them. Be careful who you’re hanging out with, because chances are, when something goes wrong, watch who they come to first. Observe it—if you’re at the aquarium, at the supermarket, who gets addressed, watch the double standards. I wish people would be aware of it, and that will help people understand.
When this stuff happens, it’s a reminder. I tell them not to drive the back roads. Don’t be out there at night in an area you don’t know. Don’t pretend that it’s something you don’t need to consider. They say, ‘I know, mom, I know.’ One night my son called me, on his way to Alabama. I just had to say, ‘Do you understand? I had to explain to him…’ They’ve grown up here. To really not understand how different it is elsewhere. We’ve given them as much as we possibly can, and we’ve tried to give them the tools. At the same time you don’t want your child growing up being fearful of their shadow. You want them to be open but you want them to be wise. I can’t be paranoid but at the same time it something I can’t not discuss.
What do you do when there is ignorance? You have to teach and have the conversation.
I put it out there, for people to become more intentional with how they live their lives. People should be intentional enough to make friends with someone from another race. Look for an opportunity to become friends with other people, really get to know them. Host an ABC kid. There’s the Fresh Air program, the Carter Institute. There are ways to get your kids to meet other people. Not as a savior, but understanding this person has as much to offer you as you have to offer them. I doesn’t happen without being intentional. When you go on vacation, don’t just go to the rich Fairfield County part. I want my kids to realize there are other people and other ways of life. There are ways. Human being meeting human being. The greatest thing we can do is raise young people to be great human beings.
Wouldn’t that be good? So that when things like the last few days start happening. If people have questions, I would love to connect people to the ton of things people could be doing. I look at Wilton and think about all the influence we have here. There’s such power, and such influence that could make a change! I look at what’s here and I know it’s doable.