People who don’t live in Windsor may not be familiar with our history, our character, and the ways we are on the cutting edge, despite having the distinction of being the oldest town in the state.
In June, we became the first town in Connecticut to pass a resolution declaring racism a public health crisis. This makes clear what many already knew – that racism is real, and that the constant stress of living in a racist society, and structural and economic racism, have a huge impact on Black people’s health. As a Town Council member I proposed the resolution, which passed and committed the town to measure and work to correct it.
Windsor is also among many towns in the state and country having passionate discussions about public statues. In our case, it’s a statue of John Mason, a former mayor of the town and governor of the state. Mason is notorious also for leading a massacre of hundreds of Pequot women and children and having more sold into slavery.
Both of these things need to be considered together.
Nearly 20 people spoke out at a recent council meeting and asked that the John Mason statue be removed. Should this statue come to life, there is reason to think, based on history, that he could continue drawing his sword and proceed to slaughter, and sell into slavery, indigenous men, women, and children. Speakers declared their discomfort with the statue and what it represents. Following that meeting, there has been debate and dialogue, and some of the messages online have mentioned people’s home addresses and taken a threatening tone. Even more people will be at the next meeting, where it will be on the agenda and where action will be expected. I urged my fellow council members to ask the Pequot nation what it wants to do about the statue. Other options are to form a committee of residents and students to explore the options.
Americans, confined due to COVID, have had time to see and reflect on the systemic police violence that killed George Floyd and so many others, and has been doing so for years. The Windsor community came together and organized two very moving and well-attended vigils – one by youth – in support of Black Lives Matter. The turnout and content were inspiring and amazing. People came out, listened, shared their stories.
Many people defend the Mason statue. But history is moving forward quickly. More and more white people are becoming aware of our recent racist past – redlining and housing discrimination; the Black Wall Street massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma; the racial wealth gap, caused by public policy that has denied mortgages, educational aid, and Social Security to Black people; and many more.
Clearly that statue must go from its place of prominence in our town. Its location must change. It is a powerful symbol. Declaring racism a public health crisis – and committing to examining our own systems and outcomes – means action, substance, and changes in policies and how we use our resources.
As lawmakers in Hartford debate police accountability, and other ways to improve our systems to mitigate the impact of racism, they should know that towns like Windsor throughout the state are continuing the march forward, and will be holding them accountable for the kind of change that we need.
Nuchette Black-Burke is an educator, lifelong Windsor resident, and member of the Town Council.
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