Suffield Observations

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A Thoroughly Avoidable Imbroglio
Andy Sauer

I heard about Black Wall Street in August 2022.

The Suffield High School junior who came up with the idea of an event that would celebrate black-owned businesses during Black History Month asked me to write about it.

Two months later, she asked me if I could pass on information to my daughter, who supervised teens canvassing Hartford’s North End last summer. I did.

In December, she asked me if I could forward a flyer promoting the event. With a paragraph extolling the talents of the remarkable student, I forwarded the flyer.

A week later, I was told about Black Wall Street’s cancellation.

The reasons for the cancellation are manifold, mildly bureaucratic and utterly in dispute.

Not in dispute was the knowledge that hundreds of individuals were going to have to be informed and would likely have questions.

And, the questions came – from e-mails, phone calls, Facebook posts, public commentary at the Board of Ed meeting, the media and prominent Connecticut civil rights activists.

For its part, in a letter of apology from Superintendent Timothy Van Tasel, the school district owned up to not providing the necessary guidance to stage the event and offered to hold the event next year, which went a long way to de-escalate a rapidly escalating situation.

And, that’s a good thing, especially for those of us in Suffield who don’t want to be seen as unregenerate racists by the rest of Connecticut.

The question remains: How did the school district not anticipate the magnitude of outrage in the event of failure?

When a Black student proposes holding an event that celebrates Black achievements during Black History Month less than a year after the school district’s commitment to racial equity and justice has been publicly challenged, the appropriate response, besides “yes,” is to ensure the event happens. You bring grown-ups into the room to guide and educate. You create a timeline, set benchmarks and distribute assignments. You set dates and create rain dates in the event of a weather event. You leave nothing to chance.

Instead, as best I can tell, the high school and district’s approach to the event was as if the student proposed a Suffield Comic Con.

Ok, Suffield got away with an “Incomplete,” which is not an F. It can still make this right with a little more effort, and it’s got a year to do it.

The stakes have been raised. This imbroglio has gotten a lot of attention from important people, and they will be expecting something special.

And, really, that was the whole point of Black Wall Street from the very beginning: A special event celebrating black achievement.

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