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FEATURE February 2011

‘There is power in our young people’ Stamford NAACP president promotes year-round involvement Annie Cohen

youth in the NAACP. My work was noticed by the branch president and other community leaders, and I was asked to get involved with the adult branch. So that’s what led to my involvement with the adult branch [of the NAACP in Stamford]. I started as the vice president first and I went up to the president. TW: As President, what do you do on a daily basis? JB: We are a civil rights organization, so we protect civil rights.

of the NAACP. I am trying to reactivate the youth chapters here in Stamford. My first stop will probably be Westhill High School to get at least 25 students to sign up for the NAACP. [This] would be the Westhill High School Stamford NAACP Youth Chapter. I would then do the same thing at Stamford High School, and then we’re going to approach UConn Stamford because we also have a youth-incollege division. We need young

people to get involved because the average age of the NAACP member now is around 60 years old nationwide. We have a new national president [Benjamin Todd Jealous] who believes, as do I, that there is power in our young people. We need to teach our young people to serve in leadership positions within the NAACP. TW: How would you rate the climate of tolerance versus the climate of racism in Stamford? If you could make one change in this field, what would it be? JB: Let me just say this: racism is alive. It is alive. It may not be as blatant as it was before, but it is alive. It is more sophisticated now. You have to go about looking for it or reacting to it a little differently than back in the days when you had Martin Luther King. Personally, I don’t like to have to march. I’m not the type of person that would want to get out there and march like they did back in the day. If it comes to that then that’s what we do, but that’s why we want to be a proactive organization so we don’t get to that point. But we can hit the streets to get a point across. Racism is alive today; dealing with it just requires a little bit more sophistication now. It starts by sitting at the table together and discussing issues. I think that’s one of the best solutions to problems. If you can’t sit down and talk to someone, it’s not going to get any better. We seem to have been able to do that over the years. TW: There is an achievement gap in the Stamford Public Schools. What are your thoughts and position on this? JB: We are at the table with the Board of Education on addressing that issue. There has been a lot of discussion about [the NAACP]

Continued from page 16 She often translated between students and their teachers and guidance counselors and administered diagnostic testing. Ms. Viala also serves as the adviser of the Haitian American club, which meets every other Wednesday. According to Ms. Obas, Haitians are far more private than Americans, and therefore “it was very hard to get the kids to realize that this [counseling] is what we were here for,” she said. As far as the transition to life

in Stamford, Ms. Obas said that “some have soared, others have struggled. It’s about 50-50 in terms of the transition.” Ms. Viala added that because classes here are more structured and classrooms better equipped, some Haitian students find it easier to do well in school. For Sarah, a motivating factor in adjusting to life in the United States was the hope of eventually returning to her homeland to help prevent future disasters. Sarah wants to become an architectural

engineer so she can build sturdier houses and hospitals in Haiti that are designed to better withstand tremors. At the time of the earthquake, Haiti had virtually no construction regulations, which contributed to the widespread damage and thousands of deaths. To become an engineer, Sarah believes it is best for her to get an education in the United States. She said, “[Because of this,] I took the opportunity to come here.” In addition to her studies, Sarah is also at work on another

Associate Editor

The Westword sat down with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Stamford Chapter President Jack Bryant to discuss Black History Month, his role in the NCCAP, and getting involved. The Westword: How did you first get involved with the NAACP in Stamford? Jack Bryant: I became involved through actual experiences at Westhill High School. I was one of the first classes [to graduate from] WHS, and there was a lot of racial tension back in those days at Westhill High School. I became involved [with the NAACP] in my years that I spent at Westhill High School in the ’70s and I think that I carry that [experience] along with me. It led me to work with young people within the NAACP because I was concerned about young people. So, I started working with

We get complaints from people whose civil rights are violated. We advocate for [civil rights in] education, housing, criminal justice, and health, that’s our main focus. The Stamford NAACP, however, is getting into unchartered waters. [The NAACP] has always been a reactive organization, but since I became president [in 2008] we have turned the Stamford NAACP into a proactive organization. We try to teach and educate people about their civil rights and how to handle things like housing issues and working relationships with the police department. We try to educate people so [we don’t have to take] a reactive position when something happens. TW: How can students who are interested get involved in the NAACP? JB: I am going to be visiting Westhill High School and Stamford High School to [help the schools] open up their own NAACP chapters. We have a very large and active youth component

“If you want to celebrate Black History Month in February, read a little more, delve into the history of African Americans and see what they contributed to the country, what they had to go through.”

opening up a new charter school here in Stamford, which will service pre-K to third grade students. There are tests that are taken by all students in the fourth grade and that’s how they get placed in that achievement gap. In order to close that achievement gap you have to prepare those students before they take that test in fourth grade. That’s why we want to assess the Stamford Board of Education— to make sure pre-K to third grade students are prepared to take that test, especially African American minority students. If it takes opening up another school, then that’s what we plan to do. TW: What can students do in the community and at school to celebrate Black History Month?

project—writing a book about her experiences surviving the quake. “I’m on the third page,” she admitted, “but I’m working on it.” She is collaborating with her aunt on the book, but they don’t have a computer, so progress takes time. “I want to tell the next generation in Haiti what happened. A book is the only way to communicate the story,” Sarah said. In July, Sarah returned to Haiti for a visit. It was a painful trip, as the country was nowhere near rebuilt despite the six months that had

JB: Community service. That is one of Martin Luther King’s initiatives. Get involved in your community, assist with other organizations. You can always contact us and we can put together a community service project for you to do. Don’t think it has to be done in the month of February; there are plenty of opportunities all year round to do community service. If you want to celebrate Black History month in February, read a little more, delve into the history of African Americans and see what they contributed to the country, what they had to go through. Spend a little more time doing that, [and you will learn] more than probably what you get in the classroom during February.

Jack Bryant / Contributed Photo

PROTECTING CIVIL RIGHTS NAACP Stamford Chapter President Jack Bryant believes students should be involved in leadership positions in the organization.

elapsed. However, the knowledge of Haiti’s halting recovery further encourages Sarah to become an engineer, write her book, and help her country piece itself back together. Though the strength, time, and costs of last year’s earthquake can be quantified, the toll it has taken on Haitian students at Westhill is much more difficult and complicated to capture. As Sarah said with a small smile, “[The transition] was really tough for me, but I’m doing pretty well.”


PROTECTING CIVIL RIGHTS NAACP Stamford Chapter Presi- dent Jack Bryant believes students should be involved in leader- ship positions in the...