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Open lines of communication on racism issue

Why are Old Lyme's first selectman and a second member of the Board of Selectmen refusing even to discuss possible links between public health and systemic racism? Why has the International MOMS club decided it prefers to see dozens of local clubs disband, including those in Old Lyme-Old Saybrook and Portland-Middletown, rather than satisfactorily address its decision not to post a collage showing mothers pledging to end racial discrimination?

While there's no doubt that open, candid discussion of racism and the role it's played throughout the history of the U.S. is an uncomfortable topic for many, simply ducking it is not an appropropriate response, will not make it go away and, indeed, is insulting and inflammatory to the many who are doing the right thing and refusing to remain silent about racial injustice.

We believe it is as important to have open, robust conversations locally as it has been nationally, and as recent local events attest.

In Old Lyme, Democratic Selectwoman Mary Jo Nosal has twice proposed a resolution that would identify racism as a public health issue. Twice the proposal died due to lack of support by her Republican colleagues, First Selectman Timothy Griswold and Selectman Christopher Kerr. Despite being urged by, among others, the chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee and the senior minister of the First Congregational Church of Old Lyme to discuss Nosal's proposal, which she brought up in August and again in April, Griswold and Kerr have refused to even acknowledge the issue.

"I'm surprised we haven't at least had a discussion or formed a committee to look at the merits of this," Nosal told her fellow selectmen at a meeting last month.

Leaders of the Old Lyme-Old Saybrook MOMS club also met with similar stonewalling recently from the MOMS parent organization. The International MOMS club refused to post a photo collage of members from a California chapter holding signs that spelled out a message pledging to end racial discrimination. The international group said it could not post the message because it was political, then subsequently stood silent while more than 200 chapters cut ties.

A group of mothers who were in the Old Lyme-Old Saybrook club recently formed the Family Club of the Connecticut River Valley in reaction to this lack of response. In a press release announcing the formation of the new group, Administrative Vice President Stefanie Hill wrote, "As members across the country chose to speak up, including Black mothers explaining how their children's lives are not political, the national MOMS club instead drew a line in the sand, repeating the mantra: if you don't like it, leave."

These incidents demonstrating a refusal to accept — or even discuss — the role racial discrimination has played in limiting minorities' access to housing, education, nutritious food, health care and jobs is abhorrent. Another local racially charged incident, however, shows that civil discourse is possible among local leaders with diverging viewpoints on this issue.

The Ledyard Town Council's Community Relations Committee has, on several occasions, publicly discussed race issues in town. While committee member Andra Ingalls recently drew much verbal fire for her comments suggesting the town present a "counter perspective" to social justice as part of a proposal for cultural competency training, the committee continues to meet and talk about the issues. Open discussion such as this is much more likely to effect positive change and enlightenment about local racial attitudes. We urge Ledyard's Community Relations Committee to continue this difficult work and to address any and all issues of discrimination in town matters.

We also praise the Old Lyme-Saybrook mothers who refused to stand still in the face of a racist attitude on the part of the MOMS club parent organization. Selectmen Griswold and Kerr should learn a lesson from these local moms. It's high time they stop hiding their heads in the sand and instead listen to local leaders who point out that as many as 160 enslaved people once lived in town. Griswold and Kerr should open the lines of communication and acknowledge there's plenty of work yet to be done to end systemic racism.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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