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    Tuesday, July 23, 2024

    Groton, New London celebrate Black History Month

    Mayor Michael Passero helps Nicholas Daniels, 9, of New London raise the Pan-African flag Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, during a ceremony outside City Hall kicking off Black History Month celebrations in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    The voice of actress, singer and social justice advocate Rae'Ven Kelly Dinwoodie rang out Tuesday afternoon before a crowd in front of Groton Town Hall, as she performed "Lift Every Voice and Sing."

    While she sang, with some in the audience joining her in singing the lyrics of the Black National Anthem, the Pan-African flag was raised in honor of Black History Month.

    Later, in a New London celebration, Adwoa Bandele-Asante led the singing of the same song as two city youths — Sirina Coffie, 8, and Nicholas Daniels, 9 —helped raise the Pan-African flag outside City Hall.

    A celebration also was held in the City of Groton on Tuesday in honor of Black History month.

    Groton Town Councilor Portia Bordelon, a graduate of Fitch High School who decided to raise her two children in the community, looked out at the crowd of about 70 people in front of Groton Town Hall and said the event started out as a vision to bring together the community that she loves and grew up in. She organized the Black History Month flag-raising celebration with support from the Groton Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Collaborative and town staff. 

    "Today was an amazing day," Bordelon said after the event. She said it was incredible to see Groton community members of all ethnicities and backgrounds turn out to recognize Black history.

    In her keynote speech at the Groton celebration, Connecticut State Comptroller Natalie Braswell, the first Black woman to serve in that role, took a moment to reflect on how the raising of a flag honoring Black history next to a government building is a powerful symbol of progress, "the hard relentless work that we've been enduring for centuries."

    "Our history is full of heartbreak and violence and injustice, but our history also provides countless examples, overwhelming evidence, that even a small act of courage is contagious, and we're all at our strongest when we're courageous together," she said.

    Musician Ariana Stanberry, also known as Tru, a graduate of Fitch High School and Berklee College of Music, said this is not just a flag, but a "message we are sending to the town today to show that our lives as Black people in Groton matter."

    "We are sending a message today that Black citizens of Groton have a past that must be remembered, a present that must be valued and a future that will be inspirational," she said.

    Groton Town Mayor Juan Melendez Jr. said it's important to hold the ceremony on the first day of Black History Month because it's important to celebrate from the first day to the last day. Groton Town Councilor Aundré Bumgardner read aloud a proclamation recognizing Black History Month.

    Juliette Parker, secretary of the New London branch of the NAACP and also a Groton Town councilor, called it a "historic moment."

    Larissa Tabb, a marine science major attending the University of Connecticut at Avery Point, said this month is about "celebrating a culture that has surpassed insurmountable odds" and "recognizing key African-American role models in society but also remembering the lives that have been lost to this systemically flawed justice system where Blacks are five times more likely to be incarcerated than whites, where African American people make up 13% of the general population but 40% of the prison population, where learning about African American history is simply an elective, where we need a CROWN act to wear our natural hair in a place of business."

    Motivational speaker Kevin Booker Jr., a professor at Connecticut College, said "Black history is everyone's history." He observed 20 seconds of silence for the more than 400 years of systemic racism and oppression in this land.

    Bordelon thanked Melendez, the DEI committee, town staff and the guests who spoke or performed, along with the community at large, for all the interest and effort put forth to help make this happen. She said she's particularly grateful for school Superintendent Susan Austin, who arranged for Fitch High School students to attend the event.

    The City of Groton held its Black History Month ceremony at noon at the Municipal Building. The Rev. Joseph L. Coleman, pastor of St. John's Christian Church, who also spoke at the town ceremony, Parker and Hedrick spoke during the city event.

    “Black History Month is our opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of Blacks locally in the community, throughout the state and throughout the United States,” City Mayor Keith Hedrick said.

    In New London, City Council President Pro Temp Reona Dyess led a ceremony highlighted by a poem, a song and raising of the Pan-African flag outside City Hall.

    Mayor Michael Passero marked the occasion by honoring Black city leaders, starting with Leo E. Jackson, who was elected the city’s first Black mayor in 1979. A World War II veteran and Electric Boat employee, Jackson is also widely believed to be New England’s first Black mayor.

    Others honored included Eunice Waller, the city’s first Black female mayor and Jane Glover, who served three terms as mayor and earned the title “the mayor” for the rest of her life.

    “We have an amazing legacy of Black leadership in this very city,” Passero said. He noted he plans to make the flag-raising a new city tradition.

    State Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London, who served several terms as City Council president, told the crowd that relegating Black history to one month a year isn’t enough. “It should not just be for the month of February. It should be 365 days, throughout the year. I feel it is ridiculous to not recognize and have announcements, events and recognitions throughout the year.”

    Nolan said he would look for support at the state level to come up with a plan to inform youth about historical accomplishments of Black people throughout history.

    City Council member Akil Peck agreed with Nolan’s idea. “Our kids need to know where they came from in order to know where they are going,” Peck said.

    Poet Laureate Josh Brown, a teacher, said he asked his students about Black History Month and whether it was still necessary to celebrate. “Many of them said ‘yes’ with no hesitation but some of them said ‘no,’” Brown said. “Some of my students feel Black History Month has become performative and February was the only time people cared about Black history. Another student felt it was an excuse for the government to distract us from the everyday discrimination that Black and brown people face.”

    k.drelich@theday.com

    g.smith@theday.com

    Actress and singer Rae'Ven Kelly Dinwoodie sings "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during the Black History Month flag-raising ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Groton Town Hall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Arianna Stanberry directs the audience to look up to the Pan-African flag during the Black History Month flag-raising ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Groton Town Hall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Miles Daniels, 6, of New London waves a Pan-African flag Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, as he sings "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during a ceremony outside New London City Hall kicking off Black History Month celebrations. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Educator and activist Kevin Booker leads a call and response at the Town of Groton Black History Month flag-raising ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Groton Town Hall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    State Comptroller Natalie Braswell, right, delivers her keynote address to the Town of Groton Black History Month flag-raising ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at Groton Town Hall. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Sharmaine Gregor cheers with her Pan-African flag Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, as she stands with friend Ben Abraham, both of New London, during a ceremony outside City Hall kicking off Black History Month celebrations in New London. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick, center, with, from left, police Capt. Patricia Lieteau, Rev. Joseph Coleman of St. John's Christian Church and a chaplain with the police department, and Town Councilor Juliette Parker, looking on, addresses a gathering of city staff and officials for a Black History Month ceremony Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, at the city municipal building. A Pan-African flag ordered for the event was delayed in shipping due to this weekend's storm. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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    Groton City officials and staff gather for a group photo Tuesday, Feb. 1, 2022, following a Black History Month ceremony at the city municipal building. A Pan-African flag ordered for the event was delayed in shipping due to this weekend's storm. City Mayor Keith Hedrick, police department pastor Rev. Joseph Coleman and Town Councilor Juliette Parker addressed the gathering. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
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