Dr. Aresta Johnson spoke about the importance of voting during last night’s forum that was organized by Pastor Rodney Wade, left, and Pastor Pamela Hughes, middle.

            Story By Robert Goodrich and Photographs By John Murray

   A group of black citizens held an unapologetically honest and unabashedly self-reflective forum on black lives in the Brass City last night inside Waterbury City Hall. Pastor Pamela Hughes of Faith Generation Ministries and Pastor Rodney Wade of Long Hill Bible Church, were co-facilitators and led the discussion by directing poignant question about black on black crime, black owned business, black youth, community activism and what the roles of voting, government, church, pop-culture, education, and personal health should play in building strong black communities.

   It was billed as a statewide forum entitled “African-Americans Save Ourselves” and was hosted by “The Word on the Street” and sponsored by Community Empowerment Inc. The panelists were Dr. Aresta Johnson, Supervisor of Education, Bridgeport Public Schools, Renee Coleman-Mitchell, Section Chief for the Community Health and Prevention DPH, Raymond Wallace, Founder of Guns Down Books Up, Reverend E. L. Smallwood, Duane Pittman, Youth Leader, Kevin Taylor, Executive Director, Neighborhood Housing.   

     The content on the discussion varied from Rev. E. L. Smallwood’s story of being asked by a college professor asking him who he really was, his response was “I am child of God”, to Renee Coleman-Mitchell’s call for African American to do their due diligence when using health care because “all diseases disproportionately effect the African American community,” from Asthma to Diabetes from HIV to Heart disease.

Pastor Rodney Wade, upper left, opened the discussion with the gathering of 50 members of the local black community in Waterbury.

   And then their was Dwayne Pittman’s call to action to deal with “racial stereotypes,” which are steeped in a rich history of American racism, but according to him can be addressed in part by admonishing certain styles of dress and by showing young black children other ways of dress that won’t put them in harm’s way of a rogue cop.

   Kevin Taylor of Neighborhood Housing Services of Waterbury stressed the importance of economic independence as a key component to building strong black communities and he made sure to highlight the need for black owned businesses to be supported by black consumers. Combining home ownership with black entrepreneurship was surely a way to spread the benefits of democracy via the “free market and capitalism” said Taylor.

The panel consisted of a prominent educator, grassroots activists, experts in faith and religion, a health care expert as well as a housing and an economic development expert.

   Dr. Aresta Johnson,  a Waterbury native, made sure to emphasize black activism was not only connected deeply to the past but was inextricably tied the success of the “next generation. ” She called for increased voting by black citizens, calling it a not only a “right,” but an “obligation and duty.” Dr. Johnson made it clear that black leadership needed to play close attention to young black Americans, especially when she called for black parents to make sure schools were providing all the services the school systems were claiming to provide, and being paid to provide.

   Kevin Taylor made a sharp point when he simply said “we shouldn’t be putting all of our eggs in one basket.” I believe Taylor was referring to the unchallenged hold the Democratic party has had on black civil rights issues, black economic prosperity and black political power for nearly 60 years. By simply adding he wasn’t sure if “Republicans were any better” for the black community he made it clear that it was the black citizens and black community that would and could solve its own problems, and then be able to make bigger and broader change a possibility for the whole community. This was the point of tonight’s event, as a few panelists remarked, it is time to stop talking and start acting.