Connecticut town receives support to build racial equity
Stratford hopes to improve race relations
January 16, 2008
Mayor James R. Miron and a group of community leaders on Tuesday unveiled new plans — and a $10,000 grant — they believe will promote improved race relations in a town marred by racial tensions in recent years.
The town was selected as one of eight communities nationwide to take part in a program run by The Study Circles Resource Center, a national group with offices in Pomfret. The initiative is aimed at helping communities create and sustain public engagement and community change on issues around racial equality.
The Study Circles Resource Center awarded Stratford a $10,000 grant to promote better race relations because the town implemented its own initiatives on racial tolerance and diversity. The local initiatives were in response to a March 2006 brawl in the South End that led to the arrest of Councilman Alvin O'Neal, D-2, and then-15-year-old Titasheen Mitchell, both of whom are black.
Both alleged they were victims of excessive force, though the officer involved, David Gugliotti, was reinstated after being placed on a 60-day, paid administrative leave by the mayor. The officer has since been promoted.
An internal police probe found there was not enough evidence that Gugliotti had violated departmental policies; he is now suing the town, claming he was wrongfully placed on leave.
"It's time to put into action many of the issues we as a town, and citizens on their own, have been studying over the last two years," Miron said during the press conference in his Town Hall office, sitting under a photo of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
"After the March 2006 incident, we as a town chose to take a positive approach, and I credit many citizens and town officials for working together to bring the community together rather than to divide it," Miron said.
Joining the mayor for the announcement were Police Chief John Buturla, Supt. of Schools Irene Cornish, who is black, and clergy leaders from Bridgeport and Stratford.
The Study Circles Resource Center has visited Stratford several times to help train educators and community leaders in racial-sensitivity sessions, according to Miron.
Along with the grant money, he announced the creation of a new coalition to put into action many of the initiatives that have been studied by various community groups over the past two years.
The coalition, which includes 50 town residents and is divided into three committees, is called Citizens Addressing Racial Equality, or CARE. It is sponsored by the office of the mayor, in cooperation with the Stratford Youth and Family Advisory Board, the Stratford Clergy Association and the Council of Churches of Greater Bridgeport Inc.
The coalition's three committees include: the Police Community Action Team, which is working to foster mutually respectful relationships between police and community; the Leadership Action Team, which has gathered data on the diversity of the town's leadership and identified perceived inadequacies; and the Education Action Team, which is supporting efforts to increase the pool of qualified minority candidates for both teaching and administrative positions.
"We are working hard to bring people together and this grant and involvement in this major national initiative is a big step in helping bring about racial tolerance and equality in Stratford," said Vera Rozarie, co-chairwoman of the Leadership Action Team. "Education is a key part of this initiative, and this shows that considerable progress is being made."
Councilwoman Emma Brooks, D-4, co-chairwoman of the Police Action Team, said, "Promoting dialogue between the police and citizens is one of our main objectives and we are taking giant steps in reaching these goals."
Stratford and the seven other communities selected to take part in the program "will work in their communities to reduce persistent inequality among racial and ethnic groups that show up in areas like education, housing, health care, the justice system, immigration and jobs," the mayor said.
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