Fairfield: Task force on racial inequity aims to have ‘uncomfortable’ conversations
FAIRFIELD — When the killing of George Floyd spurred protests around the country and in Fairfield, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said she thought it was time for the town to have a dialogue about race.
It was for that reason, Kupchick said, that she appointed Selectwoman Nancy Lefkowitz to create and co-chair a task force on racial injustice and inequity.
“I just thought that Nancy would be a good fit,” Kupchick said. “She’s been an activist in the past, and I thought that this would be something very natural for her.”
Kupchick said several African American women in the community had shown interest in the task force, adding that she had asked Lefkowitz to pick one of them as co-chair. She said she and Lefkowitz are still hammering out the details for how many people will serve on the task force, how it will be structured and its overall mission.
“I’m looking for the task force to first, have a lot of different dialogues — with law enforcement, with our school administrators... and with our community,” the First Selectwoman said. “(Then the task force) will come with a list of recommendations.”
Lefkowitz said the task force would be a place to start conversations and for education, listening and understanding. She said its creation makes a statement that racial inequity is an issue the town cares about.
“Fairfield is a place where all should feel welcome,” Lefkowitz said. “While I think that there is a perception that that’s the case, what’s come to light is that maybe that’s not the case for the Black and brown members of this community.”
The selectwoman said the task force may be able to begin dismantling institutionalized racism by making recommendations to reform policies that are inherently designed to maintain a racist status quo.
Speaking to how the task force will be structured, Lefkowitz said it would be important for the group to have an odd number of members to prevent a tie when it comes time to vote on recommendations. She also said the task force would be bipartisan, and made up of Republicans, Democrats, people not affiliated with a party and people of color.
“The process for applications will be as with all boards and commissions, per the charter,” she said. “I would imagine it would have to have unanimous board of selectman approval. I’d also like to see the (Representative Town Meeting) have to approve it — just so there are checks and balances.”
Both Kupchick and Lefkowitz said there were a lot of people reaching out to them who were interested in joining the task force.
Lefkowitz said she also hopes to have liaisons from the Board of Education, the Board of Finance, and the RTM. She said she thinks that is a good way to keep the community connected.
“We are sending out a survey to the community to get a better pulse on the perceptions of racism in the community but, also, what people would want,” Lefkowitz said. “I think that will inform some of what the mission is.”
Kupchick said the task force will help drive conversations that help people examine their biases. She said self- reflection is an important component of that work.
“My vision, or hope for it, is that it allows people to have open conversations in a safe environment,” Kupchick said, adding that she hopes people learn from those discussions. “I hope we can come up with some recommendations after listening to people.”
Lefkowitz said she has heard from residents who question if the task force is necessary.
Some white residents, she said, don’t understand that their experiences are not reflective of everyone’s reality. While that may be uncomfortable to confront, it needs to be addressed.
“There’s a lot of shame and hard work that comes from admitting that,” she said. “Not everybody is there. What we have to do is create a space where people can do some of that difficult soul work.”
Lefkowitz described herself as a perennial optimist, and said she sees this as a moment to create systemic and long-term change. She said that is why she is interested in doing the task force “the right way.”
“While this isn’t going to be the end-all be-all solution, I see this as one opportunity to make a difference towards a more equitable and just community,” Lefkowitz said.