Hamden mayor a ‘no show’ at meeting to discuss racism in town after 2 students of color were cast as slaves in school play

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HAMDEN, Conn. (WTNH) — The first meeting of the task force assembled to tackle racism in the town of Hadem was suppose to take place Thursday night, but some key members were missing.

The Equity and Inclusivity Task Force was formed by Mayor Curt Leng after a fifth-grade teacher at West Woods Elementary reportedly cast two students of color as slaves in a school play.

Upset parents took their complaints to the school board, and the play was canceled. 

Leng organized the task force to find a solution and bring change; however, he was not at the meeting — and neither was most of the task force.

Leng said the meeting was rescheduled, but that information was not released to the public.

“For the mayor not to show up tonight, even if he was not able to communicate the change in time…when you have 40 plus people waiting on you for a town that’s already looking for leadership, that’s the time to stop what you’re doing and come show up,” said parent Carmen Parker.

“Hopefully, in the near future, we can all come together, and hopefully, we can rebuild Hamden because we’re getting a bad rep right now and that should not be,” said Kimberly Washington, Mothers Demand Action.

Leng apologized Thursday night and said the new meeting will be held on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m.

He released the following statement:

“The kick-off meeting of the Hamden Equity & Inclusivity Task Force was rescheduled after initially being mentioned as a meeting to be held earlier tonight, primarily because several of the stakeholders who will be active members of the panel were not available to meet this evening. Unfortunately, the rescheduling was not released publicly, only internally, and that was my fault. Please accept my sincere apologies for dropping the ball.

I considered rushing over to the location myself to be a listener, but the true intention of launching this priority initiative is to have the major institutions, organizations and educators we have engaged, who have graciously agreed to be active participants and have something special to bring to the table, work collaboratively on these important matters with the entire community. If most of the Task Force is not at the meeting, and it wasn’t posted for all the public to know, we just couldn’t hold the first Task Force Meeting tonight in a meaningful way. I take responsibility for the mistake and I apologize to anyone inconvenienced.

I do want to give you an update of the very meaningful discussions and work that has been occurring since before the effort was even announced. I hope this demonstrates the effort we’re taking, the opportunity we have to work together, and how many individuals are committed to doing so.

Specifically, I’ve been actively engaged in organizing and participating in meetings and conversations with Quinnipiac University leaders and educators, members of Congregations Organized for a New Connecticut (CONECT), the Chair of Racial & Ethnic Disparities Committee, the President and Education Committee Chair of the Greater New Haven Chapter of the NAACP, the founder of the Born Rich Foundation, Hamden Elected and Appointed Officials, an Education Specialist from the Capital Region Education Council (CREC), local and regional Educators, Hamden Commission Members and much more. I specifically mention this extensive list because this work is a top Hamden priority and I don’t want anyone to think that this effort is being taken lightly because of today’s mistake.

As a result of the work and dialogue over the last week, we have developed a more comprehensive process and schedule, which will include series of facilitated meetings, training sessions, professional development efforts, community listening gatherings, community conversations, working committees and more. I am confident that this will ultimately lead to more meaningful results, and I am thankful for the input and time that has been graciously given by many and the ideas that have been shared thus far.

The dates and locations for the first 1-2 months of the Task Force’s efforts is being finalized for publication very shortly, with the goals of maximum public participation. Expect to see this schedule within days.

I would like to again apologize for the mistake, take ownership of it, and invite everyone to attend the first official Hamden Equity & Inclusivity Task Force Meeting on Tuesday, February 18th at 7:00 pm. The location of this meeting will be announced tomorrow (02/14/20). I very much look forward to engaging with you all at the next meeting, and I promise you will be pleased with the dialogue we will share, and the results we will attain, together as One Hamden.”

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