Hartford cares. Hundreds from Hartford and surrounding towns showed up to prove this. In the crowd, I spotted a former student of mine from a few years back, a former professor of mine from even more years back, and two colleagues–one from each place I’m employed at. There was an unofficial bloggers’ seating section, where innocent, objective reporters were being plied with strawberries by an unnamed city official. Under canopies, a dozen community groups set up to hand out literature, candy, magnets, and let people know what they offered. Knox Parks Foundation, Rebuilding Hartford, My Sister’s Place, CREC, Community Renewal Team, and Hartford Public Access were among these organizations.
A “Wall of Commitment” (giant posterboard) was set up for attendees to write on. Many used this as a place to publicly promise to make changes in their actions as related to Hartford; others used it to say what they are already doing (what organizations they are affiliated with) or what they think about the city.
The two-hour long program moved rapidly, lagging only during the extended candlelight vigil toward the end. The Hartford Symphony Orchestra performed several times during the night– a pleasant surprise for me, since I’m not the type to seek out orchestra music (or whatever kids these days call it).
Ted Carroll, President of Leadership Greater Hartford (organizers of the event) gave the greeting, which also moved along. I don’t want to be the person to point this out, but there is some irony in thanking the Hartford Courant and WTIC radio for being media sponsors of this event, since the Hartford Courant along with other local media are part of why the national media picked up on recent incidents, causing damage the Hartford’s reputation. Some on the Courant staff have written meaningful columns after this, but we should remain critical of any outlet that would post video without any context. We live in the age of the internet, when material is quickly picked up and dispersed. Few bother to investigate their sources, as Christine, Heather, and I were discussing. False information gets spread nearly instantly, and is difficult to rectify later. It’s fine to be diplomatic if a company is giving money, but let’s not forget their own role in why the event has to happen at all– even with such a great showing of people from Hartford who do care about our community, I have to wonder how much damage this will undo.
MIRA and Mind Evolution, both spoken word artists, earned robust applause from the audience. MIRA performed “I Wish We All Had Daughters,” and Mind Evolution, “When I Grow Up.” There was dance, drumming, a puppet of what I believe was a Phoenix (it was a bird of some kind, I think), and a series of “conversations” (interviews and speeches).
Rabbi Donna Berman announced that there would be a second Hartford Cares gathering held at the Charter Oak Cultural Center in July. That one will allow the community more of an opportunity to be active in the conversation.
From my chats with people, there was a lot of surprise about the number of people in attendance and the racial diversity. A few thought that the “cheese factor” would have been way higher than it was. Actually, until the grand finale of dozens of adults and children crammed on the bandshell stage, singing and swaying, it really was not corny. And for those who must know, there was absolutely no singing of Kumbaya.
Leadership Greater Hartford handed out bookmarks by the Syracuse Cultural Workers which read:
How to Build Community
Turn off your TV – leave your house – know your neighbors – look up when you are walking – greet people – sit on your stoop – plant flowers – use your library – play together – buy from local merchants – share what you have – help a lost dog – take children to the park – garden together – support neighborhood schools – fix it even when you didn’t break it – have pot lucks – honor elders – pick up litter – read stories aloud – dance in the street – talk to the mail carrier – listen to the birds – put up a swing – help carry something heavy – barter for your goods – start a tradition – ask a question – hire young people for odd jobs – organize a block party – bake extra and share – ask for help when you need it – open your shades – sing together – share your skills – take back the night – turn up the music – turn down the music – listen before you react with anger – mediate a conflict – seek to understand – learn from new and uncomfortable angles – no that no one is silent though many are not heard – work to change this