Published in The Day

By Erica Moser, Day Staff Writer

New London ― Whether getting more than 900 students into Discovering Amistad programming or enabling a new play examining racial disparities in the mental health system, the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut has helped organizations expand racial equity work through a specialized grant program.

The Community Foundation last June announced $205,640 for 24 organizations through its inaugural grant cycle for the Fund for Racial Justice created in June 2021.

Thursday was an opportunity to follow up on the announcement as people from five organizations ― Artreach, Castle Church, CLiCK, Discovering Amistad and Robertsine Duncan Youth Council ― convened with supporters at the Garde Arts Center to talk about what they’ve done with funding. Discovering Amistad received $12,000 while the other four each got $10,000.

CFECT President and CEO Maryam Elahi also announced that the Community Foundation is establishing an endowed Fund for Racial Justice and has raised $350,000 from donors.

Castle Church in Norwich received money for the Norwich Jubilee Project, the first phase of which was the creation of the “Jubilee Mural” on the side of the church, unveiled last June. The next phase is creating Jubilee Park. Pastor Adam Bowles said Yale Urban Design Workshop is working with the church to finish three design ideas by the end of July.

Also in Norwich, $10,000 went to the NAACP Robertsine Duncan Youth Council for programs around racial equity in the arts, STEM and health. Shiela Hayes, past president of the Norwich NAACP, said the funding allowed 13 high school juniors and seniors to participate in an ocean-minded workforce development program with Mystic Aquarium. It also enabled a program for youth to talk about mental health issues.

Artreach Associate Director Emma Palzere-Rae explained that the Community Foundation has helped fund a new play called “The Waiting Room,” which weaves together scenes from mental health clinics, doctor’s offices and hospitals to look at racial disparities in the mental health system.

Artreach hired actors and playwrights for a residency in December, and there will be another residency in the late summer or early fall to finalize the script, which grew out of community conversations about how to improve the mental health system. Becca Atkins, executive director of Artreach, said she wants the play in front of doctors, psychologists and graduate students.

The Willimantic-based nonprofit CLiCK ― Commercially Licensed Co-operative Kitchen ― used Community Foundation funding for its Just Food Series.

Education coordinator Chelsea Cherrier explained that this included the Cooking Across Cultures classes and a class in which farmers of color shared their experience of racism in farming. CLiCK will also host a community activity at Willimantic’s 3rd Thursday Street Fest in June.

Dianisi Torres also talked about how much the small portion of her work that is teaching ServSafe classes means to her, and that participants recognize that being Latina and a Spanish speaker, Torres knows where they’re coming from.

With Discovering Amistad, project coordinator Reeshemah Norfleet talked about holding a leadership academy for high school students and about holding a Black Maritime Excellence event at Mystic Seaport.

Executive Director Paula Mann-Agnew said the funding enabled 900 students to come through the program, and that the Community Foundation “absolutely embraced and continues to embrace the understanding that racism is embedded in our systems.”