Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Delicious Food with a Generous Serving of Second Chances

Chris White, a Culinary Training Collaborative graduate,
with Felicia Jenkins, Chef Instructor at Zest 280

Eat lunch at Zest 280 and you'll enjoy a good, healthy lunch along with a generous serving of second chances. I did. On my first visit I savored this mission-based café's homemade Grain Bowl. It was a delicious combination of lentils, quinoa, brown rice, peppers, tomato, kale and grilled chicken. This cozy café at 280 Park Road in West Hartford, sister restaurant to the acclaimed Pond House Café, is celebrating its first anniversary since owners Kim Yarum and Louis Lista reopened it a year ago with a mission dedicated to providing former prison inmates a second chance to earn the skills necessary to re-enter society with a viable career in the workplace.

Zest 280's complete menu is a made-from-scratch fare of soups, salads, sandwiches, and hot plates, all prepared on-site by paid "externs" who commit to a rigorous career development program sponsored by Community Partners in Action (CPA) in collaboration with Zest 280 and The Kitchen at Billings Forge in Hartford's Frog Hollow neighborhood.

 The healthy, homemade Grain Bowl I ate on my first visit. 

On my second visit my friend had the Roasted Beet Salad and ...

... I ordered the Salmon Cake Served Over Indian Rice.

Working in tandem through CPA's Culinary Training Collaborative, the three organizations combine to provide professional training in food preparation and customer service with actual on-the-job business experience to prepare people "seeking a second chance for careers in the culinary arts and hospitality industries." The Collaborative is integral to CPA's mission which focuses on behavioral change and advocacy for criminal justice reform. CPA's "employment, basic needs, reentry and recovery services work together to reduce recidivism, enhance public safety and inform public policy -- all at a fraction of the cost of prison."

Critical to the Collaborative's success is The Kitchen at Billings Forge. Its Kitchen Culinary Program provides desperately needed paid job training opportunities for people who face the often overwhelming challenges of unemployment, low education levels, and high poverty rates. Also, it seeks to help the significant number of former prisoners who are released to Hartford where they often remain only to face high barriers to employment.  The Kitchen's specific on-the-job training creates real-life experiences for participants interested in both culinary and customer service careers. All training is conducted by experienced professionals working side-by-side with students cooking for and serving patrons in its café, as well as at catered events. As reported on its web site "almost 100 folks so far have started the training and, within eight weeks of completing the program, 75% went directly to jobs with starting wages averaging 119% of minimum wage."

Zest 280 fulfills its partnership responsibilities by employing selected Kitchen Culinary Program graduates directly into what it calls its 10-week hands-on culinary "externship." It's a paid position with the opportunity for the graduates to apply their newly acquired skills outside of a training environment. Externs work under the tutelage of Chef Instructor Felicia Jenkins, a seasoned chef who turned her own second chance years ago into more than two decades of combined experience with The Kitchen and the Pond House Café. Felicia guides the externs through a structured program designed to provide advanced culinary skills, as well as "front-of-the-house" customer service skills critical to professional interaction with the public. After completing their externship, participants receive Zest's assistance in finding permanent job placement through interview coaching, and guidance on resume preparation and job application completion. To date twelve externs have successfully completed the program and nine have been placed in area positions.

Zest 280's bright and open atmosphere.

On the day of my first visit, Chris White was my host and server. His welcoming style, attention to detail, and willingness to explain Zest 280's mission appropriately complemented Zest’s bright and open atmosphere. He holds a permanent position on the Pond House Café's banquet staff, where he was placed after completing his Zest externship. However, this day Chris was handling Zest's hosting duties gladly to fill a last minute staffing need. 

The Culinary Training Collaborative is an excellent example of a partnership determined to clear a pathway back into society for individuals seeking a second chance. The opportunity to work at Zest 280 provides a vital step along the road to gainful employment. It's a step toward restoring hope and dignity to a vulnerable population searching for an opportunity for redemption.  Zest 280 is The Eatery with a Twist where you'll enjoy a delicious healthy lunch with a generous serving of second chances. 

Believe in second chances and eat with Zest! Often!   

Zest 280 is located at 280 Park Road in West Hartford
(Photo from the Community Partners in Action web site)

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr., and one from Community Partners in Action as noted.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Face Reality. Take a Stand. Make a Difference.

Lighting a Candle in Frauenkirsche, Munich, Germany
In Memory of My Father Who Fought in WWII
to Free the World of Nazi Tyranny

January 27, 2018
International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust

Indifference manifests itself in ignorance, silence and acceptance. Turning our backs to the injustices suffered by the marginalized, vulnerable, and victimized in our local communities and around the world is a weak and heartless admission that the status quo is just fine with us when it doesn't affect our lives directly -- at least not yet. And that's a very big "yet" because unchecked turmoil can arrive anytime at our doorsteps regardless of who we think we are.

Let's face reality. The other, the stranger, the not-of-my-kind are real people, not abstractions. Each has a story -- a personal story of a real life, filled the with the kinds of hopes and dreams most of us share in wanting to be accepted, and allowed to live in peace and pursue a purposeful life.

The challenge is to move us from uncaring indifference, or gratuitous caring with no commitment, to making a genuinely positive difference, large or small, however we are able. We must move from ignoring today's reality to facing it head-on by taking a stand, and turn ignorance into awareness and action.

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel fought relentlessly against the force of indifference. It's dangerous. It's deadly. In his December 10, 1986, Nobel Prize acceptance speech Wiesel said,

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe." 

Let's face reality. Let's take a stand. Let's make a difference. Today and always.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photograph by Don Shaw, Jr.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Faith is a Verb

Sign on Bike & Build trailer in the
First Congregational Church of Granby, CT parking lot

“To have faith in something is an inducement not to dormancy but to action. To me, faith is not just a noun but also a verb.” – President Jimmy Carter

I’ve had the good fortune and honor of meeting President Carter a few times including being invited to sit right beside him at lunch on a Habitat for Humanity work site in Haiti, as well as, to attend one of his Sunday school lessons at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia. What has always impressed me is his true interest getting to know a person as an individual -- you, me, whomever he is with. As his friend Rev. Eloy Cruz taught him, people need “to love the person who happens to be in front of  [them] at any particular time.” That is, it's vital to deal in specifics (what we actually will commit to doing) in our relationships with the people around us -- those we know, those who are strangers, those we serve, those who serve us, those who need protection from injustice. It led Carter to a question he continues ask himself to this day, “What shall I do?” It’s a question we should ask ourselves always, individually and as a group.

President Jimmy Carter welcoming the congregation
before teaching his Sunday School lesson
at Maranatha Baptist Church, Plains, GA

To help keep me focused on President Carter’s question, I frequently listen to These Hands a song sung by one of my favorite singers Dave Gunning of Nova Scotia. It’s a song I’d like my church to sing. Here are excerpts from the lyrics by Dave Gunning and George Canyon:

Dave Gunning performing at the
Salmon Brook Music Series in Granby, CT

Some hands have held the world together
Some hands have fought in wars forever
Tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine
Some hands have blessed a million people
Some hands helped free the world from evil
Tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine 
The world could use a hero of the human kind
So tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine
Some hands can stop a life from dying
Some hands comfort a baby crying
So tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine 
The world could use a hero of the human kind
So tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine
I want to sing it from my heart, I want to hear it in the wind 'Til it blows around the world, and comes back again All that we can ask, is for ours to be free To use them when we want, for whatever the need
Some hands give voice to a nation
Some hands wrote "The Times They Are a-Changin'"
So tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine
The world could use a hero of the human kind
So tell me what shall I do with these hands of mine

To fulfill our individual and collective responsibility to build a better world, we must answer the question, What shall we do with these hands of ours? Faith is a verb for all of us.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photos by Don Shaw, Jr.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Creating Hartford Collective Culture at Know Good Market

Know Good Market, October 12, 2017
Photo Credit: Taylor Peracchio

Creating Hartford Collective Culture at Know Good Market
By Drew Kozub, Leah Fuld, and Taylor Peracchio, Trinity College '21

What does it mean to be from Hartford? What defines the city’s identity? In recent years, Hartford is developing a reputation for its amazing food truck vendors – and this is no accident. Jeff Devereux (Trinity College ’12) is among the founders of the social enterprise Breakfast Lunch & Dinner (BL&D), which holds many events with the goal of fostering “collective culture” in Hartford. One central event is Know Good Market, an open-air food truck event held in Hartford’s Parkville neighborhood on the second Thursday of the month from April to November. At Know Good Market, residents come together to enjoy food, drink, and local vendors, while also developing a closer attachment to one another and to the city of Hartford.

Devereux describes collective culture as a state in which “everyone feels a part of a community, regardless of race, income, or background. …[E]veryone can get involved and participate in something together.” In this way, Devereux’s efforts with Know Good Market are about far more than having fun. Community events that build social networks, trust, and a sense of shared goals can contribute to building upon Hartford’s strengths and addressing its challenges.

Hartford’s struggles and where they stand
Since the late 1990s, survey after survey placed Hartford among the poorest of all American cities. As its population shrank, poverty and racial segregation grew.[1] As a result, redevelopment stalled and the city fell into an extended fiscal crisis. Many of the suburbs surrounding Hartford are wealthy, but suburban residents typically come into the city only to work, leaving directly after the workday. Downtown, sidewalks that are packed by day empty out in the evening hours. In part as a result, many recent college graduates leave Hartford for bigger cities.[2]

While some view Hartford’s size, poverty, and diversity as a disadvantage, Jeff Devereux sees these challenges as opportunities. Indeed, he believes that the city’s diverse population and relatively small size are both advantages in launching a business like BL&D. Hartford has the components of a great city, but needs a shared sense of identity – a kind of social glue – to bring these ingredients together.

Know Good Market
Know Good Market fosters collective culture by bringing together people from different parts of Hartford for a shared experience. In only its second year, the market has grown from two food trucks and about a hundred people, to twelve vendors and as many as eight hundred people. When we visited on Thursday, October 12, the market was the perfect place for a diverse range of residents to get food and drinks after work. The market had numerous culinary options, and almost all the vendors had lines reaching from their trucks. The lines were a great opportunity to meet new people and start making connections.

Another site for interaction is the market’s single, long communal table. With few other places to sit and eat, people can’t help but sit together and meet a new neighbor. Proximity to Hog River Brewing Company on Bartholomew Avenue also helps build social connections. With beers in hand,  strangers felt even more comfortable beginning to interact.

Hog River Brewery. Photo Credit: Taylor Peracchio

The Know Good Market is successful in building collective culture in part because the vendors share Jeff Devereux’s goal. Butcher & Red, for instance, produces delicious food by buying products from local farmers and using a non-profit, shared kitchen called Hands on Hartford. Participating in the Market has helped them make connections with other vendors in Connecticut and learn more about what is going on in Hartford. Referring to some of Hartford’s other new businesses that participate in the market, they said: “Hog River Brewery and Story and Soil Coffee show us that Hartford can be a place for young and innovative business owners to thrive.” And through Know Good Market, they see these businesses “all supporting each other.” Moreover, they see the market bringing in residents that generate business and increase a sense of collective culture: “Know Good Market attracts people that don’t usually go into Hartford, and it’s becoming a thing for people to do. It gets them out of their normal social bubble to see that Hartford has some cool stuff going on.” Other vendors concurred. Krystal, from Zipped and Printed, which sells a variety of items featuring bright African textiles, sees Know Good Market as “something really special … bringing the Hartford community together regardless of age or other factors.”

Through face to face interactions at Know Good Market, we get to know our neighbors better, we trust them more, and, ultimately, we’re more able to work together to make change. This collective culture makes the city a more attractive place to live and may contribute to combatting “brain drain” and bringing in more tax revenue.

A Know Good Market Vendor. Photo Credit: Taylor Peracchio

You Can Help Too!
So now you might be asking, what you can do to help? The answer is quite simple: attend Know Good Market! Start following BL&D on social media so that you won’t miss upcoming events. Jeff Devereux plans to continue creating opportunities for the community to connect at Know Good Market and beyond. Going to events hosted by Breakfast Lunch & Dinner is a great opportunity to have fun while becoming a part of the collective culture of our city. This sense of shared identity will become a resource in addressing challenges and capitalizing on opportunities as a greater Hartford community.

Want to know more? Visit Breakfast Lunch & Dinner’s website to learn about their full range of projects and upcoming events, and also find links to social media accounts: http://www.breakfastxlunchxdinner.com

This article is the fourth and final in a series of four student blog posts featured from Trinity Assistant Professor Abigail Williamson's first-year seminar Civic Engagement and Community as described in my blog post Classroom to Community at Trinity.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

[1] Chen, Xiangming and Bacon, Nick. “Confronting Urban Legacy: Rediscovering Hartford and New England's Forgotten Cities.” Hartford: A Global History https://catalyst.library.jhu.edu/catalog/bib_4733740
[2] Whalen, Dana. “Lawmakers Look To Ease The ‘Brain Drain.’” CT News Junkie, 5 Mar. 2017, www.ctnewsjunkie.com/archives/entry/lawmakers_look_to_ease_the_brain_drain/

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Hartford Magnet Schools: A Beneficial Burden

Karen Taylor, Second Vice-Chair, Hartford Public Schools

Hartford Magnet Schools: A Beneficial Burden
By Mitchell Pfaff, Anna Barry, and Jack Ricciuti, Trinity College

Mitchell Pfaff (Trinity College ’21) is from Westwood Massachusetts and has a growing interest in politics. 
Anna Barry (Trinity College ’21) is from Sutton, Massachusetts, and attended Worcester Academy in Worcester, Massachusetts. At Trinity, she is a member of the Equestrian Team and a writer for Trinity's chapter of HerCampus, which is an online magazine for college women.
Jack Ricciuti (Roxbury Latin ’17, Trinity College ’21) is a member of the varsity Trinity men’s lacrosse team and intends to major in political science or economics.

Karen Taylor doesn’t ever shy away from a debate. When she engaged the mayor of Hartford in a heated conversation about problems with the city’s schools, he walked away so impressed that, soon after, he appointed her to the School Board.

In all of her other projects, Karen is equally as focused and energetic about her impact on the Hartford community. Aside from being a Member of the Hartford School Board (and a Trinity College alumna), Karen is the Program Director of the Consortium on Higher Achievement and Success, a board member at the Hartford Public Library, and a supporter of the Capital Region Education Council (CREC). A devoted mother, Karen wants to see a better future for the city that she grew up in.[1]

In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court found that Hartford schools were illegally segregated along racial and economic lines in the Sheff v. O’Neill case. The state was ordered to desegregate schools in the greater Hartford area. The implementation and funding of CREC magnet schools was the State of Connecticut’s response to the landmark decision.[2]

Today, however, the citizens of Hartford remain divided when it comes to the CREC magnet schools. By attending a meeting of the Hartford Board of Education and speaking with Karen Taylor we were able to see these stark divisions. At the Board of Education meeting, we witnessed passionate parents speak out against injustices as they voiced their opinions on ways in which the Hartford school system needs to be improved.

These parents’ comments suggest that some in Hartford believe that magnet schools are nothing but a drain on the local school system. Karen Taylor provides another outlook – she sees magnet schools as a way to bring the greater Hartford area together. By integrating the schools in the greater Hartford area, Karen believes that the people of the region will form connections that allow them to work together to solve shared problems. In other words, magnet schools promote building what Harvard Professor Robert Putnam calls social capital. Social capital refers to the value of social interaction and trusting relationships.[3] If the greater Hartford area is able to increase its levels of social capital, then Hartford will marshal its resources collectively to become a more prosperous city.

Benefits of Magnet Schools in Hartford
           Even two decades following the Sheff ruling, Hartford schools remain not only under-funded but also extremely segregated. While the Hartford region covers 87 square miles, the city itself is only about 18 square miles today, surrounded by more than two dozen suburban towns.[4]  In Hartford, Latinos and African-Americans comprise more than three-quarters of the population. In comparison, surrounding towns are predominantly white, as the table below comparing Hartford, West Hartford, and East Hartford indicates.

Table: Racial and Ethnic Composition of Hartford and Neighboring Cities

East Hartford
West Hartford
Total population
Percent White (non-Hispanic)
Percent Black (non-Hispanic)
Percent Asian (non-Hispanic)
Percent Hispanic
Source: U.S. Census, American Community Survey 5-year estimates, 2011-2014

The CREC magnet schools offer some children in Hartford an escape from the relatively low performing district schools in the city. CREC advertises that, in contrast to the city’s schools, a majority of CREC graduates attend post-secondary education programs.[5] By providing students from lower income areas with the tools to succeed, magnet schools facilitate the lessening of socio-economic inequality. Moreover, by drawing children from across district lines, magnet schools bring together children and parents from different backgrounds, who may have never met otherwise. This creates a form of social capital known as bridging, which describes the growth of relationships between diverse groups of people.[6]

People like Karen Taylor hope that by bringing together people from the many different communities in the greater Hartford area, they can facilitate the creation of a more unified Hartford region. If they are able to break down the strong ethnic and socioeconomic divisions that plague the region, they will form a more cohesive community, perhaps even leading to a more even distribution of wealth.

Challenges with Magnet Schools in Hartford
While there are a great deal of positive effects from magnet schools within Hartford, there are also a few negatives in the way the system currently is implemented. One issue is the potential damage to bonding social capital. Bonding is a form of social capital that is created by forming deeper and more meaningful relationships among people within a specific group.[7] Though magnet schools have been able to successfully break down divisions along ethnic and economic lines and across towns in greater Hartford, they have also divided neighbors within Hartford. This division is the result of the lottery system used to determine which children can go to a magnet school. To ensure integration, placement through the lottery system factors in a student’s race or ethnicity. Magnet schools admit no more than 75% students that are Black and Latino, while Whites and Asians, referred to as “reduced isolation” students, must make up the remaining 25% of each school.[8]

         This 75-25 ratio in magnet schools was mandated as a way to desegregate schools. Meanwhile, segregation persists because many Blacks and Latinos within Hartford are eager to enroll in these schools, but Whites and Asians who primarily live in the suburbs have been less interested. Blacks and Latinos are forced to wait in line for a seat, unable to enroll until more reduced isolation students decide to join them. Currently half of Hartford’s youth are in CREC schools, but some observers suggest that interest from White and Asian students may have “maxed out.”[9] Therefore, those Black and Latino students who want a seat, but are unable to get one, are forced to go to segregated Hartford public schools.

As a result of these pressures, Karen Taylor has experienced Hartford parents complaining that the system is rigged if their child is not picked by the lottery. This anger can divide neighbors along the lines of those who attend magnet schools and those who attend regular public schools.

Hartford’s Road to Recovery
Despite these challenges, Karen Taylor sees magnet schools as an effective long-term solution to undo extreme segregation and socioeconomic disparity in greater Hartford. Magnet schools do have short-term consequences that can lead to more localized divisions among neighbors and anger from those who are unable to benefit from the lottery system. These smaller fractures within neighborhoods will slowly be healed as the greater Hartford area becomes more unified and equal. Through the early stages of the unification of Hartford, it will be rough and divisive. Having only begun to receive attention and funding as recently as 2003, the CREC schools are very much in their infancy.[10] The process of undoing decades of segregation is a long and grueling one. While the people of Hartford will continue to try to repair bonding social capital, the responsibility for mending divides is not theirs alone. Those who live in the suburbs of Hartford should work to benefit the greater Hartford area as a whole by sending their kids to magnet schools. When more suburban students attend CREC magnet schools, it allows more children from Hartford to attend those same magnet schools.

As Karen Taylor remarked, “the future is integrated.” All parts of the region will need to come together, especially the suburbs, in order for the Hartford region to create opportunities for the next generation that allow it to achieve its full potential.

This article is the third in a series of four student blog posts featured from Trinity Assistant Professor Abigail Williamson's first-year seminar Civic Engagement and Community as described in my blog post Classroom to Community at Trinity.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photo of Karen Taylor from the Hartford Public Schools' website

[1] Karen T. Taylor, “40 Under Forty 2017” Hartford Business.com, (July 14, 2017) http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/article/20170714/PRINTEDITION/307129855
[2] NAACP. "NAACP Legal Defense Fund : Defend, Educate, Empower." Sheff v. O'Neill | NAACP LDF. 2014. Accessed December 10, 2017. http://www.naacpldf.org/case-issue/sheff-v-oneill.
[3] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
[4] Chen, Xiangming, and Nick Bacon. Confronting urban legacy: rediscovering Hartford and New England’s forgotten cities. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.
[5] CREC Foundation. "Open Choice Registration." CREC. 2017. Accessed November 05, 2017.
[6] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
[7] Robert Putnam, Bowling Alone (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000).
[8] Torre, Vanessa de la, and Matthew Kauffman. “As Sheff V. O'Neill Case Persists, Frustrations Grow Over Minority Students Left Out Of Magnet Schools.” Courant Community, Hartford Courant, 23 Sept. 2017, www.courant.com/community/hartford/hc-hartford-sheff-case-discrimination-claim-20170912-story.html.
[9] Joffe-Walt, Chana. WBEZ. 2015, August 7. 563: The Problem We All Live With- Part Two. This American Life. https://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/563/the-problem-we-all-live-with-part-two?act=1 
[10] Kennedy, Tim. "Hartford: Integrating Schools in a Segregated Place." Teach For America. June 29, 2016. Accessed November 20, 2017. https://www.teachforamerica.org/one-day-magazine/hartford-integrating-schools-segregated-place.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Illuminating Stronger Ties at Hartford's Night Fall

Night Fall event in Hartford with Connecticut's Capitol in in the background, October 7, 2017

Illuminating Stronger Ties at Hartford's Night Fall
By Preet Patel, Trinity College

Preet Patel (Trinity College ’21) is an aspiring economics major from Belchertown Massachusetts who is looking forward to getting more involved in Hartford in the coming years. During his first semester Preet volunteered at a Hartford Habitat for Humanity build with the Trinity Campus Habitat Chapter.

In the shadow of the illuminated state capitol building, hundreds of people sat mesmerized by a powerful show. Joyful laughter, sparkling smiles, and camera flashes dotted the magical landscape of Bushnell Park. Standing on stage and looking out onto people of many cultures and ethnicities, we raised and then lowered our lanterns, signifying the importance of a connected community rising through problems, and lowering barriers. Although it takes place only one night a year, Night Fall not only brings the community together, but serves as an epicenter for crossing borders, socially, economically, and ethnically, resulting in a region with greater social connectedness.

Night Fall and Social Capital
            Night Fall is a yearly community event held on the first Saturday in October, celebrating the rich culture, diversity and arts of Hartford through a majestic puppet performance. The show is the creative concept of lead artist, Anne Cubberly. The puppets and art featured in the show are created in conjunction with local artists and creative people of Hartford. Many of the performers and professionals in the show call Hartford home. Hartford's rich cultural communities are emphasized throughout the event. Before the show, the tempting aroma given off by the line of food trucks draws large crowds of people anxiously waiting for a delicious treat. Adults of different races, and cultures engage with one another, sparking fruitful conversations and interactions. 

People waiting in line at the food trucks at Night Fall

Despite the harmony at Nightfall, Hartford has seen a decline in social capital in recent years, with important consequences. Social capital as defined by Robert Putnam, is the social interactions, networks, and trust among community members that allow for collective action.[1] Hartford through a series of events such as deindustrialization, suburbanization, and homogeneous communities, has experienced barriers to collective action between the city and the municipalities beyond the urban core.

Declining Social Capital in Hartford
            Hartford is an often misunderstood city that has experienced extraordinary transformations throughout its history.[2] Today Hartford is fragmented both jurisdictionally and socially, contributing to weaker social ties between community members. There is not a clear chain of events to track Hartford’s decline in social ties, but there are some factors that illuminate the problem. One factor that led to the decline of Hartford was the city’s dependence on stable manufacturing, industrial, and insurance jobs. When those industries began merging with larger corporations, moving headquarters, or shutting down, the problems for Hartford really began.[3] The movement of high skilled workers out of Hartford created among the most racially and socioeconomically polarized regions in America. In part as a result, Hartford’s central city has among the slowest growing economies in the United States. Meanwhile greater Hartford actually ranks as among the wealthiest regions in the world.[4] The polarization between the suburbs and the city is also clear along racial and ethnic lines. The movement of people out of the city and into suburbs created a separation of people, ideas, and cultures, increasing the ever present divide.

The suburbanization of Hartford caused a profound ripple effect that led to the erosion of social capital between the city and the surrounding towns. Hartford has a disadvantage in that it has a fixed boundary, with no ability to expand. When the industrial jobs left, many high skilled workers left to the surrounding areas, because there was little growth within the city.[5] When largely white people moved to the suburbs, they created homogeneous communities of politics, cultures, and ideals. The separation between the suburbs and the city is toxic for bridging social capital which, according to Putnam, allows people and communities to get ahead in life.[6] The polarized communities across municipal boundaries prevent people from making social connections that offer potential for economic growth.

A large crowd gathered near the stage at Night Fall

Without bridging social capital, communities cannot benefit from sharing skills, and knowledge. Events like Night Fall are crucial, because they promote social connection of people across different town lines, ethnicities, and cultures, encouraging stronger social networks to address Hartford’s challenges and opportunities in the future.

Night Fall Strengthens Social Capital
Events like Night Fall work towards bridging social capital between the city and the surrounding towns in several ways. The food trucks with dozens of people in line force different people to interact with one another. The performers in the show are supported and are able to display their talents to the community. An audience member from West Hartford reinforced that she values Night Fall because it “increases social interaction between demographic groups.” This shared sense of culture brings the whole community together. Not only does this allow people from the suburbs to interact with people from Hartford, but it also bridges ethnic groups in Hartford. Night Fall allows these divided groups to come together and interact with one another, promoting unity and collective action among the people of Hartford and with people of greater Hartford.

One of most crucial ways Night Fall increases social capital is its emphasis and work within the community. In the time leading up to Night Fall, the organization hosts artistic workshops throughout the city. In the workshops, the community is connected to the show through the creation of lanterns.[7] Constructing the lanterns increases social capital within the community because it fosters a sense of cultural unity. The people of Hartford have a chance to showcase their culture, art, and diversity, encouraging connection to one another.

Night Fall’s ability to promote diversity in the community makes it powerful tool in creating stronger social capital and consequently a tighter sense of community.[8] In an interview with the Hartford Courant, LB Munoz, a chairwoman for Night Fall, stated: “every year we're trying to relate everything back to the neighborhood we're in. Downtown is incredibly diverse, home to people who have come from afar.”[9] Night Fall celebrates Hartford’s diversity, and acknowledges that the city’s diversity is an asset that can propel the city past its barriers.

View overlooking the stage at Night Fall

Transforming Hartford Through the Power of Collective Action
            It is clear that the people of Hartford and its surrounding suburbs have the power to transform the city. Residents in the surrounding suburbs should attend events like Night Fall, and engage with and invest in the sleeping gem that Hartford truly is. Events like Night Fall prove that interactions across barriers are possible and fruitful. If there are more social interactions between the suburbs and the city then, according to Putnam, the region will be better equipped to meet any challenge.[10] Just as I had the opportunity to lift the lantern from Night Fall’s stage, Hartford and the surrounding towns have the opportunity to illuminate a whole new generation in greater Hartford through collective regional action.

This article is the second in a series of four student blog posts featured from Trinity Assistant Professor Abigail Williamson's first-year student seminar Civic Engagement and Community as described in my blog post Classroom to Community at Trinity.

Don Shaw, Jr.
Writer and Editor

Photos by Preet Patel

[1] Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.)
[2] Chen, Xiangming, and Nick Bacon. Confronting urban legacy: rediscovering Hartford and New Englands forgotten cities. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.)
[3] Walsh Andrew, “Hartford: A Glocal History,” Confronting urban legacy: rediscovering Hartford and New Englands forgotten cities. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.)
[4] Chen, Xiangming, and Nick Bacon. Confronting urban legacy: rediscovering Hartford and New Englands forgotten cities. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.)
[5]  Walsh Andrew, “Hartford: A Glocal History,” Confronting urban legacy: rediscovering Hartford and New Englands forgotten cities. (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2015.)
[6]  Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.)
[7] "Night Fall." Night Fall Hartford. (Accessed November 03, 2017.)

[8]  "Night Fall." Night Fall Hartford. (Accessed November 03, 2017.)
[9] Dunne, Susan. "Autumn Celebration Night Fall Moves To Bushnell Park." Courant.com. October 02, 2017. (Accessed November 03, 2017.)

[10] Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone. (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001.)