Teens Honored with 2023 Gender & Racial Justice Scholarships at YWCA Greenwich ‘Stand Against Racism’ Event

Friday was the YWCA Greenwich’s annual Stand against Racism event.

At town hall YWCA Greenwich President and CEO Mary Lee Kiernan said according to ADL and FBI statistics on criminal hate crimes, with the most recent full year of data being 2021, hate crimes rose to the highest recorded level in the US in more than two decades – with almost 11,000 instances across the country.

Kiernan noted the biggest percentage are anti-Black hate crimes, but there has also been a steep increase in Antisemitic hate crimes.

High school honorees, left to right: Josie Orr, Katrina Cheng-Slater, Molly Kriskey, Jamilah Roselin, Anakhu Heru, Clipper Singsen, and Jordyn Sesler. April 28, 2023
Group photo during the Stand Against Racism event. April 28, 2023

First Selectman Fred Camillo talked about standing up against racism.

“I want to acknowledge the men and women who protect us in our fire and police departments, and remind people that they too are targets of bigotry and hate,” he said.

Racism and Homelessness

Camillo’s proclamation noted that Black and African-Americans make up just 11% of Connecticut’s population but represent 37% of the state’s homeless population. 

And each year in CT there are typically more than 500 domestic violence survivors who are homeless.

Ms Kiernan talked about institutional and systemic racism in the US, such as redlining in housing and slavery – which she described as complex systems of racism and oppression that reverberate today, resulting in generations of disparate outcomes in education, healthcare, housing and employment.

“The examples continue,” she said. “We’ve long known about the stark racial disparities in maternal and infant health in this country, and these disparities for women of color and their young children persist despite advancements in medical care and insurance.”

She explained that disparities extend to housing and homelessness.

“There is a profound intersection between homelessness and systems in our society such as the incarceration system, housing, healthcare and education, among others,” Kiernan continued.

“Homelessness also relates to efforts to marginalize particular groups who have long suffered discrimination such as the forced removal of Black and brown communities from their historic locations or the abandonment of LGBTQ+ youth by their families due to their identity.”

Bobbi Riddick, Community Impact and Equity Program Manager at the CT Coalition to End Homelessness, “CCEH,” talked about her coalition’s efforts to end homelessness in Connecticut. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Bobbi Riddick from CCEH said becoming homeless and finding a new home was the crisis of a lifetime.

The mission of CCEH is to prevent and end homelessness in the state regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation.

“Homelessness in Connecticut is up 39% and it does not effect everyone equally. African-Americans represent 11% of our state’s population, yet 36% of the homelessness population,” she said. “Hispanics, Latinos and Latinas represent 11% of the state’s population but represent 28% of the state’s homeless population. White/Caucasions represent 66% of the state’s population, but just 48% of the homeless population.”

Riddick said the data indicated that compared to white populations, BIPOC and non-white populations are disproportionately represented in the homeless response system.

“They also historically make less per hour than the average white employee.

According to the Economic Policy Institute, Black workers earn less than 25% per hour than the average white employee.

In Greenwich, according to the CT Partnership for Strong Communities, to afford housing in Greenwich you would need to earn at least $42.88 per hour. On an annual basis that equates to approximately $85,000 a year.

Meanwhile 18% of Greenwich households earn less than $50K per year, while 12.5% earn less than $35,000 per year.

“Let’s be honest, $85,000 a year is not enough to afford housing in Fairfield County, let alone in Greenwich,” Riddick said. “It’s hard to believe that in 2023 racial, gender and LGBTQAI+ barriers still exist and prevent people from having a safe, secure and affordable home.”

Riddick said CCEH adopts a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) approach and offers training in the community, all with the goal of recognizing racial disparities and helping individuals and families experiencing homelessness.

“I encouraged you to implement DEI in your place of work and your municipal and city hall meetings,” Riddick said. “I encourage you to also create a local equity and inclusion task group that can also work to address DEI.”

“I encourage you to increase public awareness and efforts to end homelessness by becoming a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community and enroll in a DEI, training such as the YWCA’s Towards Justice training, and say yes to building housing for all incomes.”

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones. April 28, 2023

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones presented the 2023 Gender and Racial Justice Scholarships to seven teens who have shown outstanding commitment and accomplishment in moving their schools toward a more inclusive and anti-racist future.

Anakhu Heru, a senior at Greenwich Academy, has used dance to advance social justice by weaving uplifting and poignant messages into her choreography while also celebrating her identity.  Previous dance performances have been on the Black Lives Matter movement and empowering women, which were layered with themes of  identity, resilience, strength, confidence and hopefulness as well as sorrow and pain.

Off the stage Anakhu is a leader and co-president of a student led club called DOPE, which celebrates the school’s diversity and leads discussions on topics of identity and allyship.

Anakhu Heru with Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Jamilah Roselin, a junior at Greenwich Academy, has participated two years in the Institute for Public Purpose, a co-curricular learning initiative where students complete an 8-week micro-course before traveling to Washington, DC for a series of meetings and workshops. With this opportunity Jamilah explored the meaning of democracy and citizenship.

Also, while at GA, she has taken an honors civil rights course analyzing and better understanding Dr. King’s philosophy. She is vice president of the Black Student Union where she has played a key role planning activities celebrating Black History Month.

“It is clear that Jamilah is committed to improving the community around her and advancing gender and racial justice,” Jones said.

Dr. Toni Jones with Jamilah Roselin. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager 
Josie Orr, Molly Kriskey, Katrina Cheng-Slater from Sacred Heart Greenwich with Dr. Toni Jones April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

During the pandemic, Molly Kriskey, Josie Orr, Katrina Cheng-Slater, all seniors at Sacred Heart Greenwich, participated in and helped lead several online conferences with other schools, some of which considered the role of women and the ways society marginalizes individuals. Each has taken a different angle at understanding this problem.

“Josie has looked at it through the lens of patriarchal cultures, exploring the ways that social media can create stereotypes of women,” Jones said. “Katrina has explored the role of media in representation of the Asian population including the Model Minority Myth. Molly has developed workshops and discussions around LGBTQ rights.”

Molly, Josie and Katrina also lead the Diversity Club and its programming at Sacred Heart Greenwich, which has included lunch conversations on topics around gender, race, justice and equity. They also introduced a quarterly evening workshop allowing students to dive in more profoundly on issues of race and culture.

Clipper Singsen with Dr. Toni Jones as Mary Lee Kiernan looks on. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Clipper Singsen from GCDS Clipper has stood up for their expressing beliefs, especially around trans visibility and LGBTQ rights. 

“Their tireless enthusiasm and dedication are contagious to those around them,” Dr. Jones said. “In the classroom, Clipper consistently leads discussions that put a spotlight on marginalized ideas and individuals. Their unique ability to distill complex social ideas and make them accessible to their classmates have opened the eyes of many who were previously unaware of these issues.”

Clipper organized two trans visibility days at GCDS and assisted with organizing the day of silence and worked with the GLO (Gay/Lesbian or Whatever Club) to organize other community events.

Jordyn Sesler after receiving a 2023 Gender and Racial Justice Scholarship. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager

Jordyn Sesler from GCDS was recognized for her work on addressing gender-based violence and building inclusive communities. She successfully advocated for a dress code change in the upper school where there was language about students’ dress not being a distraction. Jordyn pointed out that the dress code had contributed to body shaming.

Jordyn has also been a leader in initiatives around gender based violence, working with faculty and students to structure discussions and curricula around sexual harassment and assault. Further she has served as a mentor for students of color, leading the coordination of clubs centered on equity and inclusion.

Greenwich Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones presents Jamilah Roselin with a 2023 Gender and Racial Justice Scholarship. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager
Ruth Sherman and Lily Olsen at the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism event at town hall. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager
State Rep Rachel Khanna (D-149), Clipper Singsen  and Democratic Selectperson Janet Stone McGuigan at the YWCA’s Stand Against Racism event. April 28, 2023 Photo: Leslie Yager