SHEHADI: Sam Romeo Denies the Obvious When it Comes to Race In Greenwich

Submitted by Al Shehadi

Sam Romeo’s comments to the state legislature last week that there’s no racism in Greenwich made my jaw drop. “I don’t believe there’s racism in Greenwich. I’ve lived here all my life – 77 years,” Romeo said.

Sam, let’s get real. Greenwich has a race problem. You don’t have to look that hard.

Let’s start with the white’s-only membership at some of Greenwich’s esteemed private clubs. That ended decades ago, right? Not quite. It was just a few years ago that Greenwich resident and now Governor Ned Lamont quietly quit his exclusive backcountry club because he didn’t think the club’s white’s only policy would….um… good for his statewide political fortunes.

Remember when Millie Bonilla and Sheila Foster, Greenwich residents and wives of well know New York Mets baseball players, were stopped in 2005 along with several other black women on their way to an exercise class at Tod’s Point? That incident got even more…. awkward, when emails from Town staff subsequently came to light advising the (white) exercise class trainer to cut down the number of black people in his classes or start his classes earlier so town employees wouldn’t notice……

How about Sam Bridge’s Reindeer festival a few years ago? Remember the child’s “safari” train with multiple images of Africans – the black man with big red lips, a loin cloth and a bone in his hair running scared from a lion? Or the similarly adorned black man sound asleep next to his spear and mask while the savvy white explorer quietly sneaks out of the pot of boiling water he’s been put in. Those images aren’t simply clueless. They’re offensive.

I live in Byram. There are two historic cemeteries on Dock Street, one white, one black. The white cemetery at the top of the hill has a prominent sign describing its history, a literature box near the entrance and American flags adorning multiple graves. Last December the newly organized local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution had a lovely wreath-laying ceremony attended by local elected officials, including our First Selectman. The black cemetery at the bottom of the hill? Still got a driveway running through it. Still waiting for the commemorative plaque the Board of Selectman voted to install in 2018. Oh….and…that lovely wreath-laying ceremony last December? No one, DAR member or elected official, took the short walk down Dock Street to the black cemetery to pay similar tribute to the residents buried there.

America has a race problem. Greenwich is part of America. Greenwich only loses credibility when Town officials like Sam Romeo deny the obvious. I’m a white man who grew up in Greenwich and has lived here most of my 61 years. To me, it’s a simple matter of honesty to admit Greenwich has a race problem. And it’s an ever more simple reality, that until we can admit Greenwich has a race problem, were not going to be able to start taking the hard but necessary steps to address it. Just like the rest of America.

Al Shehadi