By Shaunna Cullen
In April, the YWCA Stand Against Racism event brought much needed attention and ideas to the New Britain community about how to heal trauma caused by urban renewal.
Dr. Sylvia Jalil Gutierrez, a professor of anthropology at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), gave a brief history of downtown New Britain prior to the Route 72 and Route 9 highways being built through the city around 1970. With the building of a more connected highway system, important things were sacrificed such as housing and small businesses in the impacted neighborhoods having a particularly negative impact on people of color.
Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, a professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical social medical sciences at The New School and author of Urban Alchemy: Restoring Joy in America's Sorted-Out Cities, connected urban revitalization efforts to health issues in populations that are most affected by these decisions, poor populations, and people of color. She gave examples of trauma-informed urban planning that uplifted communities after they had been divided by these kinds of historical decisions. Dr. Fullilove used an example of her own work on High Bridge Park, an old aqueduct spanning the Harlem River that connects Manhattan to the Bronx and how opening this connection transformed a park that was once known as a lethally dangerous place.
“The examples of reconnecting communities that Dr. Fullilove gave in her presentation were very relevant to the work going on in our community today,” said Robin Sharp, Executive Director of YWCA New Britain. “Literally building bridges and walkways to reconnect our neighborhoods - shows us we are definitely on the right track!”
After the opening presentations a smaller workshop led by Dr. Fullilove with community leaders including members of The Coalition for New Britain’s Youth, administrators and teachers from the school system, and directors of nonprofit agencies. Dr. Fullilove answered questions and gave advice on how to start the overwhelming task of tackling the issues the people of the city are facing. She suggested starting very simply and very visually – again citing an example from her own work – and using a large canvas like a king-size bedsheet to map out the conditions in the city. She explained that when you gather together with people in the community to do this activity, you will see where issues overlap and where your work can have a great impact. She also stressed the importance of celebrating the small successes along the way.
“We were pleased to partner with so many others in the community to bring Dr. Thompson Fullilove to New Britain. Her work intersecting 20th century urban renewal policies and trauma is very relevant to our community. Understanding their implication is key to addressing community disparities created as a result,” said Associate Director of YWCA New Britain, Tracey Madden-Hennessey.
Immediately following the event, Tracey went out to buy a bedsheet for the YWCA and our partners to get started.
The event ended with a student panel discussion facilitated by Dr. Fullilove. CCSU students from all corners of the state, and varying life experiences, discussed issues that urban renewal poses for residents in the context of relevant topics, including transportation, diversity, access to opportunity and employment, and gentrification.
Stand Against Racism is a signature campaign of the YWCA to build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about the negative impact of institutional and structural racism in our communities. This campaign is one part of our larger strategy to fulfill our mission of eliminating racism.
Thank you to all of our community partners for making this event possible: The Community Foundation of Greater New Britain, the William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, The Coalition for New Britain’s Youth, and Central Connecticut State University.