As young people lit candles and read obituary poetry, elders added: don’t forget to love yourselves—and register to vote.
That call went to some 50 people, both white and black, young and old, who turned out at the auditorium of the Lincoln-Bassett School in Newhallville Monday night. The event was organized by Latoya Agnew, the 19-year-old founder of the Newhallville Rising Dream Team, an offshoot of the activist group New Elm City Dream, as part of the city’s Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
Beside a poinsettia, there were small memorial candles neatly arrayed on the stage in front. There were also voter registration forms in the lobby and other team members to help sign up new voters.
That was a symbol of how this event came to be—a collaboration between Agnew and her neighborhood’s new alderwoman.
The rally was equal parts a memorial for the 34 people killed in New Haven in 2012 and a free-wheeling teach-in and pep rally for the African-American community in New Haven. Its aim: for the living to take charge of their lives and solve the chronic problems in their community.
Agnew said the message was simply: “Stop the violence, get involved.”
Latoya Agnew and her mentor, newly elected Newhallville Alderwoman Delphine Clyburn, worked together on the vigil. Clyburn and other labor-backed aldermen saw their elections last fall as only the first step toward organizing their neighborhoods into new, permanent independent bases of grassroots power. (Read about that here.) Eighteen union-supported candidates who swept into office in the November elections and were sworn in three weeks ago.
Clyburn said that she and Agnew met at a rally for mayoral candidate Jeffrey Kerekes. Agnew then worked on Clyburn’s own campaign that upset City Hall-backed incumbent Charles Blango.
After her election, Clyburn set to work organizing a committee to advance community activism. She dubbed the result “Newhallville rising.”
“We’re starting to invest in ourselves to solve problems,” she said.
Clyburn identified Latoya Agnew as a potential organizer to concentrate on younger people in Newhallville.
“I started to help her meet” other organizations where young people were already engaged, Clyburn said just before Monday’s program began. “We networked,” she said.
The first of those was the New Elm City Dream, a group operating out of the People’s Center on Howe Street with a focus on advocating for more jobs for young people as a way to diminish violence. In short order, Agnew formed the Newhallville offshoot, the Newhallville Rising Dream Team, which organized Tuesday’s MLK event.
It did not happen overnight. Agnew took a page from Clyburn’s organizing book. “We knocked on doors she said.” And then knocked on more doors.
The Newhallville Rising Dream Team now meets every Monday and Wednesday, every week, at the police substation on Winchester Avenue. Agnew said she has about 14 people involved thus far.
Their ages range from 8 to 26. The older ones mentor the younger ones, Agnew said. Just as Clyburn has mentored Agnew.
When it was time for Latoya to make her remarks at the Tuesday memorial, she broke into tears recalling how a spray of bullets last summer injured her cousin and changed his life, as well as Latoya’s.
As she struggled, voices from the audience calling “Go, ‘Toya, go, ‘Toya” helped her regain her composure.
After she spoke, Hillhouse High School Principal Kermit Carolina delivered a stem-winder about not only the importance of staying in school but also about African-Americans’ need to look inward as a people and love themselves more. Or rather reduce the self-hatred that he traced a root contributor to the epidemic of black-on-black crime in New Haven.
Then he praised Latoya and the Newhallville Rising Dream Team
Register As Well
Meanwhile in the lobby, Dream Team member Simplice Iradukunda helped another aldermanic upstart victor, Dixwell’s Jeanette Morrison, to register people to vote as they entered the event.
A native of the African country of Burundi who has lived in the U.S. for seven years, Iradukunda was recruited to join the Newhallville Dream Time by Latoya Agnew. Her dad is associated with Yale University and has a house in New Haven. She goes to school in Maine. She hopes soon to apply for citizenship so she can vote.
Morrison said she had registered five people earlier in the day at an MLK event at the Wexler-Grant School that attracted hundreds of people. There Morrison and Newhallville Alderwomen Clyburn and Brenda Foskey-Cyrus also conducted a workshop on the basics of city politics in New Haven; Morrison reported that 20 people attended.
On her way to Latoya Agnew’s event, she reported that she got to talking to someone at Popeye’s Chicken on Whalley, and registered him.
Behind her was a map of New Haven with wards 20, 21, and 22 (Dixwell and Newhallville) circled in lime-colored marker. “You’ll be seeing lots of working together” in these wards, Morrison said.
“It’s all connected. If we vote based on the needs of the people, we’re going to affect self-love. These young people are on the move,” Morrison said.
Clyburn said that among her next plans is to find another Latoya Agnew to tap the energy and activism of Newhallville’s elderly.