Middlesex United Way: hoping city will move toward justice, equity for all

This week’s Middlesex United Way guest column is taking the opportunity to use our platform in future weeks to help elevate the voices of those in the Black community. This week features a guest column written by Middletown resident, Patricia A. Alston. We want to do our part to create an environment where everyone is heard and seen. — President and CEO Kevin Wilhelm.

MIDDLETOWN — I have lived in Middletown for 10 years. I grew up in Waterbury, and have lived in Atlanta, Ga,, New York City, and Saddle Brook, N.J., following a career in human resources and affirmative action/equal employment opportunity. I am now a Realtor, assisting families in realizing their dream of home ownership.

In Waterbury, I remember being called the “n-word” only once to my face, by a 9-year-old boy. We were neighbors, and both 9, so what did I do? I stuck my tongue out at him. I didn’t really know exactly what it meant, but I knew that it was bad.

My undergraduate education was at Western Connecticut State University in Danbury. There were only a few Black students living on and off campus. During my freshman year, I lived off campus in a dormitory called Beaverbrook Hall.

It was a small dorm, a short distance from campus. There were a number of girls at the dorm who were from Peekskill, N.Y. They told us that they had never seen a Black person before.

We (the Black students) were asked if the white students could come and look in our rooms. Growing up, they were told that black people slept in trees, so they wanted to get a firsthand look! Although we were upset with this assertion, we let them visit and learn that we slept in beds like everyone else.

For a long time, I thought that the answer to racism was education, that all white racists needed was to socialize with, become educated, and learn that Black people were not animals, and should be treated equally and with respect.

Why do white people hate us? Why are we compared to and treated like animals? Why don’t our lives matter? It did not make sense to me then, and continues to mystify me now.

I worked as the affirmative action officer/equal employment opportunity specialist for the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice headquartered in Rocky Hill. The DOC is responsible for the investigation and prosecution of all criminal matters in the state of Connecticut.

The chief state’s attorney is the administrative head of the division, and influences policies and laws related to criminal justice. Part of my job was to educate the state’s attorneys concerning their duties and responsibilities within the agency’s affirmative action plan.

When I worked as director of human resources at a hotel in New Jersey, a white man accompanied by hotel security walked up to me in the lobby. He wrongly accused me of [robbing] him and taking his wallet.

I happened to be standing in the lobby talking to the general manager and Rosa Parks (yes, the Rosa Parks) You cannot begin to believe how embarrassed and humiliated I was.

For obvious reasons, I am afraid of the police. When I first moved to Middletown, I continued my membership in a church in Waterbury. On my way to choir rehearsal on I-84 one Saturday morning, I was pulled over by the state police. I was not speeding, was obeying the rules of the road, why am I being pulled over?

I was petrified as I sat in my car waiting. As it turned out, this white officer detained me without cause, and never told me why he pulled me over. I was very upset when I arrived at rehearsal, and vowed to report this officer. I was advised against it.

I have a very strong desire to better my community. I have built my career and personal life fighting discriminatory practices, and supporting justice and equity. I have been the executive director of an after-school tutorial program, here in Middletown.

I am a member of the Democratic Town Committee. I have run for office. I am the first vice president of the Middlesex County NAACP, the former scholarship committee chair of the CT Association of Diversity and Equity Professionals, member of the NAACP Education Committee, chair of the scholarship ministry at my church, and member of the Middletown Affirmative Action Monitoring Committee.

When I watched the funeral of George Floyd in Minneapolis, I was moved, and am now cautiously optimistic. Can things really change? Will Middletown continue to move toward justice and equity for all? Will Middletown do the right thing?