By Mary Ellen Godin Record-Journal staff
MERIDEN — U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, wasted no time taking the lessons learned over the weekend in Selma, Alabama, back home to stimulate ideas for improved democracy and equal opportunity.
Esty marched with 100 members of Congress, President Barack Obama, civil rights leaders and thousands of others for the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march known as “Bloody Sunday.” She called the experience “extraordinary.”
“The work that needs to be done is 100 years in the making,” Esty said, quoting Lewis. “When people don’t vote in local elections, the people who get elected are responding to who voted.”
Interfaith clergy members came to the library to describe for Esty the challenges facing the state’s most vulnerable citizens. One pastor arrived from Texas, another came from North Carolina.
The lack of support and better opportunities for young people as well as homelessness topped the list of clergy concerns, as speakers described young people in their congregations needing jobs, after-school and evening programs and training in conflict resolution.
Esty plans to take the suggestions and ideas back to Congress for policy discussions about change.
Representatives from Waterbury described a bleak picture for poor residents and their churches.
“There are no jobs and I have nowhere to send them for support,” said the Rev. Pam Hughes, pastor of Faith Generation Ministries in Waterbury. “The youth summer programs have been cut dramatically, they’re going to get into trouble.”
The pastor from Texas, the Rev. John Morris Jr. said the biggest challenge he sees in New Britain is apathy and homelessness.
“In the bygone days, people were coming here to get jobs,” he said. “When all that left, there was nothing to replace it. There is a higher percentage of children living in poverty.”
Clergy members from Southbury told Esty their churches see drug problems destroy families.
“The impact of drug abuse means families are being torn apart,” said the Rev. Shannon Wall. “And social services for drug abusers are being centralized and moving further away.”
Clergy members suggest that some solutions could involve creating jobs for youth mentors, as well as using seniors more often in vacant schools during the summer months.
Esty reminded the group that the state has the largest achievement gap among its children in the United States and lost learning in the summer is wasting potential. It also has large employers who could do a better job investing in skill-training in the early years.
“What U.S. companies are looking for is the best,” she said. “We need to energize the business community to be part of the solution.”
But she also reminded them that because of Connecticut’s size it can implement programs and services faster to determine what works and what doesn’t.
The Rev. Gervais Barger, pastor of the Peace Missionary Ministries, also teaches technology education at Platt High School in Meriden.
“We’re behind in training,” Barger said. “With young people it starts in the family. You have to put an idea in a kid’s head at one, two, three. At the high school level, the kids don’t see the end of the road, and because they don’t see the end they cannot see what they should be walking toward.”
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