Meet More of the Black Leaders Making a Difference in Fairfield County
Feb 11, 2022
Black History Month offers a chance to take action and make a difference by supporting Black Leaders. One way to capture this opportunity is to learn about and contribute to their organizations on Fairfield County’s Giving Day.
Fairfield County’s Giving Day, happening on February 24, 2022, is a 24-hour virtual fundraising drive that both helps local nonprofits raise funds and awareness, and makes it easy for people to “give where they live.”
To explore participating nonprofits, visit FCGives.org. We also invite you to meet some of the inspiring leaders and organizations that are improving life in Fairfield County by reading some of their submissions, below.
Featured Photo, Top: the Norwalk International Cultural Exchange (NICE) team promotes awareness of diversity through arts and culture to foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of what each group brings to our community.
Novelette Peterkin, CEO
Carver Foundation of Norwalk
Since joining Carver Foundation of Norwalk in 2004, Novelette Peterkin has led the transformation of Carver’s reach and impact. It has grown from a vibrant community center to a citywide network of before- and after-school and summer programs that deliver equitable and holistic support to more than 2,300 students. Carver is working closely with school and community leaders to foster environments that support the whole student in all K-12 Norwalk Public Schools, Side by Side Charter School, and the Classical Studies Magnet Academy (in Bridgeport).
Founded by Black parents, clergy, and other community volunteers in 1938 – and named after George Washington Carver, who was still alive at the time – the Carver Foundation of Norwalk takes Black History Month passionately. Its mission is “to close opportunity gaps for all children and to ensure they graduate high school on time and are ready for college and careers.”
Carver programming aligns with school curricula, takes place within each student’s respective school, and is led by daytime certified teachers. Recreational, wellness and cultural components enhance a variety of skills for children.
Fairfield County’s Giving Day will help the organization complete the renovation of the Carver Community Center; and support new initiatives like full-time Future Readiness Coordinators at Norwalk’s two high schools to serve as counselors to Carver students and as supportive liaisons to Carver alumni. Carver alumni are ambitious critical thinkers making their mark in the fields of law, government, medicine, finance, entertainment, professional sports, technology, education, entrepreneurship, and the creative arts.
Angelo Saint-Jean, Racial Equity & Inclusion Committee Chair
Family Centers, Greenwich CT
Here at Family Centers, our mission is empowering children, adults, families and communities to realize their full potential.
I’m proud to be a Black leader of our DEI efforts here at Family Centers. We started our Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee back in 2020, established Juneteenth as an agency-wide holiday before it was established as a national holiday, and had 100% participation from staff who participated in our DEI focus groups. We’ve also made our tuition assistance program more equitable for our employees, and made Language Link more accessible to employees and clients.
We’re excited that all the money raised through Fairfield County’s Giving Day will go towards our DEI effort here at Family Centers. These funds will not only strengthen Family Centers’ programs and services, but will allow us to continue to be a catalyst of change in the community and in our agency.
Janet Evelyn, Executive Director
Norwalk International Cultural Exchange (NICE)
The Norwalk International Cultural Exchange (NICE) is a 501(c3) nonprofit organization whose goal is to promote and increase awareness of the diversity of people from around the world through arts and culture. NICE strives to fulfill its mission by celebrating diversity and cultures within the community. Our community includes a growing diverse population, of which Black members make up over 14 percent, and which mirrors the national percent of people who identify themselves as Black in the United States.
The more we share with each other, the more time we spend together, the greater the value we are likely to ascribe to each other. In doing so, Black leaders in NICE create a dynamic that forges appreciation of the many different types of people that make up our community.
Black leaders within NICE create platforms to build and strengthen relationships across the varied groups in Norwalk. We do this by creating programs that invite participation among all the various groups. Our annual signature NICE festival is a platform that engages and integrates others into learning and participating in activities that are uniquely culturally specific to a group other than their own, allowing for an organic experience in understanding the attributes among the various groups.
The Black leaders at NICE are intentional in our efforts to bring people from different ethnicities, races and geographies together and try to find common grounds and goals that build relationships.
We are raising money so we can source and engage the folk and traditional artists across the varied groups that are so vital to the vibrancy of our community – and, continue to offer our programs free of cost to all attendees. The funds we raise will be used to continue our work of developing and expanding our multicultural programs in celebration of our global heritage. As an emerging minority arts and cultural organization, these funds will be of immense help in our ability to thrive and continue to grow our organization.
Lorraine Gibbons, Executive Director
Cardinal Shehan Center, Bridgeport CT
Our mission at Cardinal Shehan Center is enriching lives through learning. And Black leaders in our organization are busy making an impact, by providing educational and recreation programs for children.
Through Fairfield County’s Giving Day, we are raising money for our afterschool and Saturday program that’s really going to help impact the lives of boys and girls in our community. Your support will make a whole world of difference.
Kolton Harris, Board Member & Phanésia Pharel, Playwright
Thrown Stone Theatre Company, Ridgefield CT
Kolton: My name is Kolton Harris, and I’m on the Board of Directors for Thrown Stone Theatre Company. Our mission is to engage our region with new and reimagined theatre in intimate settings, creating a body of work that moves, connects and challenges all who join the conversation.
Black leaders in our organization have really been serious about stewarding the culture of this organization and thinking about the ways in which the art that flows from Thrown Stone is equitable, imaginative and inclusive of the diverse experiences of Black folks, brown folks and all people, to advocate for the humanity of all people.
We’re raising funds through Fairfield County’s Giving Day for the 068 Magazine Playwriting Fellowship, and we’re really excited that Phanésia Pharel is the first fellow.
Phanésia: I first became acquainted with Thrown Stone when they were seeking writers for The Suburbs’ 2021 season, which was incredibly exciting and unlike any experience I ever had making theatre.
After that, I received word that I was a finalist for The Lark’s Van Lier New Voices Fellowship for young playwrights of color. Sadly, The Lark closed down, one of many theatrical institutions we’ve lost during the pandemic. It was devastating, and I think Thrown Stone is stepping up and filling the gap through this fellowship.
I write for people who I believe are being forgotten – in the present tense, in the past, in the future. What that looks like is Should We Dance Instead, the Thrown Stone piece I wrote about Aunt Betsy and Uncle Ned Armstrong, who ran an Underground Railroad stop in Ridgefield. It also looks like my first play Lucky, which is the tale of a Haitian girl’s experience of being trafficked.
Through this fellowship, I hope my writing is able to bring in more people who may not feel theatre is for them. It will also give me a chance to discuss my work with cutting edge producers and get feedback from the kind of theatre company I want to produce my work.
I hope the work I create for Thrown Stone is enjoyable, even if it’s a deep social topic. As Lynn Nottage says, “It’s drama. It should be fun.”
And I hope that it meets the moment. I think we will know we’ve healed from the trauma we are all living under through art. The art is going to teach us that. So, I’m hoping my writing can spark some joy and hope among people who are really struggling right now.
Don’t miss Part 1 and Part 3 of our blog series spotlighting some of the Black leaders and organizations taking part in Giving Day on February 24, 2022! To see more stories as they are shared, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram or join our email list.