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To the Editor:
On Tuesday, June 23, the West Hartford Town Council voted on a resolution that declared racism a public health crisis for the town. As a West Hartford Town Councilor and the endorsed Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in Connecticut’s First Congressional District, I voted in favor of the measure and was proud to be part of a unanimous vote to approve this resolution.
The vote made me reflect about racism and discrimination beyond the borders of our town and how I’ve experienced similar issues in my own life and career. I believe racism is a moral issue and a societal issue that needs to end and I have been fortunate enough to see the benefits of diversity throughout my life and career. Growing up in East Hartford, an integrated and diverse town, I attended school with classmates of many races. It was wonderful to see how everyone got along and supported each other. Later in my life, I chose to live in West Hartford because of the vibrancy and diversity of the town. In my career, as an executive at General Electric, I happily participated in the company’s long championed directive of celebrating diversity and observed how they put strategy into action, promoting a diverse slate of candidates in their hiring process. I witnessed how such a large, international, multi-industry company benefited through the great work of employees from many ethnic cultures, races and genders who rose into its senior ranks. When I worked at Sun Life, I sat on their Diversity Steering Committee and I championed an African American employee resource group at ING. So, I’ve seen first-hand, the importance of diversity in community and career.
Likewise, I’ve seen the ugliness of racism and discrimination which is why this is so very personal and important to me. As a woman and a member of the LGBTQ community, I’ve personally been the victim of discrimination. I’ve been rejected for employment opportunities and promotions. I’ve been called disgusting names and while I am certainly not comparing my experience with racism, I know how important it is to walk a mile in each other’s shoes. I know that what is especially difficult for marginalized people is hiding who we are. While thankfully this country has come a long way, we still have far to go.
I remember 30 years ago hiding who I was out of fear. When I worked for employers stuck in the mud of bigotry, I attended their corporate events alone, never talked about my personal life and always felt the pressure to keep things to myself. While I never lied, my silence was awful and I felt, “less than.” Deciding that I just had enough of not being myself, about ten years ago, I interviewed for a role as president of a life insurance company in the Midwest. I was asked to come to the headquarters twice and the company even arranged for a house hunting trip. The executive recruiter told me I was one of two finalists and they were “leaning towards me.” However, to “seal the deal,” I was asked to take my family out to the headquarters to have dinner with the senior leadership team. So, my wife Mary, my daughter Katie and I, packed up and flew out. We had a genuinely nice dinner, great conversation and had an overall elegant evening. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that my family and I were being watched under a microscope and judged with an unhealthy bias. Sure enough, the company decided to go with the other candidate, who was of course, a white male. I was crushed because I knew the dirty reason but I was satisfied that I was honest and kept my integrity.
Even being of Irish descent, I’ve often talked with my grandfather about our family and the effect of the potato famine where the Irish were literally staved to death in their own country. They emigrated from Ireland to the United States in search of a better life only to be met in New York City with signs that read, “Irish Need Not Apply.” Many Irish were forced to live in poverty taking jobs as servants and low laborers. These are sad chapters in our nation’s history. However, we know there isn’t a single nation or culture that has not had slavery, discrimination or racism. The difference is that America is a land of freedom where we have reinvented ourselves time and again, continuing to be one of the greatest and most generous nations in the world.
That’s why I see hope and promise as we look to the future with our children playing and interacting with all kinds of different kids. We are in a world where gay marriage is legalized. We have integrated neighborhoods. There is a push for more gender equality especially in the corporate world with positions of senior leadership. This is all encouraging and I look forward to the day when we truly celebrate one race, the human race.
However, as a congressional candidate, I’m concerned with the violence I’m seeing with the rioting mixed in and hiding in the midst of peaceful protesters. I’m disturbed with the uncaring destruction of public and private property and unabashed shooting of our brave first responders, our police force. I find it remarkable that a mob mentality can so easily turn on the heroes we held so highly in regard, during a dark day on September 11, 2001. How soon we forget. I’m concerned with the surrendering of our civil liberties in return for a false sense of security. Supporting racial equality does not mean compliance with violence. We need to set aside our politics and power struggles and do what’s right for our nation. Otherwise, these destructive actions will dilute the critical messages necessary to bring about the well needed change that will move our country forward. We need to trust in those who truly have lived through racism and discrimination to lead us down the path of peaceful transformation while maintaining the freedoms, liberties and values that are the solid foundations of our American heritage.
I urge everyone to lead by example. We can change the world!
Mary Fay is a member of the West Hartford Town Council and the Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives in the 1st District.