Column: Great Futures: Lessons in Inclusion
By Bobby Walker
Greenwich. Just the name of our town conjures up so many images.
When I go home to Dallas, I am constantly asked about living in Greenwich. What is it like? Do you live in a mansion? Are you the only black man in town? Does everyone drive a Bentley? The questions go on and on. I tell them, simply, “Greenwich is my home.”
What surprises my friends the most is when I tell them just how diverse our town is. I LOVE seeing the puzzled looks on their faces when they hear me talk about how 15% of children in Greenwich come from low-income families. There’s amazement when I list the number of ethnicities represented in our community. Similarly, new people to town are blown away by the rich diversity of Greenwich.
Just this past week, I met a new school principal who moved to town and wanted to learn more about the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich. As we talked, she told me that her greatest discovery so far has been that Greenwich is not the stereotypical place that she had imagined. As she’s shopped in several different neighborhoods and simply “cruised around” to get the lay of the land, she has found a town that is magnificently diverse. What she realized is that while there is one Greenwich. It is made up of uniquely different people who speak multiple languages, worship in different religious beliefs and work in hundreds of career fields. She saw neighborhoods with their own character and traditions.
As we walked the halls of the Club, my guest saw a kaleidoscope of faces, like a box of crayons from beige to sepia to mahogany. The youth were proud to show their individual school spirit, and some even spoke of the neighborhoods where they live. As the kids who come from Byram, Chickahominy, Cos Cob, Back Country, Riverside and Old Greenwich were playing, my guest turned to me and said, “This is what I wanted in my new home. A place where all kids, no matter who they are, can play together.”
I told her that our town’s commitment to inclusion was on full display this past February when a group of high school students created the Greenwich Student Diversity Leadership Conference. The one-day conference was endorsed by the First Selectman’s Diversity Committee’s commitment to encourage Greenwich youth to engage in conversations involving diversity and inclusion. A student-led symposium, attendees talked about how to make our area high schools as safe and welcoming for everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexual identity or physical and mental capabilities.
Student leaders from Greenwich High School, Brunswick, Sacred Heart and Greenwich Academy walked their peers through these important conversations and created plans for their respective schools to become as accepting of everyone as possible. The youth discussed how the diversity of students in Greenwich could be celebrated, and how important it is to remember that everyone has a powerful story to share. These young men and women came together to help shape the Greenwich they wanted to see — a Greenwich invested in acceptance.
When the day ended, I was comforted to hear the students renew their commitment to the concept that Greenwich schools welcome everyone. The hugs and tears of joy present that day were proof to me that the young people at Greenwich are committed to providing safe spaces for all students. This conference is a shining example of the power of kids teaching adults. To be blunt, these student leaders and their peers are examples for all of us to emulate.
This is Greenwich. The one that all of us who call this place home experience every day. My family and I have called Northfield Street home for nine years. My kids have attended schools here for almost 15 years. The rich diversity of our town is one of the key factors in their happiness and my satisfaction as their father. Knowing that we live in a place where they can interact with people from all backgrounds and races is comforting. No, it’s more than that. The diversity of this town is something that every resident of Greenwich should celebrate. We are more than the stereotype. Greenwich is the collective being of each neighborhood, each school, and all the children and adults who call this place home.
As my visitor left the Club this week, she committed herself to living in this diverse community. I assured her that the Greenwich I know will openly welcome her… like we do anyone who enters the doors to our Club!
Bobby Walker, Jr. is the CEO, Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich.
A former independent school administrator and teacher, Bobby is a member of the First Selectman’s Youth Commission. He joined the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich in 2014 as Chief Executive Officer.
In his column, Great Futures, Bobby Walker brings his unique voice and perspective to topics affecting youth and families in our community.