New Canaan-based nonprofit organization Stand Together Against Racism, or S.T.A.R., is holding a special event to cap off Black History Month— Soul•Fête: From Africa to America, A Culinary Tasting Immersion—from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, March 2 at Carriage Barn Arts Center.
We catch up with S.T.A.R. founder, New Canaan resident and proud Kansas City Chiefs mom Fatou Niang about the event, organization, programming and Super Bowl in this exchange.
New Canaanite: We last checked in with S.T.A.R. during the very well-attended Juneteenth celebration on the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society’s campus last summer. Catch us up—what have you been doing at S.T.A.R.?
Fatou Niang: We’ve been busy. While we continue to engage with our exciting partnerships around town including the Youth Social Justice Book Club at the New Canaan Library with LiveGirl, we’ve been organizing exciting programming and events throughout the calendar year. This fall, we had a beautiful and thought-provoking artist showcase at the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society with The Glass House called the “Through Your Looking Glass Social Justice Exhibit.” Local students from southern Fairfield County middle and high schools responded artistically to our social justice prompt, creating stunning audio and visual pieces. It was impressive to see the level of creativity from the students and their level of advocacy with the theme of social justice. They shared their thoughts from climate change and human and women’s rights to police brutality. Last month, we held our first community building activity to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with Infinite Hope in partnership with the New Canaan YMCA. It was so successful that we are already planning for next year.
We’re approaching three years since the George Floyd murder that led to S.T.A.R.’s founding, with the successful partnership with New Canaan Police and march throughout town that followed. Taking a look back, how would you describe the growth and reach of the organization in three short years? How are local people responding to and interacting with your programming?
It is useful, I think, to view this question through the lens of the heartbreakingly gutting and brutal murder of Mr. Tyre Nichols by five Black Memphis Police. Our hearts break for the Nichols family that once again a traffic stop ends with the death of yet another Black man. The release of the video this past weekend confirmed atrocious similarities between Mr. Nichols’ and Mr. Floyd’s murders and Rodney King before that, including their cries for their mothers and the dehumanization of the Black body, regardless of gender. But even though it would be easy to feel as though no progress has been made in the culture of policing and its impact on communities of color, particularly Black Americans, progress has been made in some communities.We believe that despite any progress or pledge of changes by police departments across the country since the death of Mr. Floyd, diversity without doing the actual work of race equity training does not make a difference and only checks the diversity data box. We may not see these extreme police brutality cases in our own communities, but we still wonder what can be done to stymie police violence: Is it the training that needs to be reviewed, the recruitment? Do they need more tools to respond to situations for which they are not trained, or is it the police culture itself? The color of the man in blue does not matter because the color of the man dying is still Black. We at S.T.A.R. recognize how fortunate we are to have a police department that is working with and for the community and have been a good partner to S.T.A.R., but this tragic event deepens the shared trauma that we all endure with respect to police brutality, no matter who the perpetrators are. I can safely say that we are all sick and tired of seeing these videos and hearing these stories over and over again. And yet, people are often unsure of how to move forward, particularly if they feel the issues are at a remove from their own daily lives. We recognize that sometimes people may be hesitant to engage because of the fear of not being perfect or being judged for saying the wrong thing, but in our experience , the work of race equity happens at the speed of trust. With the growing community engagement at our events, we hope that we are building that trust and look forward to continuing to create brave spaces where anyone can join us, be engaged, and participate. After all, a main tenet of our mission is to ensure everyone in New Canaan feels as though they belong.
You are capping off Black History Month with “SoulFête: A Culinary Tasting Immersion,” to be held on the night of March 2. Tell us about the event.
Because Black History Month takes place during the shortest month of the year, Black History Month actually extends to March 1st. What better way to cap off the month by celebrating with great food, drinks, music, and a Mac & Cheese competition on March 2nd. Our first annual Soul•Fête: From Africa to America, A Culinary Tasting Immersion will be an evening to explore the influence of Black cuisine on American food culture writ large at the Carriage Barn Arts Center from 7 pm – 9 pm. Local band The Misfits will claim the stage with their talent—some of you had the chance to see them perform during the Juneteenth celebration last year—while tasting offerings from local Black chefs and Black-owned restaurants. Special Guest Chef Damon Sawyer of 29 Markle will regale us with the past, present, and future of Black food, while our panel of judges chooses the best Mac & Cheese from our impressive list of restaurateurs. Our Panel will include local Celebrity Judge Stephanie Webster, editor-in-chief of CT Bites. We’ll also be asking attendees to pick the night’s fan favorite, so grab your ticket and bring your most discerning palate. Learn more and buy tickets here.
SoulFête is a first-of-its-kind event for S.T.A.R. What else can residents expect from your organization this year?
Looking ahead, we are eager to continue to support the great work local organizations are doing while also doing our part to drive transformative and sustainable social change in our community and beyond. We’re thrilled to collaborate with NewCanaanite.com on what we are rebranding as “Black Excellence Month: Feed Your Soul.” We will continue to honor the past, celebrate the present, and look forward to our common future. As in years passed, we’ll be marking AAPI month in May as well as Mr. George Floyd’s death later that month, and we’ll be celebrating Juneteenth the following month. We had an absolute blast at last year’s Juneteenth picnic celebrating Black fatherhood and joy, and cannot wait to come back this June even bigger and better. We’ll also be hosting our second art showcase in partnership with The Glass House and the New Canaan Museum & Historical Society. We are excited about our upcoming speaker series on different race equity topics, rebooting our workshop offerings and our adult book club, and more. While we love creating new, annual traditions for the New Canaan community to learn, celebrate, and connect with each other, we also love the challenge of meeting a need in the moment and always keep our eyes peeled for opportunities to try new things here in town as well as to collaborate with other organizations in surrounding towns. We’d love to hear from the community about questions they may have, ideas and volunteer interest. Our email is info@star-ct. org. We are excited to join with everyone who wants to learn, grow and “stand together” in this work.
Finally, how is Lucas feeling about the Chiefs’ chances against the Eagles in the Super Bowl?