One day last September, Ridgefield High School junior Sarah de Lange walked into her art class to find a swastika carved into the table in front of her.
“There was a swastika etched into the big black desk right in front of me,” de Lange told The Press. “I didn’t really know what to do.”
Eventually, she raised her hand and let her teacher know.
“I don’t think they were really trained on how to handle this, so the teacher just gave me a small knife to chisel it out.”
She had heard of other incidents of swastikas around town, but this was the first time she was confronted with it directly. She decided something needed to be done to prevent such an experience for future students.
That’s why she’s planning to hold a community event in Ballard Park to discuss racism and prejudice Sunday, June 10.
“We’re going to try to make it sort of a family event, so the community can bond,” de Lange said.
De Lange is planning to use the back of the park, where CHIRP concerts are usually held and where anti-Semitic symbols were found last summer. She also plans to use part of Main Street, where there will be chalk artists drawing on sidewalks.
She’s looking for musicians to perform at the event, and said she’s reached out to The Nightingales, an all-female a cappella group at RHS.
“We’re also trying to get speakers to come — people from a lot of different backgrounds to hopefully talk about about how oppression affects them in a lot of different ways,” she said.
Glenda Armstrong, president of the Greater Danbury chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), will speak at the event.
Armstrong said that moving away from hate speech — like the racist graffiti that has been found in Ridgefield over the last 18 months — is “an ongoing process.”
“We can never say that we’re done, we can never say that we’ve conquered that beast, we can never say that it’s over,” she said. “It’s not a journey, not a destination — unfortunately.”
She’s looking forward to the event.
“Anytime you can give someone a different perspective — a chance to walk around in somebody else’s shoes — it’s an opportunity.”
“Everybody can make a difference,” she added. “People can become overwhelmed by the enormity of the issue … but when they don’t speak up, then silence becomes consent. And all they need to do is speak up.”
De Lange said she’s planning the event with the help of some of her fellow students and BBYO (formerly B’nai B’rith Youth Organization), a Jewish Youth organization she’s a member of.
As a young Jewish woman growing up in town, de Lange said, she “never really felt personally attacked by anti-Semitic acts until I found the swastika.”
“But now that it’s more in my face, I feel like I should be taking action,” she added.
Asked what she’d like to see come out of the event, she said she hopes the incidents of racist and anti-Semitic graffiti stop.
“I think I’d like to just see these incidents stop, and for people to just be more open-minded. … I think a lot of people talk about the Ridgefield bubble,” she said. “I feel like some people say that because … compared to a lot of other places we don’t have a lot of diversity, that maybe can lead to some racism.”
The only negative comments she’s heard from people about the event were concerns that more publicity would encourage further acts of vandalism.
“I remember that when I first started planning this, people were saying that all the negative attention being brought to the swastikas was sort of egging them on,” de Lange said.
“I’ve always thought that positive encouragement is better than negative punishment … so I hope this event encourages that. … I hope this event proves that positivity is the way to go.”
For more information, visit De Lange’s Facebook page for the event by clicking here.