A voice for simple human kindness, Daniela Sikora has been chosen to receive Ridgefield’s 2017 Spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Award.
“If we recognize our own flawed nature we can be gentler, we can be kinder with other human beings and see past their flaws,” Sikora said. “And we can just be kind.”
At the town’s 21st annual Martin Luther King Day ceremonies Monday there will also be a special posthumous award presented to the family of Tom Belote, a lifelong Ridgefielder who died in 2015 and had worked in the cause of immigrants and refugees.
Belote served as chief of the Immigration and Consular Law Unit as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, working, among other cases, on international prosecutions of Nazi war criminals found hiding in the U.S.
He served on the board of directors — and for many years chaired — the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C. Belote was also active in Ridgefield’s Old Timers Club, and for years wrote The Press’s Looking Back column.
The posthumous award to Belote, organizers say, is “in recognition of Tom’s tireless advocacy and activism on behalf of immigrants to America and to our community.”
Being Human, Being Kind
Sikora has led the Ridgefield Chorale, a 70-voice choir founded in 1976, for the last 19 years. She was nominated for the Spirit of Dr. King Award in recognition of her and the chorale’s “Being Human, Behind Kind” initiative, which has more than 100 “partners in kindness” including Ridgefield schools, the library, the Boys & GIrls Club.
The kindness initiative promotes the belief that “we can create a better community by accepting that we, as humans, with all our imperfections, share a desire to be treated with kindness and are capable of kindness,” Sikora said.
“Tolerance is not enough. Bullying is absolutely unacceptable,” she said. “Working as a community, we can lift each other up and keep each other safe and strong.”
There’s a large social media component to the effort.
“We have a Facebook page, a Twitter account: hashtag #beinghumanbeingkind,” Sikora said.
The initiative reflects Sikora’s belief in technology as a low cost means of communication and community.
“Not-for-profits don’t have a lot to spare,” Sikora said. “So we designed the program to be one that exists in cyberspace, because it doesn’t cost any money to do that, to link everybody to create webs of information. That’s kind of the cornerstone of the program — it links everybody.”
Businesses and organizations that are “partners in kindness” with the Being Human, Being Kind program are identified by blue dots on their windows — or online on their websites. The dot is in the chorale’s colors, with a teal center and a royal blue circular outline.
“The teal center represents all life sharing this earth,” Sikora said. “The blue outline represents the air that surrounds and sustains us. The center represents the heart that beats in each individual. The outline represents our community commitment to nurture and protect that heart.”
The blue dots serve as an affirmation. They send a message.
“The blue dot is kind of a tangible, if unconscious, reminder anytime somebody walks down Main Street, that they are surrounded by people who do not tolerate unkindness,” Sikora said.
The choice to promote kindness, rather than oppose bullying, was deliberate.
“We didn’t focus on bullying, there’s plenty of groups that focus on bullying,” she said. “Our thought was, rather than say, ‘Don’t bully,’ we’d say, ‘Be kind.’ There’s judgment behind ‘Don’t bully.’”
Being Human, Being Kind grew from a concert the Ridgefield Chorale was invited to do, singing Tyler’s Suite — a choral work written through the collaboration of numerous composers that’s dedicated to the memory of Tyler Clementi, a young musician who took his own life after being humiliated and bullied by his roommate during his first weeks as a freshman at Rutgers University in 2010.
“When this piece came our way, I thought, Why don’t we try to do something that goes beyond a concert that maybe 400, 500 people will be part of,” Sikora said.
“How do we make a difference here? As human beings we’re all flawed. Every one of us is flawed. There’s a Polish expression: ‘Have a heart, and look into the heart,’” she said.
The town’s Martin Luther King Day ceremonies are Monday, Jan. 16, starting at 3 p.m. in the Ridgefield Playhouse.
It features performances by Broadway’s Daniel Levine and Bryan Perri, the Chorale, the Serendipity Chorale, Westport actress Kimberly Wilson, students from Ridgefield’s A Better Chance program, and students from Keys, a non-profit that brings music and education to underserved city children. The event is free.
For more information, call 203-438-5795.