Who’s going to help us? who’s going to make a difference?

Shelby Brown, Managing Director, Everyday Democracy
April 4, 2018

Keynote Address by Shelby J. Brown at the Ella T. Grasso Distinguished Services Awards Ceremony March 28, 2018, at Eastern Connecticut State University.


How would a person who comes from a marginalized group in society come to know that she had the power to transform that society?  How would a person with three or four degrees of “otherness” come to believe that her society is reliant on her to solve its most intractable problems – her voice matters, her contribution and her participation are imperative?


When we don't deal with race, structural racism and its historical residue, we do not arrive at a significant appreciation of current problems and we cannot arrive at meaningful solutions.


In 1974, the year Ella T. Grasso was elected to the office of Governor and Adrianne Baughns was hired by Channel 3 News to be the first black women anchor Connecticut had ever seen, Shelby Brown entered the 2nd grade, and her mother opened her third store.  My mother was an entrepreneur and a fashionista who owned shops in Springfield and Hartford, and now Stamford. She sold wigs, hair pieces, and ultra- stylish accessories to the throngs of sisters who needed to express their black pride, elegance, history and incredible sense of style through their hair. 


[Spoiler alert: to all the modern naturals…there was a natural hair movement that preceded this one and it was just as complex and passionate as our current movement.] 


Being the confident and astute woman she was, my mother did not fail to impress upon her 8-year-old daughter the significance of the fact that Ella was governor, and all of Connecticut had to tune in to hear Adrianne tell about it.  Like Governor Grasso’s mom, my mom taught me to be confident, love learning, love your community, and embrace every opportunity to make a difference.  She taught me that voice and participation mattered, and that neither my race nor gender should hold me back from making my contribution. 


Yet, today in these United States, far too many people are cynical about the idea of democracy and about racism.  Many have had too few opportunities to learn about difference, and too many of our public figures are being exposed for stripping dignity from women and people of color. 


At Everyday Democracy, we have seen evidence that people in general do not have the tools to engage in productive public discourse that incorporates the voices of many, and leads to effective collaborative action.  We can’t seem to come together, particularly on challenging issues.  Further, far too many of us do not have the language or the courage to talk about inequity, race and the very real implications of our country’s racialized past.  When we don’t deal with race, structural racism and its historical residue, we do not arrive at a significant appreciation of current problems and we cannot arrive at meaningful solutions.


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Dialogue to Change

Our ultimate goal is to create positive community change that includes everyone, and our tools, advice, and resources foster that kind of change. Whether you’re grappling with a divisive community issue, or simply want to include residents’ voices in city government, Everyday Democracy's Dialogue to Change process, using a racial equity lens, can help.