NORWALK, Conn. -- Sharon Baanante sees a remarkable irony. One of the darkest moments in the history of Norwalk race relations just might have provided the spark to light the way to develop a model for harmony, respect and collaboration that the city and other communities can embrace.
Baanante started the Love ALL project last month in the wake of white supremacist fliers found in town last month. Fliers were also found in Weston and Wilton.
- Who : Sharon Baanante, Norwalk
- What : Founder of Love ALL project, which was created in response to the distribution of white supremacist fliers in Norwalk, Wilton and Weston
- Learn more: On Facebook (click here ) or its GoFundMe page (click here ).
A few days after the fliers were discovered, Baanante started her organization. Its Facebook following now includes more than 400 followers, and a volunteer meeting is scheduled for Sunday at 7 p.m. at Cornerstone Community Church. Baanante said the organization’s mission is to embrace Norwalk’s diversity through collaboration. Earlier this week, the organization launched its GoFundMe page.
“I felt when people left those fliers in our community, they insulted not just me, but the entire community,’’ Baanante said. “It was shocking. I felt like there had to be a response from our community. It’s not ever going to be the norm. It’s not acceptable in our community, or the world.”
Baanante comes at the project from a lifetime of experience living in Norwalk. She moved to town as a teenager, moved away briefly during and shortly after college and then returned. Her family roots look like a mini United Nations, with a white mother, predominately black father, Mohican grandmother and a husband who was born in Peru. “It’s my journey that brought me to this point,’’ Baanante said.
She has spent her professional life working in event planning and management, most recently as the Director of Events for Grace Farm Foundation in New Canaan. Grace Farms provides a platform for people to experience nature, encounter the arts, pursue justice, foster community and explore faith. She left the position to pursue a degree in corporate social responsibility and sustainability at Harvard Extension School.
Her professional profile marries well with her interest in the Love ALL project. In a little more than a month since its inception, Baanante and her supporters have created a four-part plan to help foster community unity.
The plan includes programming, collaboration, the installation of a culturally diverse art piece in Norwalk and a plan to develop a model that other communities can follow. “We want to make real change in our community,’’ Baanante said.
Attracting attention is Love ALL’s first initiative. Baanante said volunteers are creating and set to distribute car magnets, business and school kits and information about their concept. “We hope that when someone sees it, they’re reminded of love, support, and respect for everyone in our community,’’ Baanante said.
An important component to that will be to develop collaboration between culturally diverse organizations within the community. “We want to take two culturally different organizations in our community, some who would not naturally be together, and create culturally immersive events that will allow us to understand each other,’’ she said.
She also hopes to create and install a collaborative art piece in Norwalk that will help people remember where our community stood during these unprecedented times She hopes that the group can find resources to build a framework to roll out to other towns.
Baanante knows the goals are ambitious, but is encouraged by the overwhelming response since Love ALL was formed. “People are feeling very attached to the project,’’ Sharon said. “It needs to be an entire community response. We want an organization that is as diverse as possible.”
Love ALL has had some donations, and a GoFundMe page is in the works. Baanante has been surprised and grateful for the response from the community, and feels the real work is just beginning.
“We have to figure out how we can link arms, how we can partner,’’ she said. “We are not a political organization. We don’t want to divide the community. We want to make real change in our community.”
For more information, click here to visit the Love ALL Facebook page. Sunday’s meeting will be held at Cornerstone Community Church, 718 West Ave., at 7 p.m.