There are at least three new commemorative
public sculpture projects in Hartford: the Circus Fire Memorial,
the Wallace Stevens Walk and Lincoln Financial's riverfront Abraham
Lincoln tribute. I would like to propose a fourth: a Memorial to
the Murdered Youth of Hartford.
Decades ago, Langston Hughes concluded
one of his poems of protest with the line: "I, too, am America."
The purpose of this memorial would be to remember and acknowledge
that the murdered young people of Hartford are part of America,
and by that acknowledgement and remembrance to create a sense of
belonging for the surviving youths.
Wouldn't it be better for the city
of Harford and the state of Connecticut if a citizen from Greenwich
came to the capital to see this tribute than to the Connecticut
Center for Science and Exploration to see a replica TV station weather
center? The former is a reminder of reality, an attempt to heal
a bleeding wound; the latter, a simulacrum, a fantasy and a false
consciousness that'll keep minds young and old away from what really
Why not put this memorial in front
of the science center and the convention center so that when one
attends the latest RV show or when one joins in the hymn of praise
to corporate Connecticut, one will have to confront the fact that
the murdered youth of Hartford are also part of America, part of
What would a state-sponsored memorial
mean? A lot. Imagine the public discussion that a design competition
would foster. Discussion would replace silence. Respectful memorial
presence would replace cruel and quick erasure. Brutal facts rendered
in stone are much harder to forget than one night's report on the
local news. The French philosopher Pierre Nora says, "We speak
of memory because there is so little of it left."
I say, if estrangement is a normal
condition of contemporary life, then memory is its only therapy.
Let us pray, but let us also remember. Police Chief Patrick Harnett
wonders, "What role did media play in creating the fear"
that Hartford is a very unsafe city? The Memorial to the Murdered
Youth of Hartford would provide an opportunity to create community
instead of fear. It is meant not to provoke, but to heal. You can't
heal if you don't even know there's a wound.
The memorial should involve suburbanites
in the city; to connect, not to divide. It should symbolize the
burden of our recent urban history and our shared guilt and responsibility.
It should be a way to bear witness. It would be there to remind
us that our communal moral failure should dominate public attention,
not an ice hockey team or million-dollar condos. It should enable
us to join together and proclaim that we are all America and that
not one of us - simply by his or her street address or ZIP code
- deserves to be summarily erased.
Dennis Barone is chairman of the English
Department at St. Joseph's College in West Hartford.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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