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A Memorial To Murdered Youth


January 22, 2006

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 matters.

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 Connecticut culture?

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. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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