- Associated Press - Monday, November 19, 2018

HARWINTON, Conn. (AP) - Giovanna Adams is hoping to educate the rural communities of Burlington and Harwinton with a diversity group that aims to start conversations on what she believes is an underlying racial discrimination that exists in small towns.

Adams launched Harwinton and Burlington for Diversity, also known as HB4 Diversity, in November 2017 after hearing about an incident in which a former University of Hartford freshman had been accused of smearing bodily fluid on her black roommate’s backpack and other personal items. The accused student, Brianna Brochu of Harwinton, was charged and removed from the university.

“That incident made me want to do something in town to spark change,” said Adams, also of Harwinton. “I didn’t want any more incidents like that happening. When I heard about that incident, I thought it was disgusting. Hearing people’s thoughts on whether or not it was a racist act was mind-boggling. But when I found out (Brochu) was from Harwinton, it was disturbing to know that was produced here.”

HB4 Diversity consists of seven additional team members, each bringing his or her own skill set on diversity training. The group also consists of three Board of Education liaisons. Adams said the goal is to work together to bring educational tools to the community and schools to make them more aware of the discrimination that’s happening.

“In all small towns without diversity, there’s more of an underlying, covert type of racism,” Adams said. “People will question if the things they say are racist. We see that more than anything else.”

Adams said she had to delete the group’s public Facebook page two months ago due to comments rebuking HB4 Diversity’s efforts.

“Some people are not ready to accept and understand what privilege is about,” Adams said. “When you’re not used to talking about things like this, people can go on the defense.”

During the group’s first year, Adams started a diversity book club. She said the group meets seasonally to discuss a fiction and nonfiction books with a theme of diversity. She said she uses the club as a way to start conversations with residents about how the books relate to diversity issues in their own communities.

“My No. 1 goal is just to start a dialogue so people can feel comfortable when talking about race and diversity,” Adams said. “I’m trying to start slowly with this group because it can be threatening to people. They get nervous when talking about topics like race and discrimination.”

Harwinton First Selectman Michael R. Criss said he is looking forward to working with Burlington First Selectman Ted Shafer on bringing more awareness to diversity issues in the towns and their Region 10 schools.

“I’m here for passing along information to make sure Harwinton continues to be a great community,” Criss said. “This is a great effort for Harwinton, Burlington and Region 10 to partner on and encourage a better way of life moving into a new era. Discrimination, no matter what it is, is unacceptable. You just don’t do it. It’s wrong.”

By the end of this year, Adams said she hopes her nonprofit will become a 501-C. She said she also hopes to bring workshops and speakers into Region 10 schools, and create support groups for the LGBTQ community.

“We’re doing this not to change everyone, but because we love the community and want to see it do better for the kids,” Adams said. “Everything we do as adults trickles down to the children.”

Adams said those interested in getting involved with any upcoming community events should look to the group’s website, hb4diversity.org, for updates.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2OMRiTf

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Information from: Republican-American, http://www.rep-am.com

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