Sarah Clark built a pile of wooden blocks at her booth in the Peabody Museum. She removed one block, and the pile collapsed.
“If each block is an endangered species, this gives you an example of how interconnected we all are,” Clark, a volunteer at the Sierra Club, said to the crowd of onlookers.
Clark’s booth was one of 33 at a free family festival held at the museum this weekend to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of environmental and social justice.
David Heiser, events coordinator at the Peabody, stressed that the two types of justice are closely connected.
“It’s about providing equality of environment to all peoples,” Heiser said. “Peoples of color and peoples of lower income should not have to live in degraded environments.”
Organizations throughout New Haven set up booths at the festival to educate parents and children on environmental issues and public health concerns. The festival, which took place on Sunday and Monday, also featured live music, dancing, lectures and a “poetry slam.” A Japanese drumming group performed, as well as a Caribbean music group and an Indian dance troupe.
Joelle Fishman, chairwoman of the Communist Party of Connecticut, sponsored a booth at the festival in order to raise awareness about local and national events.
“We are very alarmed about the direction the country is taking,” Fishman said. “A lot of the things Martin Luther King fought for are being diminished instead of held up. We need to make a special commitment to bring [King's] dream of equality, peace and economic justice to life.”
Empower New Haven, a nonprofit organization that works on economic development, ran an activity designed to teach children about soil contamination. The activity featured two pots of soil — one holding trash from a dry cleaning service and one holding trash from a gas station. Young visitors examined the garbage in order to identify each polluter.
“We’re trying to teach kids that different businesses can be harmful to the environment and to humans if they are not operated responsibly,” Deirdre Imagire, assistant program manager at Empower New Haven, said.
Some visitors said they had come to view the museum’s regular exhibit and had not known about the festival. They nevertheless said they appreciated the entertainment and learned about important environmental and social concerns.
“It’s a fun way to introduce the kids to the museum,” Alyson Rosewood, a visitor from Trinity University, said. “They’ve got music, dancing, men on stilts. I’ve already entered three raffles.”
Sosivu Caldwell, who led an art workshop at the festival, said the event was incomplete because it lacked a forum for serious discussion about race relations in America.
“They should also have something that talks about what it was like during [King's] time,” Caldwell said. “The newspapers, the TV want to give the illusion that everything was okay.”
Falon Turner, a teen program coordinator at the Bridgeport YMCA, said she liked the festival’s diverse repertoire of activities.
“It’s a good cultural event,” Turner said. “It’s going beyond the call because not only are they celebrating black history, but they’re celebrating other cultures.”