Elizabeth Miles

In the park behind Lincoln-Bassett School in Newhallville, roughly 70 Elm City residents gathered Monday night for a rally and community chat organized by Black Lives Matter New Haven. The group’s four co-founders urged more grassroots involvement in New Haven neighborhoods, citing their low expectations for town authorities and national policy makers.

Billed as a community chat for positive change, the event was the fourth such meeting organized by BLMNH since the summer and the first in Newhallville, a historically black neighborhood. The leaders of the chapter hoped the meeting would help interested citizens and representatives from organizations “build, connect and restore community,” said co-founder Dawnise Traore.

“We’re hurting and we’re seeking healing,” said co-founder Ala Ochumare, formerly known as Lia Miller-Granger, as she opened the event.

In its second year, BLMNH is seeking to increase turnout, not just for photo-ops in the New Haven Register, Ochumare said, but also for groundwork such as passing out flyers about voting, housing and labor rights, as well as aiding in voter registration.

The group is currently looking for permanent volunteers among those who have attended several chats and other BLMNH events and hopes to establish a formal membership soon.

All four co-founders emphasized that they want to see more work by attendees in their own communities.

“How many are here from Newhallville?” asked Traore via megaphone. Seeing only a few hands, she said, “We have to walk these streets and go get ‘em.”

For now, the organization is acting as a facilitator for community building, said Ochumare, who repeatedly told attendees to post their events on the Facebook page for BLMNH.

The organizations represented on Monday night ranged from racial justice-focused groups to organizations offering youth mentorship and social events.

Isa Mujahid, founder and organizing director of CTCORE-Organize Now! — or Connecticut Community Organizing for Racial Equity — promoted a November conference on police accountability and school funding. Justin Farmer, a college student affiliated with New Haven Rising, passed out a survey that the group organized with the Board of Alders. These results — collected on topics such as employment, environmental policy and race relations — are intended to help local politicians craft proposals.

Several organizers attended from Showing Up for Racial Justice, a group that provides education on racial inequality to white residents of New Haven, seeking to involve them in activism.

One attendee promoted American Civil Liberties Union workshops on how to interact with New Haven police. Another introduced Ebony Resistance, a sexual violence education program she teaches in New Haven schools. A representative from the Connecticut Bail Fund introduced the ongoing case of Aymir Holland, an African-American teenager charged with five felonies for allegedly assaulting a senior member of the Yale faculty. Finally, one attendee invited young women to the next meeting of Black Diamonds, a women’s social club.

Though policing in America inspired the national BLM movement, it was not the main topic on Monday night. But, it was addressed by Bridgeport-based teacher Sheree Baldwin-Muhammad, who encouraged attendees to join her on a bus to the Million Moms March this Sunday in Philadelphia. Mothers of Black Sons, a group based in that city, organized the march to protest police brutality and inner city violence.

Ochumare also spoke on these topics from her own experience.

Though she said, “The hurt [in New Haven] is very different from Charlotte,” referring to the police shooting of Keith Scott in that city on Sept. 20, she still fears for her son’s safety.

“New Haven has a narrative that it doesn’t happen here, and it does,” Ochumare said. Though she grew up in Newhallville, she said of her son, “I can’t righteously let him walk the streets.”

Ochumare also expressed deep reservations about efforts to improve relationships with New Haven police. Despite a recent emphasis from the city on community policing, Ochumare responded that the idea is “food and candy, and that’s not going to work.” Instead, she wants adults to go into their neighborhoods and create a safe area by keeping watch over where children play.

A similar frustration was expressed with national attempts at improving policing outcomes. Baldwin-Muhammad said, “We can’t look to the government’s ‘Band Aids.’” She said she is not confident in the policies proposed by either nominee for President on these issues. Another attendee also stated in passing that she would be voting for a third-party candidate, despite saying they never win.

On a local level, Ochumare expects more from the city. She considers the aldermanic survey passed out at the event a good step forward, but has mixed hopes that it will be taken seriously. She also questioned why local officials had not attended the community chat.

“We need [Mayor] Toni Harp to show up and not just for 15 minutes,” she said.

The New Haven chapter of Black Lives Matter was founded in August 2015.