The town of Norfolk has a new addition this week! Say hello to our social justice chairs.
The chairs started with an idea by one person at the Congregational Church. Then, a whole lot of goodness and generosity happened. There was also a delay. But the chairs finally made their debut on Friday, August 27th, along with the following signs: God Sees & Loves All Colors & So Do We! You can see a video of the signs here: https://www.facebook.com/1118857914/videos/pcb.10225536106045713/923143698548997
I already wrote about these chairs for the June issue of the Norfolk Now. And since I’m not feeling that well this week (thank you, Narcolepsy et al.) and I don’t think I can write it any better the second time around, the original article is below.
Norfolk resident Leslie Battis has seen Adirondack chairs outside of churches for over a year now. Often painted in vibrant rainbow colors representing LGBTQIA+ inclusivity, these chairs started popping up more frequently during the pandemic. Battis wanted to see her church, the Norfolk Church of Christ Congregational (UCC), have their own chairs, too. She thought they would be a great way to encourage conversations outdoors in a socially distant manner. But she also had a different vision for how the chairs should look – what if they were painted in all different skin colors?
For the past several years, the Norfolk UCC has promoted racial justice as one of its missions. Some of their activities, often in collaboration with the Rev. Dr. Shelley Best of The Redeemer’s African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Plainville, Conn., have included group discussions of books such as “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” and the documentaries “13th”and “All In: The Fight for Democracy”. Battis’s idea for these chairs would be an outward expression of the church’s mission, so that the town of Norfolk could see on the church’s front lawn their solidarity with their Black sisters and brothers.
Battis, who is also part of the church’s Fellowship & Growth team, brought her idea to the other members, who all enthusiastically and unanimously voiced their support. The next step was to price Adirondack chairs. Wanting to support a local business, if possible, Rev. Erick Olsen, pastor of Norfolk UCC, visited Olde Farms Furniture in East Canaan. Owners Ron and Ann Reich loved the idea so much they donated seven Adirondack chairs. “When Pastor Olsen spoke to me about the project,” says Ann Reich, “I thought it over and realized what a great opportunity to donate the chairs for this great cause. In these trying times, anything to bring all peoples together to live in peace and harmony is what I believe God wants us to do. I felt the Lord has been watching over us and keeping us safe through this pandemic, and this was the least I could do to give back to the community in some small way.”
With the chairs so generously donated, the next step was to determine the colors to paint them. Recognizing the need to choose colors with sensitivity and awareness, the church knew they needed an expert and, thankfully, already knew one–the Rev. Dr. Shelley Best. In 2019, Rev. Dr. Best’s art show, “What Is Black? Prayers & Portraits,” exhibited at The 224 EcoSpace in Hartford, showcased the myriad flesh colors that constitute “Black.” “The colors of Black people can be any color of human flesh,” says Rev. Dr. Best. “White, pink, brown, mauve. But when you identify as Black, there are shifts in how you are perceived and ramifications for your life.” Educating and building awareness of these perceptions is why Rev. Dr. Best is so enthusiastic about the Congregational Church’s project. “This installation goes one step further than walking in another person’s shoes. It gives people a chance to sit in another person’s skin color and think about the differences.”
After Rev. Dr. Best made her color recommendations, the church still needed to determine the best way to paint and care for the pressure-treated wood. Rev. Olsen reached out to Matt Bannerman, a local painter and owner of Mad River Painting Co. The spirit of generosity surrounding the chairs continued to flow as Bannerman offered to paint the chairs free of charge. All the church had to do was buy the materials.
“There is clearly something good in the air and in people’s hearts when so many friends jump on board an initiative like this!” says Rev. Olsen. “This project is powerful, not only because of its clear visual representation of our desire for racial justice, but also due to the creative collaboration it has inspired in Norfolk and beyond. I am humbled and delighted to find myself in the middle of a community that works in such a grassroots manner toward such a noble goal.”
At press time, the chairs are still being painted. Once they arrive on the Congregational Church’s front lawn, all are welcome to sit in and enjoy them.
So we finally have our chairs! And do please come sit in them. Dogs are, of course, welcome, too.