[5/16/21 Robin Wilt greeting Tom Upson on Avalon Drive in the Meadowbrook neighborhood. Always opening their door, Tom and Meg Upson are frequently canvassed by candidates, see The early birds get the worms; Signature gathering in Brighton, On the electoral road with Rajesh Barnabas and On the electoral road with Albert Blankley Photo: David Kramer]
In On the electoral road with Rajesh Barnabas, I canvassed in my Brighton neighborhood with Rajesh Barnabas (D, WF), Monroe County Legislature candidate for the 24th District in the June 22nd primary. Later, in On the electoral road with Albert Blankley I joined Albert Blankley (D), the other Democratic candidate for the same seat. On Saturday and Sunday, I walked with Robin Wilt (D, WF), candidate for re-election to the Brighton Town Council.
When greeting Brightonians, Robin is charged with enthusiasm. I asked her if “bubbly” is an apt descriptor. Robin said, yes, because bubbly she is. I could tell she loves meeting constituents.
Robin is both energetic and well informed. On Saturday, I briefly canvassed with her on Elmwood near the recently refurbished Auburn Trail. One constituent asked about the sidewalk to be built adjacent to his house, making his life safer and access to the trail easier. The man was pleased that Robin knew the details and timing of the construction, including the removal of small trees.
In Meadowbrook, Robin and Tom discussed Trump’s fantastical claims that the last election was one big scam. Tom worried some voters’ faith in election integrity might waver, even possibly in local elections. In response, Robin described the meticulous and dedicated work of Town Clerk Daniel Aman who runs and safeguards Brighton elections, noting that Aman logs 15 hour days during election season.
Robin and Carol hit it off, sharing a CDC approved hug. Robin was Carol’s math student at Pittsford Mendon High School in the mid-to-late 80s. They talked about Carol’s obvious love of math. Robin also recalled the rapidity and legibility of Carol’s chalkboard writing that left her hands covered with chalk dust. mathOur conversation was wide-ranging: inclusionary zoning, the Black Lives Matter movement, critical race theory in public school, the changing of the name of Brighton sports teams, and my favorite, the resumption of recreational softball at Brighton Town Park.
[SEE OTHER ELECTORAL ROADS AT END]
You’ve met Robin often.
Talker: Tell us about your professional and personal lives, including the dog on your campaign palm card?
Robin: By trade, I am a licensed real estate broker, and the aspects of my professional life that I most
enjoy parallel what I love about the public service and activism that are my avocations: I enjoy engaging with members of the public and helping to find ways to achieve their goals. Whether in real estate, public service, or activism, my passion lies in building relationships, and connecting people with the resources to meet their needs. I can honestly say that I so enjoy what I do in my personal and professional pursuits, that neither feel like work.
I am a mother of three sons—ages 21, 20 and 16, and I have been married to my husband, Nicholas, for almost 26 years. My oldest son, Benjamin, will graduate from West Point on May 22nd , and our youngest, Gregory, is completing his junior year at Brighton High School. He will be matriculating at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in the Fall, where my middle son, Samuel,also enrolled during his junior year in high school. My campaign palm card features the newest addition to our family: our Basenji puppy named Pepa (as in the female rap artists Salt ‘n’ Pepa). Little did I know that she would be entering our lives just as we were empty-nesting. She is now 10 months old and our household practically revolves around her.
Talker: What writers/schools of thought have influenced you? What are some of your primary sources of information?
Robin: I tend to read a lot of works of non-fiction and periodicals. I subscribe to The Daily Record, The Nation, The Atlantic, and the Key Reporter (a publication of the Phi Beta Kappa Academic Honor Society). I studied Government in college, and I have been most influenced by voices of intersectional feminism like Audré Lorde and bell hooks. I have always been inspired by the sense of radical inclusivity that their writings evoke, and I try to adhere to that model of listening to, valuing, and incorporating differing experiences and perspectives into my approach toward governance.
Talker: As seen in (Un) Writing an old wrong in Brighton’s Meadowbrook neighborhood, last summer old racial deed clauses were removed from deeds in Meadowbrook and replaced with non-discriminatory language.
The deed changes are meant to be one step towards making Meadowbrook more racially diverse. Yet, Meadowbrook is as undiverse as ever with very few families of color living in the neighborhood (two Black families live just outside Meadowbrook on New Avalon).Why the lack of diversity? To what degree is this racial homogeneity an economic issue or a lack of comfort issue? Some have suggested “affirmative mortgages” i.e. some kind of subsidy to attract families of color. Is this viable? Are there other ways families of color have been or could be “recruited?”
Robin: I admire the efforts of the Meadowbrook community to not only acknowledge the role that restrictive covenants have played in the composition of our communities today, but also to take tangible steps to address the injustices those deed restrictions have wrought. Their work has resulted in the creation of a grassroots group named Confronting our Racists Deeds (CORD), who are committed to effecting substantive change in increasing Brighton’s diversity, equity and inclusion. Not only is the group involved in research to identify all of the neighborhoods in Brighton that share a similar legacy of exclusion, but they are sharing best practices for those neighborhoods to renounce or revoke those restrictive covenants. In addition, they have hosted a community forum in conjunction with the Town of Brighton’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory Board and Brighton Recreation, which presented ways in which anyone interested could become more involved in efforts to help address Brighton’s lack of diversity—which is rooted in segregating policy like restrictive covenants, redlining, and steering.
The work to address Brighton’s legacy of exclusion is not limited to grassroots efforts. Brighton’s Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Advisory (IDEA) Board is “…creating a vision and strategy for encouraging and supporting a more inclusive, more diverse and equitable Brighton community. The Board’s primary scope of work is to develop an Inclusion, Diversity and Equity Action Plan for the Town and to review Town policies and procedures in a comprehensive manner as they relate to best practices in matters of inclusion, diversity and equity. With input from other residents, the Board will develop an Action Plan that will serve as a roadmap for diversity and inclusion initiatives in Brighton on an ongoing basis.”
Like the “affirmative mortgage” suggestion, the IDEA Board hosted a series of virtual “World Café” listening sessions last year to incorporate feedback from the community into its Action Plan. Over the upcoming year, the group will be meeting with staff and governmental stakeholders, and finalizing the plan to present for public input, as well as developing a dashboard to track progress on the goals identified in the plan.
Talker: You are a very visible and committed activist deeply involved, for example, in the BLM movement in Monroe County and beyond. How do you respond to critics who say a Town Councilmember should focus on the Town of Brighton first? As an activist, are you speaking for yourself or for your constituents?Robin: I would say to those critics that I am a Councilmember, first and foremost, and that is precisely why I am active in the efforts in our community to highlight and address the legacy of inequity that is manifest in the homogeneity of our Town. Monroe County is home to five of the top fifty segregating educational borders in the nation, including the most segregating border (between Rochester City Schools and Penfield Central Schools) and the sixth most segregating border (between Rochester City Schools and Brighton Central Schools)—both of which boundaries are within the Town of Brighton. People tend to forget that the Town of Brighton is served by five public school districts. The notion that we are not affected by what happens in the broader community, or that we can remain ensconced in a bubble without working across the jurisdictional boundaries that lie within our community and the region, is antithetical to good governance. The Town of Brighton has mutually-beneficial public service agreements with the City of Rochester, the five public schools districts that serve our town, as well as our County and State governments. My job as a Councilmember is to foster those relationships and dialogues with the broader community to benefit Brighton constituents.
Talker: The issue of educating students about critical race theory in public school has become a hot button issue in several local school board elections. Why has the topic become controversial? How do you respond to critics who say critical race theory only reinforces identity politics?
Robin: I have been disappointed with the way in which the discussion around critical race theory has been framed. Striving for cultural competence and the ideal that everyone’s unique perspective is valued should not be a controversial notion. We are a stronger community when we bring our collective identities and experiences to bear in addressing our challenges. Combatting erasure of experiences by avoiding teaching from a dominant perspective, to the exclusion of all others, makes us more knowledgeable and better able to compete in the global marketplace of ideas. We should all want that for our youth.
Talker: This year the Brighton Barons were changed to the Brighton Bruins. As seen in heated discussions on the alumni site, the name change angered many alumni and others.Do you foresee continued opposition going forward? For example, about 15 years ago when Penfield changed from Chiefs to Patriots, a mini-revolt ensued. Students wore old Chiefs shirts in yearbook pictures and fans went out of their way to wear Chiefs apparel at games. Robin: I attended Dartmouth College. The official mascot was changed from the Indian to the Big Green around the time that I matriculated. In addition, the Alma Mater, which was “Men of Dartmouth” was changed to be “We of Dartmouth”. There was similar outcry from alumni about tradition being abandoned and undermined. Dartmouth was, in its inception, a school for Native Americans, so the Indian nomenclature was mal apropos. It was also the last of the Ivy League institutions to admit women, so again, the “Men of Dartmouth” language was inappropriate. With the Revolutionary War, the United States rid itself of titles, including that of Baron. If we are being honest and historically accurate, we can acknowledge that we abandon tradition all the time, and it does not change history or otherwise diminish us. Given the age of the school district, the Baron mascot is a relatively recent evolution, and its historical significance should not be inflated. I understand that change is difficult, but our ability to evolve sensibilities has, on a whole, made us stronger.
Talker: In 2019, Why I voted for Adam Bello and a trip down Talker political memory lane, 2015 – 2021, expressed my disappointment that softball games are no longer played at Brighton Town Park:
I have a pet project: reversing the abandonment of softball games at Brighton Town Park. In the summer, I am an umpire and often umpired games at the Park. In its heyday, the Park hosted four games a night five days a week. Players were attracted to the centrally located and well maintained field. Players and enjoyed meals picnic meals in the park’s beautiful setting before, after and even during their game.
After games, players and fans would stream into Zebb’s in what was then Loehman’s Plaza to keep the good times rolling. For reasons unclear, two or three years ago the games ended.
Can you promise to restore softball at Brighton Town Park?
Robin: Thank you for making me aware of the softball league at Brighton Town Park. As a former softball enthusiast, myself, this is an area of personal interest.
In Brighton, we are fortunate to have a vibrant Recreation Department, for which we are always recruiting new programming. The pandemic has seen an explosion of creativity and ingenuity in providing safe and accessible programing to our entire community. At Brighton Recreation, there is a sensibility that programming should include all ages and involve lifelong engagement. Our adult athletic leagues are an area where we could potentially increase our programming, so I will make a concerted effort to find out who was involved in the softball league, how it was structured, and what interest there is in reviving softball at Brighton Town Park.
[UPDATE: True to her word, Robin contacted Brighton Recreation for more information. Unfortunately, interest in the softball league decline since its last year, 2017, and the league became non-viable as a program offering. Rec Director Matt Beeman wrote: “I am sure that if you submit a program proposal, and signups are sufficient, space could be found to accommodate the offering.”]