Paying tribute

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A glass and stone memorial commemorating the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s important time in Connecticut was recently unveiled at the Simsbury Free Library. “The striking series of five etched glass and stone panels commemorate the transformative journey of the civil rights leader that started when he worked in Simsbury tobacco fields in 1944 and 1947,” says a release from the library. The idea for the memorial was launched a decade ago after a group of Simsbury High School students learned King had spent two summers in their Connecticut town and created a documentary demonstrating how his time in Connecticut helped show him what a desegregated world could look like. A permanent memorial to King was conceived after the documentary was made, and new students have kept the dream alive, raising the funds necessary for the $120,000 memorial. “To determine both the design and elements used to convey the essence of the documentary, the students enlisted the expertise of master artist Peter McLean, a Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the Hartford Art School/University of Hartford,” says the release. “They designed a series of five etched glass panels that appear to float unsupported. The glass was chosen to reflect the idea that his words are not meant to be bound by walls, but to be available to all people. Each panel illustrates a different aspect of MLK’s life.”

The Simsbury Free Library is at 749 Hopmeadow St. To learn more about the King in CT Memorial, go to MLKinCT.org.

Environmental win

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Plum Island

Tucked into a massive congressional spending bill at the end of 2020 was a measure ending the government’s controversial sale of Plum Island. This is a major victory for conservationists in Connecticut and Long Island who have fought for more than a decade to block the sale. The 840-acre island is 8 miles off Connecticut’s coast and is officially in New York, but has long been linked to the state environmentally and economically. Since the 1950s it has been the home of the Animal Disease Center federal research facility, and since 1990 about half of its 400 employees have lived in Connecticut, traveling to and from the island via a dedicated ferry. 

But in addition to research into dangerous animal diseases, the lab has served as something of a de facto nature preserve, as most of the island has remained untouched and pristine. That’s why environmentalists in Connecticut and Long Island were incensed in 2009 when the federal government announced plans to close the facility on Plum Island and sell the property to offset the cost of building a new facility in Kansas. Now that the sale has been stopped, preservationists hope to create a permanent preserve on the island. 

Add millions to cart

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MacKenzie Scott came into a little bit of extra money in 2019 following her divorce from Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The $38 billion settlement vaulted Scott onto or near the top of all the “richest” lists, and soon after, she joined the Gates/Buffett-led Giving Pledge campaign. Scott has already donated billions, and her generosity was felt in Connecticut in December as part of a blitzkrieg of benevolence that saw 384 organizations nationwide receive significant financial support.

Scott gave $9 million to the YWCA Hartford Region and $4 million to the Housing Development Fund of Stamford. According to a story in the Hartford Courant, the Hartford branch of the YWCA — 61 recipients on that list of 384 are YWCAs — was facing a huge deficit heading into the new year. In that same story, HDF president and CEO Joan Carty said the money will probably be used to finance a community land trust in Stamford.

Have a heart

Back in October, Hartford’s Alex Stephens, 17, became the first pediatric heart transplant recipient at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital since the facility was designated as a pediatric transplant center in 2019.

“We met Alex about 15 months ago after he was diagnosed with really end-stage heart failure,” says Dr. Kevin Hall, director of the Pediatric Heart Transplant Program and Pediatric Heart Failure Program. “We worked closely with Alex and his family over the course of the first year, and treated him with a tailored medical regimen to ease the workload on his heart. … But despite our best medical efforts, our vigilant hospital care and even our love, these medical treatments were ultimately insufficient.”

Dr. Jeremy Asnes, medical director of the children’s hospital’s heart center, says there were no in-state options for children requiring a transplant until now. “Alex and his mom put their trust in us, trusted that we had assembled a team that was able to take this on,” Asnes says. “We learn from every patient that we care for. As much care as we gave Alex, we learned from him. He’s part of the foundation of the transplant program. He’s got an important role to play.” 

Meet Miguel 

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WILMINGTON, DE - DECEMBER 23: Miguel Cardona speaks after President-Elect Joe Biden announced him as his nominee for Education Secretary at the Queen theatre on December 23, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Cardona, the Connecticut Education Commissioner, will face the urgent task of planning to reopen schools safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)

Connecticut Commissioner of Education Miguel Cardona is President Joe Biden’s nominee for education secretary. Here’s a look at some highlights from the Connecticut educator’s life and career. 

  • Cardona’s parents are from Puerto Rico and spoke Spanish at home. He struggled with English when he started school, and the experience has helped inform his thinking as an educator. 
  • A lifelong Meriden resident, he attended Meriden Public Schools and graduated from Wilcox Technical High School. 
  • He received his bachelor’s degree from Central Connecticut State University in New Britain. Later he attended the University of Connecticut where he earned his master’s, doctorate and superintendent certification.
  • For two decades he worked as a public school educator in Meriden, beginning his career as an elementary school teacher, and then serving as a school principal for 10 years.
  • He was appointed commissioner of education by Gov. Ned Lamont in August 2019.
  • According to the Connecticut Mirror, he is a proponent of dual-language schools to prevent students who do not speak English from falling behind and believes this is a crucial step in closing the achievement gap. “Our success as a state will be dependent upon how we support students who are learning English as a second language,” he said during his 2019 confirmation hearing.

New charges in 1988 Pan Am bombing

The Justice Department announced new charges against a Libyan bombmaker on Dec. 21, the 32nd anniversary of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 that killed 270 people over Lockerbie, Scotland. Multiple people from Connecticut died that day, including Shannon Davis, 19, of Shelton; Scott Cory, 20, of Old Lyme; Turhan Ergin, 22, of West Hartford; Patricia Coyle, 20, of Wallingford; Thomas B. Schultz, 20, of Ridgefield; Amy E. Shapiro, 21, of Stamford; and Andrew A. Teran, 20, of New Haven. New York resident Elizabeth Marek, 30, was a graduate of Brookfield High School.

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From left, Patricia Coyle, Thomas Schultz, Shannon Davis and Amy Shapiro

“At long last, this man (Abu Agela Mas’ud Kheir Al-Marimi) responsible for killing Americans and many others will be subject to justice for his crimes,” Attorney General William Barr said. Mas’ud is the third Libyan intelligence official charged in the U.S. in connection with the bombing, but could be the first to stand trial in an American courtroom. The Libyan government refused to turn over Abdel Baset al-Megrahi and Lamen Khalifa Fhimah back in 1991.

This article appears in the February 2021 issue of Connecticut MagazineYou can subscribe to Connecticut Magazine here, or find the current issue on sale hereSign up for our newsletter to get our latest and greatest content delivered right to your inbox. Have a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com. And follow us on Facebook and Instagram @connecticutmagazine and Twitter @connecticutmag.

Erik Ofgang is the co-author of Penguin Random House’s “The Good Vices” and author of “Buzzed” and “Gillette Castle.” He is also an adjunct professor at WCSU’s MFA Program and Quinnipiac University

Mike Wollschlager, editor and writer for Connecticut Magazine, was born and raised in Bristol and has lived in Farmington, Milford, Shelton and Wallingford. He was previously an assistant sports editor at the New Haven Register.

Albie Yuravich is the editor in chief of Connecticut Magazine. A product of the Naugatuck River Valley, he's also been a newspaper editor and writer at the New Haven Register, Greenwich Time, The Register Citizen and the Republican-American.