From Jamaica To Bridgeport–Bicentennial Interview With The Energetic Carolyn Vermont

Carolyn Vermont is a ubiquitous presence around the Park City. She serves as the Mayor’s Community Liaison for the City of Bridgeport where she chairs the Mayor’s Task Force on Gun Violence Prevention & Intervention and also Bridgeport Community Collaborative For Youth. She also held the position of Director of Urban Initiatives for CT Against Gun Violence, and had worked with a variety of non-profits across the region. Carolyn received her Master’s and Bachelor’s Degrees from Fairfield University. She  currently volunteers as Trustee of Rotary Foundation, and as President of Rotary Club of Bridgeport and is a former head of the local chapter of the NAACP.

She’s OIB’s latest interview in our salute to Bridgeport’s Bicentennial.

Q. What is your first memory of Bridgeport?
A. My first memory of Bridgeport was the day that I arrived from Jamaica, West Indies. I remember arriving at JFK Airport in New York and headed straight to Bridgeport. I had heard so many wonderful stories about America from relatives living abroad. Our house in Bridgeport was very different from our homes in Jamaica. The house was situated on a corner lot with a beautiful yard. Families lived next door and across the street. In Jamaica, we had a lot of land with our house, my grandparent’s house, my uncle’s house and other houses where relatives lived. The post office, where my mother served as the postmistress in addition to our family shop, was on the same land. Everyone in our town back home was related by blood or marriage. There were no strangers living in the midst. That was my understanding of community. I felt like I was starting over in life when I arrived in Bridgeport. My family was here but I had to make new friends. I started developing a true sense of neighborhood. Those new friendships that I developed back then are still strong today. Many of my friends from the South and other Caribbean islands share similar memories.

Q. What are your ties to Bpt., and what do you do, either work or volunteer work, that benefits the city and its residents?
A. On a professional level, I serve as the Mayor’s Community Liaison for the City of Bridgeport. My position provides the wonderful opportunity to collaborate with some people who are making a positive impact on the Bridgeport community. I love that I have the opportunity to share in the celebrations and challenges of the residents. On a volunteer basis, I currently serve on the Board of the West Indian American Association of Greater Bridgeport. Each year, we hold a Caribbean Jerk Fest in Bridgeport which attracts over 5,000 guests from different cultures. In addition, I serve as a Trustee for Rotary Foundation; Fairfield University Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions Advisory Board; Kolbe High School Board of Directors; Board Secretary for Habitat For Humanity; Public Policy Chair for National Coalition of 100 Black Women-NHM Chapter; FCCF Bridgeport Public Housing Resident Support Fund Advisory Board; Parent Leadership Training Institute Civic Design Team; and Shepherd’s Mentor. I also volunteer with many other organizations. All the professional and volunteer work that I do benefits the Bridgeport community on different levels. Growing up, I benefited from many organizations in Bridgeport such as Youth Bridge that was led by the late James and Loyse Tisdale, Upward Bound at Fairfield University and NAACP Youth Council. I especially enjoy serving as a mentor for Shepherd’s. I have been blessed with some wonderful mentors throughout my life. Giving back to the community is always a priority for me. Throughout my life, I admired my mother’s volunteerism. She was always opening doors for others.

Q. What do you like best about Bridgeport?
A. I love the racial and ethnic diversity that Bridgeport offers. Bridgeport is comprised of so many people from so many backgrounds and they contribute so much to Bridgeport. As a first-generation immigrant, I especially enjoy meeting people from other countries and learning about their culture. In Jamaica, my teachers looked like me, the Prime Ministers look like me, the bank presidents look like me, the people on the money look like me, so I have representation. Although we have a long way to go in America to improve race relations, I see potential in Bridgeport. I notice a shift in leadership roles for people of color in government, education, corporation, nonprofit and other areas. On a national level, I am especially proud of Vice President Kamala Harris. Our first female in that position is the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants. Locally, I see people from different racial and ethnic backgrounds continuing to mentor the younger generation and providing opportunities for them. Various groups are focused on the continued work for the rights of the disenfranchised and the marginalized. They are working to achieve racial and gender equity. Together we are creating a city of inclusion, and a sense of belonging for all. My involvement with New American Leaders provides the opportunity for me to network and support other immigrants as they prepare for leadership roles.

Q. Where is your favorite spot in the city to visit and why?
A. I absolutely love Seaside Park. I go there as often as possible to just sit by the water. It makes me think of being back home in Jamaica. I also feel a sense of peace by the water.

Q. What’s your favorite Bridgeport eatery and what do you like there?
A. I love Jamaican food!!! I started eating at Rootsman Kitchen in the early nineties when I worked at the University of Bridgeport and I still love the ackee and saltfish breakfast among the other meals there. There are other nice restaurants where I love to eat as well. In addition to West Indian food, I love soul food, seafood, and Italian food. My office is within walking distance to Grill 11 Jamaica Restaurant, Miss Thelma’s Soulfood, Metric Bar & Grill and Ralph ‘n’ Rich’s. Our weekly Rotary meetings are held at the Holiday Inn where I get to enjoy the food there too.

Q. Where do you see the city going?
A. I see the city moving forth with newfound energy, and more entrepreneurships with solid hard work. Like most urban cities, we are dealing with a lot of stressors. However, I have witnessed so many people working hard to make life better for Bridgeport residents. I am especially proud of the young adults and youth who are speaking up and taking on leadership roles. Many of them have opened small businesses. They are not waiting on others to make things happen for them, they are boldly taking on these initiatives. Since the beginning of this COVID-19 Pandemic, residents from all walks of life have stepped up to ensure that the basic needs of others are met. On the other hand, many of my close friends have relocated to Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, and other big cities. Even though they were born and raised in Bridgeport, they wanted to experience life in another city. I will likely stay in Bridgeport until I am ready to move back home to Jamaica. I have family and a great network of friends here. I share a strong bond with my pastor and church family at Messiah Baptist Church.

Q. If you had a magic wand and could make a miracle happen for the city, what would it be?
A. If I had a magic wand, I would cover Bridgeport with love. Imagine if we all loved each other, we would have less poverty, racism, prejudice, crime, and hate. Love is the foundation of our ability to shape change and create the world we want.

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10 comments

  1. Carolyn loves the city of Bridgeport and it is so very evident in all that she does within the communities. Her several attributes, her dedication and selflessness makes her so admirable, in addition to being a strong & positive asset to Bridgeport. (She makes me feel guilty for not doing more myself) lol My husband and I were born and raised in Bridgeport and we truly believe in our city. We need more positive people like Carolyn! Hopefully others will also want to follow her lead.

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  2. She is the definition of dedication and a staple at every and any community event. Carolyn is down to earth and a stalwart supporter of Bridgport and its residents. She’s had plenty an opportunity to flee and pursue life in a different city but has chosen to remain here and work to improve the lives of the people she’s grown up with. Bravo!!

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  3. 👏🏽👏🏽👏🏽👍🏽👍🏽… Every city needs a Carolyn Vermont in my opinion. Since my youth I have learned from her how to be a servant leader, see things from all sides, and truly do “the work “as led by God. We all know that is not always the easy way- to do “the work”…lol.

    When I was President of the NAACP Youth Chapter & Chairman of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council it was her tutelage, advisement and mentorship that helped me better understand activism, public policy and community building. She also taught me how to be kind while doing “the work” and even kinder when dealing with “adversaries” or people who may have a difference of opinion than I.

    It makes every bit of sense that in a salute to Bridgeport’s bicentennial an interview with Carolyn Vermont would happen. She is Grace under Fire and a Profile in Courage all nestled in one. Like many young people who grew up in Bridgeport in the 80s and 90s when the city was besieged with violence and the crack epidemic in many of our neighborhoods – she was never afraid to enter those “hoods” and advocate for more resources to heal the youth and residents residing there. I know this firsthand as we spent many nights in her Ford Taurus parked in Beardsley Terrace (where I proudly grew up) discussing ways to help youth and even created a violence prevention program housed at Wilbur Cross Elementary School. Those talks, way of community programming and her guidance are seeds that continue to bloom in my own work and life.
    I salute OIB for this interview of her and I hope we all can contribute to community with the humility, style, knowledge and grace of a Ms. Vermont.

    Warmly,

    Seitu Jemel Hart

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  4. I mean no disrespect to the appointees of Joey G., but when he tapped Carolyn Vermont, he hit the jackpot. She’s the picture of grace and experience.

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  5. Carolyn epitomizes strong community leadership and has served this community all my life. Her positivity and drive reflect in this interview and always in her work. Thank you for your service!

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  6. Carolyn is the epitome of Bridgeport! She was one of the first friendship formed when I moved to Bridgeport from Stamford. She has taught me about community involvement, NAACP, Jamaican food in the area of Bridgeport, Jerk Festival, etc. I would not know the true definition of Bridgeport if it was not for Carolyn.

    Carolyn’s true love for her City makes me proud! Not only does she prove through her work/activities for her city, but also shows pure dedication to the city she truly stands for!

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  7. There are not enough accolades that can be bestowed upon Carolyn Vermont as the best example of a stalwart agent of advocacy and change.

    I’ve known and looked up to Carolyn for her aptitude towards community ever since I was a teenager in high school; who was also my peer within the then acclaimed Upward Bound Program at Fairfield University; the institution at which she received her Master’s Degree; and her alma mater at which she continues to serve.

    Amidst raising two amazing children whom have both graduated from excellent colleges; and one who has gone on to acquire her Doctoral degree; Carolyn continues to soar mightily in activities that serve in action and advocacy for her community beyond anyone’s imagination.

    She is recognized beyond the walls of Bridgeport and Connecticut by not only local leadership and celebrities; but by this country’s presidential leadership.

    I pray God’s covering over Carolyn in that He continues to provide her with the perserverance that she will need to continue the work that He has birthed in her.

    I also pray that her entire community will continue to lock arms in support of her tireless efforts for many years to come.

    She is everyone’s mother, daughter, sister, aunt, neice and friend of hope and proactive justice within our community.

    She is Carolyn Vermont….Our First Lady of Bridgeport.

    Sherylyn D. Garner, MSc.

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