Wallace Stevens house in Hartford. It is now a private residence. Wikipedia

I came to Connecticut 20 years ago. I knew little about the state, only from having lived in New York City and having seen Connecticut as a place where many New Yorkers chose to live. I came to Hartford after being recruited for a job in higher education. I selected East Hartford, across the river, where I could see the water flow and the city’s lights reflected at night.

Estela Lopez

The river became my backyard, enabling me to walk along its side throughout different times of the year. Coming from the Caribbean, seeing the river freeze in the cold winter was experiencing something very foreign and unique. When the Lincoln-inspired sculptures were added, walking along the pathway was even more special, almost spiritual.

Leadership Greater Hartford introduced me to many city gems, from the Mark Twain House to Real Art Ways. It also allowed me to meet city leaders and opinion makers, which helped me begin to understand the challenges and opportunities the larger community offered.

I knew then that I wanted and needed to connect to that community and be part of those trying to make it better. Although working in education allowed me to have some impact, there was still much to contribute to other sectors.

As the years went by, I saw more beauty in the city and its citizen and realized that it was a place where poetry happened in many corners, where the library celebrated poetry from many countries and Wallace Stevens rhymes had been immortalized for all to see in the city blocks he walked each day to work. Those stanzas remind us that art exists in the city and can be made in the midst of everyday routine and challenges.

During my 20 years of living across the river I saw Adriaen’s Landing being transformed with the Science Center and its magic carpet roof, the Marriott Hotel being erected and Riverfront Recapture strengthening its hold on the river’s landscape so all can enjoy its beauty.

I witnessed the impact of nonprofit organizations that day by day try to improve the lives of many offering them healthcare, skill training, education, housing choices and the possibility of a better life. I also witnessed the generosity of the philanthropic organizations coming together to address the hurricane victims fleeing Puerto Rico after the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. During these years of this terrible pandemic, philanthropic efforts have been generously providing support to those with less resources.

I have witnessed the community rallying to impede discrimination, to fight for opportunities, to expect structural changes so more people can benefit from access and equity policies.

It is clear that community must be at the center of these efforts, otherwise strategies lose their impact and their benefit; that Connecticut is much better when actions benefit communities that include everyone; that we are all enriched when our neighbors do better; that structures exist to benefit human beings and not the other way around.

As I bid farewell to the state , I am aware of how a place shapes our thinking. Added layers of varied experiences now enrich my soul. I saw beauty, poverty, need, investment, hope, commitment, generosity. I made long lasting friends who enriched my life and soul with joy and new perspectives.

In the words of Wallace Stevens: “The river is moving. The blackbird must be flying.” I need to fly and leave with gratitude for those who taught me and showed me the generosity of their actions and spirits. I need to fly, taking with me the love for the land, its people, its challenges, its poetry.

Estela Lopez, formerly from East Hartford, is the former provost of the CT State Colleges and Universities. She served on the boards of many organizations including Mark Twain House, Fund for Greater Hartford, The Shelter for Women, United Way of CT, Aurora Foundation, Leadership Greater Hartford, CT State Board of Education, Connecticut Health and Education Financial Authority, Open Communities Alliance, Malta House of Care and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.