NEWTOWN TOWNSHIP >> When David Oxley took the oath of office one year ago he broke ground as the township’s first African American supervisor.
“I like to define myself as just David Oxley, the individual, but it is a fact that I am the first African American Supervisor in Newtown Township history. And that’s an honor,” he said.
“I appreciate the board appointing me. To be selected, I was deeply moved. And I’m proud of it,” said Oxley, who considers himself a voice on the board for the people of color who live in the township.
“I’m happy that I can do a lot of work here in our township that can affect change economically, but also socially,” said Oxley. “Socially is very important because we do have a robust African American population here in Newtown. It’s important for them to have a voice, someone who understands and can express their concerns ... and move forward with issues that are important.”
Oxley is the first generation of his family born in the United States. Both his parents immigrated to Connecticut from the Eastern Caribbean island nation of Barbados, his mom in 1977 followed by his dad and his older brother and sister in 1979.
His father worked as a supervisor at a Coca-Cola plant in Barbados before transferring to Waterbury, Conn., where he supervised a Coca-Cola factory for many years. He later got a job in the hospitality industry, managing restaurants and hotels. In retirement he worked as a substitute teacher.
Oxley said his dad always had aspirations of a small role in politics, but he was never able to achieve that.
“But he was on committees and locally he was very active,” said Oxley, adding that at one point he served as a Justice of the Peace and Notary Public in Hartford, Conn.
His dad instilled the idea of public service in his children, always challenging and encouraging them to do better in whatever they pursued and making sure they knew how to properly present themselves.
His sons followed in their dad’s footsteps with Oxley’s older brother becoming a Justice of the Peace and a Notary and Oxley himself becoming a notary at one point and now a township supervisor.
His dad was understandably excited when he learned about his son’s appointment. “To have those moments, it kind of tells your parents that you were paying attention. They were very proud of me, as always.”
A year ago when Oxley stepped onto the board in early 2020 he had no idea that life was about to change so dramatically.
The year ahead not only brought the challenges of COVID-19, it sparked outrage across the nation with the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police in Minneapolis, Minn., on Memorial Day.
Oxley, who was deeply affected by the images and what he saw on TV and was concerned about the well being of African Americans in general, was in Chief John Hearn’s office the next day in an attempt to understand how something like that could happen.
“I talked with him at length for an hour or more about my feelings and how uncomfortable it made me and he assured me that if he ever had a police officer with that thought process they would be out. He made me feel comfortable and was willing to do a Town Hall with me and take resident input about how to improve relationships,” he continued.
Oxley later joined supervisor Dennis Fisher in helping to organize a Black Lives Matter candlelight vigil at the Garden of Reflection in neighboring Lower Makefield. The event attracted what seemed like an endless line of vehicles, which drove through the garden in a strong local showing of support for Black Lives Matter.
“Chief Hearn was there. And he was active greeting people and shaking their hands,” said Oxley. “We had a Black Lives Matter rally in Newtown and he led the march. If I hear things, I go back to him. We have talked about making sure that we have a police officer of color on the force at some point, sooner rather than later. He expressed to me what the process is for hiring and the tests they take. I’ve also expressed to him that maybe there’s a different way of going about it.
“In terms of the police department, I think they do a nice job. I will stand by our officers any day. And they have my support. And if there is a problem that occurs, the Chief and I will have a discussion about that.”
Throughout his life, Oxley said most of his experiences with the police have been positive except for one incident in college when he was handcuffed for “fitting a description.”
“I was literally standing outside of my dorm at the University of Hartford and because I fit a description that was the grounds for me being detained. I felt less of a person because all of my white suite mates were standing there. They were outraged because they knew David. They were just losing their minds. It was sad. You can let it eat you up inside or you can just dust it off and move on.”
Growing up in Hartford and its suburbs where he had friends who were black and white, Oxley said he never really experienced racism until he was 16 when he was hanging out with friends in another community and the father of one of the girls he was with asked them to leave. “We asked why and he said because the cops are looking for guys like you. We don’t want that here. You’re hot.”
Another incident happened in college when a group of girls started screaming at him from the roof of a dorm and were dropping the “n-bomb.”
“They thought it was funny. That was the moment that I realized that sometimes people are extremely insensitive and also ignorant in not understanding the word they chose to use, but also that they don’t know the back story of what that word meant.”
Oxley found refuge and understanding as a member of one of the historically African American fraternities on campus. It gave him a sense of belonging and an appreciation of African American history and those who had gone before.
Oxley cites former President Barack Obama as his role model and the African American he admires the most. Obama’s election, said Oxley, “gave me all the hope in the world that anything is achievable.
“President Obama managed to fight through all the noise, all the nonsense and never waivered. He navigated through Congress and Mitch McConnell and everyone who had a target on his back. And then to be re-elected for another four years, you have to be doing something right.
“I believe he gave me and a lot of people out there, white or black, the ability to know that public service can be cool, that public service is not for the faint of heart, but that it’s always better to affect change rather than sitting on the sidelines and doing nothing.”
Since joining the board of supervisors, Oxley has followed that example, dedicating his time to making a difference and affecting change in the area of economic development, which he sees as the long term solution to the township’s budgetary challenges.
He was appointed by Chairman Phil Calabro to serve as liaison to the township’s Economic Development Committee.
“Economic Development is a very powerful thing and an important thing that we need in the township,” he said. “The Board feels the same way. And Phil, in his wisdom, gave me the opportunity to run with this and see what we can do to forge good relationships and create opportunities to support our small businesses.
“It’s important work,” he continued. “We need to bring more revenue into the township. Our earned income tax needs to be better. It needs to contribute more. The way we do that is by providing opportunities for businesses to come in and be a part of this wonderful eco-system that we have here in Newtown.”
During budget discussions, he lobbied strongly for the position of assistant township manager who, among other duties, will devote time to economic development, which Oxley sees as the financial path forward for the township without putting the strain on township taxpayers.
“It has to be a priority,” said Oxley. “We have services that are important here along with the wonderful people we have working in the township and for the greater good of Newtown, we need to ensure those things stay in place. And the only way we do that is to raise taxes or to bring in more earned income tax revenue. The EIT is the better way to go because it means we have a thriving business environment and that brings more people here. We need to be innovative. We need to think outside the box.”
Oxley and the committee, for example, recently made a presentation to the board of supervisors of ideas and ways to make the Newtown Business Commons more attractive to prospective tenants with the introduction of new uses and other amenities.
“I’m only as good as my team,” said Oxley, crediting the members of the EDC for its ideas and hard work behind the scenes. “The EDC is a strong group of individuals who are entrenched in the community and know Newtown. They do a tremendous job.”
Oxley said he hasn’t decided yet whether he’ll be running for a six year seat on the board when his seat expires.
“I have not regretted being on the board even through COVID because I feel I was specifically there for this reason and for the initiatives that I’m laying the groundwork for and the initiatives I have in mind for the future of this township,” he said.