Artist couple, Wallingford residents, navigated race issues 

Jocelyn Pannell is an art teacher in the Southington Public School system, working at Hatton and Thalberg elementary schools. Pannell said she loves working with young children and adds that they’re generally open and honest.

She grew up in Cheshire, the child of a white mother and Black father.

During the time of the Black Lives Matter protests last spring, one second grader asked Pannell if she was “sad about what was happening on TV.”

“I knew what she meant. She recognized that I had dark skin,” Pannell said.

The question caught Pannell off-guard. Skin color never came up in the course of her daily classroom work, no child had ever made a comment or appeared to notice.

“It was random. I thought that was interesting. Also, I was very proud of her for asking,” said Pannell. “Maybe she was having that conversation at home; that it wasn’t right these things were happening.”

Jocelyn’s husband Titus Pannell also is an artist. The couple have been married for almost five years and, currently live in Wallingford. Titus works as a production coordinator for Elim Park’s Nelson Hall in Cheshire. He also creates children’s books and graphic novels. Recently, he self-published a children’s chapter book, co-authored with his friend Travis Woronowicz, called “Return to Eden.”

The Pannells described their different experiences growing up and

how issues of race were handled in their respective households during their earlier years.

Titus Pannell was raised by his single mother, Mammie Pannell. “Without my father to guide me, I had to learn what it meant to be a Black person and a man and bring the two together,” he said. He’s thankful to have been blessed with male mentors who helped guide him as best they could when he was growing up. He went on to serve in the Marine Corps and earned his master’s degree in traditional animation. He also has undergraduate degrees in biology and theology.

He’s quick to explain that he “is not looking for sympathy. I am not looking for racism in the world.”

However, “Like most people, I came into the world thinking we are all equal. There are people who don’t feel the same way and those people express themselves in very interesting and unique and subtle ways sometimes,” he said.

At first, Titus Pannell questioned himself. “Was it me?” He’d try to change himself, things he said or the way he acted, or by not talking at all. When he kept seeing the same problems come around, he realized there was nothing he could do to change anything. “It was the people,” he said, although not everyone.

Jocelyn Pannell was born in Cheshire and grew up there in the 1990s, with a biracial couple as her parents. While she was aware she was different from most of her peers and noticed, “I am the only one,” the fact did not bother her at the time, she said.

“For years it was the norm … you are always going to be the one who is different,” was the way adolescent thought about it.

Her parents, Karen and Joe Pugh, never gave her reason to think twice about her ethnicity and Jocelyn recollects no in-depth talk about race when she was growing up.

While she realized she was different, coming from a biracial family, it wasn’t a defining issue for her. Jocelyn can’t say for sure, but she believes that her brother was given more of an insight into racism and the need to be careful while she was shielded from those realities.

It was only when Jocelyn Pannell was older that she heard about racism from older family relations and began to have insight into the significance of her heritage. “My father was one of 14 children in his family, raised on a farm in the south,” she said. “When the extended family got together, with my aunts and uncles, that’s when the stories would come out.”

Overall, though, Jocelyn’s path was clear and unencumbered by issues of race. It was Jocelyn’s grandmother Virginia Doucette who inspired her to develop her skills as an artist. When her grandmother retired and began to paint, Pannell would sit and paint next to her.

“That’s how I got my itch through art,” she said, adding that at the age of five, she was allowed to take classes at Artsplace, a free-standing art school owned by the Town of Cheshire and affiliated with the Cheshire Public Library. Early on, when Jocelyn Pannell was getting involved with the organization, art classes were held in the old firehouse building on Maple Avenue. She noted that Artsplace director Joan Pilarcyzk “has known me a long time.”

When she told her mother she wanted to be an artist, her mother remarked, “There’s a reason why they call them ‘starving’ artists, you know.”

It made sense to become an art teacher. She’d enjoyed her time working as a babysitter in high school as well as working as a nanny during college breaks. Putting art, teaching and kids together worked well.

As an artist, Titus Pannell supposes it is in his nature to be sensitive. However, he said that to be met face-to-face with racism, especially after Barack Obama was president and Titus had served honorably in the Marine Corps is “disheartening.”

What pulls him back to a joyful place is his work, his art and his wife, who he calls “his anchor.” Titus Pannell also credits Jocelyn’s father. “I didn’t have a father figure growing up, so I see him as my surrogate father. I cherish Jocelyn’s father,” Titus said.

All of it encourages him and helps him to grow as an artist — and to do something more positive in order for people to find more hope in the world today.

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