The Vermont Council on Rural Development held a summit last week on the future of Vermont, and the series of discussions ranged from developing a climate economy to educating kids on equity and inclusion.
The event was broken into 20 subgroups that met each with its own task. The big question the group posed was “what do Vermonters need to do in the next three years to be successful for the next generation.”
One breakout session, “Combating Racism & Building Safe and Welcoming Communities for People of Color,” was moderated by Xusana Davis, the state’s first executive director of racial equity. Four other panelists included Adam Grinold, executive director for the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation, Jen Kimmich, general manager of The Alchemist, Arnold Thomas, pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, and Mia Schultz, president of the Vermont NAACP.
Each speaker claimed Vermonters have a problem with racism.
“I think that for people of color, [any person] coming into any predominantly white community needs to gear themselves up for whatever comes their way,” Thomas said. “Recognizing that often the [experience] that comes of it will be negative and demeaning, they have to put an armor to prepare themselves for that.”
Davis echoed that sentiment.
“You can’t just move to Vermont and live,” she said. “You have to cage your heart in preparation for hate and wear this private armor and hear from people with lived experience. … We have members of dominant groups who just live where they want to live because they want to live there, and considerations don’t necessarily hinge on where will I be safe.
” … We are still grappling with a legacy of racism and of slavery in this country that is still very real — and yes, both are still very real,” she said.
Schultz said when people ask her about how Vermont is for people of color, she does not recommend that they come.
“The thing is, in my role I get … a BIPOC person from outside of Vermont saying ‘is it safe to come to Vermont, is it safe to move there.’ Sometimes I’m like, ‘I’m not qualified to answer that question.'”
Grinold said some Vermonters believe the state does not have a problem with race.
“Historically, we as Vermonters, I think, really falsely pride ourselves on being an open community where everybody is welcomed right away. But to the outsider — it’s often an outsider, right? — they don’t feel part of that community, they feel different and separate.”
Kimmich spoke of reaching out to young people to address racism, and making big changes to the school curriculum to accomplish it.
“I can’t overemphasize education and just [making] a complete curriculum overhaul,” she said.
Kimmich added that the arts community could be used to spread such messages of equity and inclusion.
“We’re really committed to using the arts as a vehicle for bringing our community together, [and] providing as much exposure as we can, to teach youth and to everyone in our community, whether it’s through artists or musicians or poets,” she said.
Schultz suggested children must be educated in a way to buy into the notion of a global society, yet admitted that communities are pushing back against such agendas.
“What we’re seeing right now is kind of a pushback. I’m seeing a lot of pushback in our selectboards across the mainstream — but in Vermont in particular, as well — where we’re seeing pushback in the actual implementation of these equity statements and these inclusion statements that we’ve crafted so well,” she said.
Schultz added that school boards are “being infiltrated with the pushback in ways that we’re trying to remove discussion about critical race theory, remove discussions that are really needed in order to cultivate the children who will be global citizens.”
Of the other breakout sessions for the multi-day event included “Advancing Creative Economic Solutions to Climate Change,” “Encouraging Local Democracy and New Leaders,” “Planning for the Future: Vermont Futurists Roundtable,” and more.