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Discussion on systemic racism held in conjunction with 1619 exhibit at Fletcher Free Library

The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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The Black Lives Matter flag flies in front of Burlington City Hall (file)

The Fletcher Free Library in Burlington is currently hosting the traveling exhibit: “1619: Arrival of the First Africans.” In conjunction with the display, the library recently hosted a roundtable discussion on systemic racism in Vermont.

The Hampton History Museum’s exhibit uses six banners to depict how Angolans became enslaved by the Spanish and taken to Virginia.

The display in Burlington is co-sponsored by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. In conjunction with the exhibit the Alliance held a roundtable discussion as part of their statewide “Turning the Curve on Systemic Racism: Building Back a Healthier Vermont” campaign.

Racial Justice Alliance Executive Director Mark Hughes said the state legislature has passed two significant measures recently including a resolution declaring racism a public health emergency and a law to address disparities in the state’s criminal justice system.

“We wanted to do something that provided some oversight for law enforcement, mostly around the implementation of the data collection policy and training. And what it evolved to was that report from the Attorney General and the Human Rights Commission on this whole idea of disparities in all systems. This was the first time in Vermont’s history that there was ever a report that was released that said, hey look, there’s disparities across all systems of state government.”

Alliance Social Equity Caucus co-chair and Vermont House Democratic Representative Kevin Christie of White River Junction says work to mitigate systemic racism in state and community government must be continuous.

“There’s been ups and downs during this journey and it is a journey. There’s been a lot of Vermonters involved that have been doing this work for longer than we probably want to say! But at the end of the day we’re proud of Vermont for where it is and where it can and will be in the future. You know we’ve gotten some things done here that other folks haven’t even attempted to do as a state.”

Alliance steering committee member Reverend Dr. Arnold Thomas hopes more attention is focused on the definition and awareness of systemic racism.

“And also an awareness of how it is infected every fiber of our existence. Especially among people of color but certainly among whites as well. We need to provide a more concerted effort to educate the wider Vermont community about the way systemic racism continually affects and infects our lives." Reverend Thomas adds, "The forum has been a wonderful outlet for both my congregation and opening members about the ways in which we have all been complicit in this institution of racism and ways in which we can serve as allies in trying to overcome it.”

The “1619: Arrival of the First Africans” traveling exhibit will be at the Fletcher Free Library through November 29th.. It will then be displayed at the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance’s Richard Kemp Center.

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