It has been one year since several hateful public incidents plagued our communities: various swastikas painted and etched in the local school fields and classrooms, and the racist behaviors and verbal abuses targeted at a group of families with adopted children of color who came to Stowe to enjoy a week of camp together.
These incidents were not anomalies. They were catalysts for change.
In direct response, a broad group of leaders and community gathered to discuss forming a coalition to begin tackling the longstanding and ongoing dangers of racism and other forms of bigotry in our communities. Attendees included a broad array of local and state civic leaders, law enforcement, faith leaders, business owners and concerned citizens.
In the 12 months since this group came together, this ad hoc coalition and the persistence of a small but growing group of core individuals has made some tangible progress:
• Formed an interim steering committee to help create a vision statement and set up governance practices for this body.
• Secured funding to enlist expert advice and facilitation.
• Drafted a working vision statement as follows, with dozens of stakeholders involved in its formation: “The Morrisville-Stowe Coalition envisions a community that embodies inclusion, equity and justice as values central to our identity. We are committed to building a safe community where all people experience dignity and respect, and all are welcome with kindness and belonging.”
• Researched the makeup of residents in the area and learned about the challenges of inaccurate census data.
• Sent three members to the 2018 Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Conference, reporting back on best practices in the field of racial justice.
• Formed active working groups that are meeting regularly. These include community outreach, schools, civic and law enforcement, and business groups. It is in these groups that the bulk of the work will take place.
• Have convened four large group meetings in Stowe and Morrisville to report progress, recruit more people to join us — especially people of color, as we recognize that our attendees and leadership committee sorely lack the diversity we are attempting to address.
Perhaps most importantly, our communities are finally having an open and honest discussion that acknowledges that systemic racism, anti-Semitism and all other forms of bigotry exist across our society’s institutions and in our local community.
Within this group, we are striving for racial justice in our school systems, businesses, places of worship, law enforcement, media, and in our homes. We are committed to improving ourselves and our community through collaborative work rooted in human decency and kindness. We believe that this is the responsibility of all and there is no institution that should be spared from accountability.
As a group, we understand that our work alone will not end racism in our community, yet we do believe that, through our efforts and those of others that we may or may not have inspired, we can participate in effecting lasting change.
Despite our varied places along this journey of learning, in spite of the difficulty of this task and the well-known challenges that conversations about race, racism and privilege elicit, even with the prior and anticipated missteps, we are facing our fears and each other directly, rather than looking the other way. Looking the other way is not acceptable as we seek a just society; in fact, we believe it is imperative for people with privilege to do so.
So, we are invested in the inherently slow work of dismantling these systems, beginning with ourselves, the steering committee, and within our working groups.
Our hope is that the entire community will support this work — either with us or on your own in some way. Here is how you can get involved:
• Please consider attending a meeting. Our next meetings will take place on Wednesday, Aug. 21, 5 to 6:30 p.m. at the United Community Church in Morrisville, and Thursday, Sept. 12, noon to 1:30 p.m. in Stowe at the Akeley Memorial Building. All are welcome.
• We are also seeking to make the composition of the group more diverse. We are opening the leadership and the participation of the entire group to all, centering the power of the conversation with those who are most affected, particularly people of color.
• Consider joining one of the working groups. What do you care most about? Impacting the community through outreach and education? Working with law enforcement and civic leaders to be accountable to all those in Vermont? Making sure that each child who comes to school is treated equitably? That all teachers have the proper training in social justice and equity? That we establish curricula that deal with the underlying issues of inequality? That we ensure that our business community welcomes all and that business opportunity is accessible and fair to all?
• Start a conversation: Talk about race and difference with your children, your friends, your families. Call out bigotry when you see it. It is always the right moment to stand up for what is right.
Please support our coalition more broadly. We invite support, hard work, questions, curiosity, accountability and helpful critique. Constructive feedback and curiosity about our timeline, our focus, debates, different opinions and perspectives help us grow.
Please treat us as who and what we are: a group of committed people with busy schedules who are volunteering our time and energy on a difficult and entrenched topic and doing our best to make a positive change in our community.
We are in and we hope you are too. It’s truly a learning experience for all. Join us at one of upcoming meetings. We believe that this work is critical to our community, our nation, and our world. We look forward to doing this critical work with you all.
Rabbi David Fainsilber
Steering committee members of the Morrisville-Stowe Coalition