Charlotte’s Clemmons Family Farm played an integral role in this year’s Martin Luther King Community Celebration at ECHO, Leahy Center for Lake Champlain, on Monday, Jan. 20.
The science center has positioned itself in recent years as a community hub for the celebration, offering free admission and transportation for an inclusive community experience.
Lydia Clemmons, representing the Family Farm at the event, said the goal was to present children with opportunities to examine and express themselves around racial issues of feeling hurtful, helpful … and hopeful.
From its website, the Clemmons Family Farm is one of the largest African-American-owned historic farms in Vermont. It is among 22 landmarks on the state’s African-American Heritage Trail.
Clemmons is the daughter of the farm’s founders Lydia and Jackson Clemmons, who owned the farm since 1962. The farm is in transition from being privately owned to becoming a nonprofit organization.
The farm offers “curated opportunities for visitors to celebrate the history, culture, arts and sciences of the African-American and African diaspora in a magical setting,” its website reads.
Clemmons said that recent statistics on racial profiling show African Americans are half as likely to have drugs or guns, but they are four times as likely to be searched.
“School kids who are black or disabled are two to three times more likely to be suspended than white or abled children,” she said.
On the main floor of ECHO, the Clemmons Family Farm had an artistic presentation to encourage students to share their feelings about these issues.
Julio Desmond had a large painting underway, and children were given paint and brushes to add to the mural. Artist Kia’Rae Hanron was working on a large collage and children were encouraged to choose from various materials to make their own mark.
Hanron said the three panels of art she was working on with children were intended “to help younger kids think about race and social justice.”
She said she wanted to give younger children opportunities to make emotional connections and to ask them, “When someone hurts you, do you see bright or dark colors?”
Hanron tries to facilitate hard talks with kids.
Desmond said that the interesting thing about working with a steady stream of kids coming through was working to let it happen: “As an artist you have an idea of what you want it to look like, but you have to let the chaos happen and help them understand what they are going through.”
Clemmons said the ECHO event presented a theme of intersectionality, or how society deals with multiple identities. Upstairs at the center, the Clemmons Family Farm participated in the taping of a Brown n Out podcast episode, which provided a platform for people of color and LGBTQ people to talk about their experiences.