On January 11, 2023

One step… and another, toward equity 

By Lise Sparrow

Editor’s note: Rev. Dr. Lise Sparrow is the chair of religious affairs of the Windham County NAACP.

Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” 

Here in Vermont the dismantling of structural racism has been happening slowly but relentlessly in part through the work of local selectboards. Athens, Brattleboro, Bennington, Brookline, Chester, Guilford, Putney, Newfane, Vernon and Wilmington Select Boards, along with those of some 80 other municipalities in Vermont, have signed their own “declarations of inclusion” signifying their commitments to raise consciousness about the importance of diversity, the positive effect that diversity can have on our economy, and on equity and justice especially in this, the second “whitest” state in the nation. 

Having signed on, these towns and cities then do the more reflective work of transforming aspects of local government, focusing for example, on examining employee manuals, police protocols, and hiring practices to promote fairness and equity. Others apply their commitments to legislation, ordinances and, ultimately, to attracting people with myriad skills and traditions to Vermont to live, work, and raise families. 

In May 2021 the Vermont Chamber of Commerce made its own declaration, and in conjunction with Gov. Phil Scott established the annual “Week of Inclusion” to highlight the issues, and took the challenge further by challenging not only municipalities but also businesses and faith communities to begin taking up the challenge with an eye to 100 municipalities having made the declaration by May 2023. 

Locally the NAACP and Vermont Interfaith Action are working together to widen the scope of the commitments. 

In October of 2022, Xusana Davis, Vermont’s first executive director of racial equity, and Governor Scott announced the creation of the IDEAL(Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Action, Leadership) Coalition intended to take the declarations another step forward. With $220,000 from the state and supplemented by funds from the Vermont Community Foundation that are available Brattleboro and Bennington will be able to do the “reflective and introspective” (quoting Davis) work to determine what is and isn’t working in regards to racial equity. Davis gives examples, such as making community activities and programs more accessible which might be funded by the grants. 

On Jan. 17, the Declaration of Inclusion (DOC) Campaign and Vermont Interfaith Action along with the NAACP will host an informational meeting for other communities and organizations interested in adopting the Declaration of Inclusion. It will take place online on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. AI Wakefield and Bob Harnish, the founders of the declaration campaign, will share the history and an update, along with state Representative Michael Mworicki and members of selectboards who have already signed on, will share details and information with others interested. Xusana Davis will also be present to give and update on the efforts of the IDEAL program in southern Vermont. 

For more info email Mworicki at Mike@viavt.org. 

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