Name: Bor Yang
Current Town: Pittsfield, VT & Montpelier, VT
Years in VT: 5 years
Business name: Human Rights Commission
Business email: email@example.com
Business website: hrc.vermont.gov
Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT and what brought you to the state.
Before moving to Vermont, I was an instructor in a legal studies program at a community college. I was practicing law part-time while balancing family life in South Minneapolis. While my family first settled in Chicago when we arrived in the United States as refugees, Minneapolis is where I grew up. Probably more than any other place, Minneapolis is where I feel most connected to myself, where my memories are solid and the scenes, sounds and scents are most familiar. In a strange way, it is there that I feel most recognized even though I am unknown outside of my small circle of family and friends.
It was definitely that familiarity that prompted me to acquiesce when my husband asked us to move to Vermont, where he had gone to graduate school and had longed to return. I had been happy for many years teaching and practicing law. But coincidentally, at precisely the point in which he had asked us to move, I was starting to feel stagnant in my career. I had outgrown my environment. My classes and cases had become routine. Life had become redundant. Deep down, I felt convicted that there was more growth in me and in that growth would be a greater opportunity to serve others.
So, we moved to Vermont. I had no job, no house, no savings. I left a comfortable tenured position and moved away from everyone and everything I knew. It was a leap of faith to move from a large, diverse metropolitan city to a very rural and mostly white state. My husband, who is white, adjusted well. We were lucky to have found a school community that embraced our children. But there was a lot of growing pains for me personally. I always joke that I don’t look good in person, but I look good on paper. Here in Vermont, I could not find work for almost a year. I applied for jobs that I was qualified for and over-qualified for and could not get an interview. I was lonely and isolated and missed the familiar scents, sounds and tastes of diversity, which to me comes in the form of loud music, gregarious laughter, fish sauce, curry and extra spicy. It was helpful to have lots of visitors, to have had the time off to explore Vermont, Montreal, Quebec, NYC, Boston. That filled the void until I got a job at the Human Rights Commission as a staff attorney investigator.
It really was this singular opportunity that grounded me and gave me the platform that I have today as the Executive Director of the Commission.
A couple of years ago, I read about this Japanese concept called “Ikigai” which means “a reason for being.” When you have found something that you love to do, are good at, can get paid for and serves the world, you have found a purpose in life, a reason for being. Here in Vermont, where everything was new and unfamiliar and challenging, I had found Ikigai.
What do you enjoy about being a professional in VT?
There aren’t many BIPOC people in the areas of civil and human rights. As such, there is only a few of us that are called upon to weigh in on policies. That gives people like me an important role in influencing and advancing policies in Vermont. That is an enjoyable and rewarding part of my position.
But I also take that responsibility very seriously as I feel strongly that my voice is but one. We may have some shared experiences, but we are not a homogenous group on a singular ideological path. There are critical historical and modern-day differences in our experiences because of the color of our skin, where we were born, our interwoven gender and racial identities and more. Therefore, my job in part is to amplify the voices and experiences of other BIPOC community members (and LGBTQ+, people with disabilities, women, children, etc). The more there are of us at the table, the better we are for it.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a professional since living in VT?
I work in the area of discrimination and as a BIPOC person, I also experience it at home and in my community. It is these lived experiences that make us particularly qualified to do this work. But we’re also likely to burnout faster. While it is possible for white people in this area to create a good work-life balance, that is much harder for us BIPOC people to do. As an example, I may share some personal stories to engage people’s hearts in a presentation about bias and discrimination but when an audience member denies that experience, denies that racism exists, tells me to go back to my country or questions the validity of thousands of experiments and studies, it doesn’t just affect me professionally, it also affects me personally. It is a vulnerable place to start from and exist in.
How have you worked to overcome the challenges?
I try to connect to other BIPOC people and rely on my faith. I try to take care of my mental and physical health. And I try to hold on to some basic principles that have carried me through life: 1) Do not fear; 2) Love above all else. But honestly, it’s a constant work in progress to overcome the challenges and some days, I accept defeat. Then I wake up and try again.
What opportunities do you see for your sector in the future?
More than ever, people are listening. There is room in Vermont for progress and change. There are many days in which I feel inspired and hopeful. I encourage my BIPOC community members, who are interested in civil and human rights to engage in local, state and national government and advocacy groups.
In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC professionals?
There are many of us working for change, but we are spread a part and siloed. It is important for us to lean into each other and to support each other’s work. Support shows up in the form of educating ourselves, staying current on the news, providing public and private positive feedback, calling legislators, working together on joint initiatives, highlighting each other’s work, showing up for events and forums and generally being of service.
What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?
It can be hard to “make it” here both financially and socially. But there is a real need here for diverse perspectives, rich cultural experiences and learning opportunities. Flexibility, openness and willingness to explore those opportunities could result in success that would not have occurred elsewhere.
Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?
Look for the HRC’s Civil Rights Conference in the Fall.