Tell us a bit about your background before arriving in VT and what brought you to the state.
I was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but was adopted and moved to Stowe, Vermont at just a few months old. My life in Vermont has been largely a mix of experiences from first trying to assimilate to a majorly white society to eventually finding my own voice as I aged and self-educated. As a child, racially-driven implicit bias was consistent in my surroundings, and even when those experiences made me feel isolated or sad and confused, I just carried on with life, the prolongation of stereotypes I had adopted as my character becoming my normal because diversity where I lived was too abnormal to embody. I didn’t really have anyone who looked like me in my life to relate to, so I tried my best to be the “whitest person of color” I could be- little did I know that that approach to life was only hindering my capability to be my own person. As I grew older, my perception of myself and my situation grew keener, and I slowly began to recognize that I stood out. I began to push back a bit more against the hurtful comments my peers would leave me with in reference to my skin, hair, or the differentiation between myself and my white family members. And now, as I’m moving into my senior year, I seem to have grown a lot from that young, mixed-race child who didn’t have the resources necessary for her to learn how to run a comb through her naturally curly hair until her teen years.
What do you enjoy about being a student in VT?
I enjoy being able to work alongside other students who are passionate about reaching the same goals (on the basis of race and equity) that I am. Attending school in a place like Vermont, while challenging, allows me to find allies who are willing to push for the necessary changes to make our communities more equitable. Being a student at Stowe High School has also allowed me to witness firsthand some of the areas that are lacking on the education and community levels when it comes to the incorporation of cultural and racial differences. By living through these issues myself, I can better gage what needs to be worked on and improved.
What are some challenges that you’ve faced as a student since living in VT?
As a student who is a person of color, I’ve faced a real lack of racial empathy from the administration and from the staff. The issue is not that there aren’t people in the education system who care; there are. The issue is that there are so few people of color working as teachers, staff, school board members and other administration members. It’s personally quite isolating for someone like me to attend a majorly white school and to not have a single person to look up to who represents the parts of me that my white peers simply cannot.
How have you worked to overcome the challenges?
I’ve combined two of the facets of my life into making the necessary support system and driven team to face the racial challenges present in the education system: one facet is the students from my school who work incredibly hard to put in the effort to make their school a more equitable place for everyone (we are the ones who formed REACH [Racial Equity Activists Club for Humanity] and organized the school-wide walkout for Stowe High School), and the other facet is the community members I’ve found outside of my school and who have supported me and have been my mentors and guidance. The balance of my white peers from my school plus the people of color from my community who have stood with me has created a powerful team of driven individuals.
What opportunities do you see for BIPOC students in the future?
I see more opportunities for BIPOC students to be leaders and educators to their communities, to share their own lived experiences. I also see more cultural representation appearing in the future for the youth= more incorporation into school classes of different racial perspectives, as well as a stronger BIPOC student-led initiative on the incorporation of different cultures’ histories into daily life for all: music, art, etc…
In what ways could your community or the state of VT support BIPOC students?
We could use more support by being provided with affinity spaces and the necessary resources to be able to connect with others who’ve experienced similar issues and discomforts, as well as have asked similar questions to our own. It can be difficult for BIPOC students to find safe and comfortable places to share their own lived experiences as well as to find opportunities to connect with other BIPOC educators.
What advice would you have wanted to receive about being a BIPOC student before arriving in VT?
I wish I’d had someone there to be able to guide me into finding people like me who could help me and support me. I wish I’d had someone there who shared similar melanin rich skin and distinctive curly hair to be able to tell me that my body does not have to be the defining factor of my success or my failures. I wish I’d had someone there who could’ve told me that wanting to learn more about my heritage and to embrace it was not a bad thing, and that the stereotypes associated with people who looked like me did not have to define my persona.
What do you wish others knew about living in VT that you’ve discovered?
I wish others knew about Vermont’s direct ties to racism and a history of discrimination and segregation. I wish others knew that while the BIPOC community here is small, we ARE present and are just trying to thrive and live our lives. It’s not that there are none of us here, it’s that our existence is not acknowledged for the history that we are tied to as well as the beauty that comes with our races and cultures. I wish others knew that racial harassment and violence does occur here, and people get severely affected here due to it. Discrimination is still occurring, and not even the postcard beauty of a tourist- attracting town can fully hide the truth behind what really happens to the people of color here.
Are there other things (events/opportunities/etc) you’d like to share with the VT BIPOC community?
I’d like to share, for those who have not heard the news yet, that Stowe High School and PA High School have gotten our request approved after months of intense and exhausting work to get the Black Lives Matter flag as well as the Pride flag raised at our schools. It has been an incredibly difficult journey to get to where we are and we are just so proud to be able to provide a newfound sense of security and acceptance for minority students as well as staff at our schools. We will continue to work on making the education system and our communities a more equitable place.