Letter to the editor: ACSD must do more for its BIPOC+ population

As co-facilitators of Addison County BIPOC+, we are writing in support of Esther Charlestin, Justice Elijah, and the crucial work they are doing to advance equity and dismantle oppression in our schools and communities. 

The crux of our message is this: We must believe Black women, and back up our beliefs with both resources and action. 

Believe Black women. What Esther and Justice are saying is most emphatically not new. In other words, their stories are not just about them; they are indicative of the pervasive and systemic nature of anti-Black practices and policies in our schools and communities. Black women working for equity in Vermont have been clear about what needs to change, and equally clear when racist environments, structures or policies have made it impossible for them to continue. Former state Rep. Kiah Morris left office after being repeatedly threatened by a white supremacist that authorities declined to prosecute. Former Rutland NAACP president Tabitha Moore moved her family out of Rutland County because of racist harassment. Former Burlington director of racial equity, inclusion, and belonging Tyeastia Green organized the city’s rousingly successful first Juneteenth celebration, then left less than a year later, after which she was subjected to a widely-decried audit alleging financial mismanagement. We also want to call attention to the “Last Plea as a Black Vermonter” open letter by former state employee Jacq Posley detailing why she’s leaving after five years.

This brings us to our second point: Back up your belief with accountability, responsive and—more importantly—preventative action, and robust resources. For interim Superintendent Timothy Williams to claim that ACSD has “moved beyond acknowledging the problem” to being committed to making change rings hollow because he has side-stepped the question of accountability.  He writes “we understand that racism persists”— as if racism were some sort of self-perpetuating force. It is our sincere hope that, one day, the superintendent and the school board will be able to acknowledge the ways in which the district itself facilitates and perpetuates environments that drive Black community members away from our schools, from positions of civic engagement, and from our state.

Any BIPOC who engages in equity work will experience harm — from outright aggression, to gaslighting, to indifference. And yet folks like Esther and Justice choose to take this path, often putting their mental and physical health on the line without the benefit of a full-time, livable wage and protections under employment law. We call on our fellow community members to hold those in power to account, adequately remunerate this type of work, ensure sustainable funding and oversight, and provide resources for healing from the harms of the job (especially in the event the employer is complicit in perpetuating said harms). 

We hope that readers can see the bigger picture reflected in Esther and Justice’s stories.  The policies, structures, and climate of our schools have a disproportionate negative impact on people of minoritized and historically oppressed identities. We look forward to the day when we can see data from the ACSD that shows they have reduced or eliminated these disproportionate harms, and urge other community organizations to do the same.

HaQuyen Pham & Natasha Chang

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