Envisioning Racial Justice

During our co-designed project week, the BCL students split into two groups. While one group focused on natural history and conservation, another group dove headlong into one of the most clear and present issues today: charting a path towards racial justice. Early on, the group identified that they wanted to do more than merely learn about how this issue was playing out in Burlington — they wanted to get other people talking. They wanted to start a conversation. One idea that rose to the top was the potential of making a video. Early ideas for what this could be were divergent. Some wanted to interview “people on the street;” others wanted to talk with people they know. The group finally settled on the idea of meeting with a wide variety of city leaders–civic leaders, community organizers, and professionals in organizations engaged in this work. With only four days, the timeline was tight. But what students pulled together, from conception to post-production, was remarkable.  

Students interview Migmar Tsering, a city employee and member of the Burlington Tibetan community.
A conversation with Jeetan Kharka, BHS grad and AALV Employment Counselor. 
Interviewing Belan Antensaye, City of Burlington Community Development Specialist.
Students interviewed one another as well. 

We need each other to get our points across, and that is why we need lots of people protesting for the same thing. When you hear about an issue from someone you respect, you take that issue more seriously than if it were from someone you don’t care for. This is why I think it is important for people in power to educate themselves and listen to the community. 

Isha
Talking with Balkisa Omar, BHS grad and current UVM student.
Autumn Bangoura discusses racial inequities in Burlington schools. 

This past week we have done many interviews. All of them have been about racial justice in Burlington. Our interview and consultancy with Josh and Autumn really illuminated the injustices in the education system. I learned how the system disproportionately suspends and punishes Black students over white students. This is not helping these students thrive. “There is no reason to suspend a student unless other students are in serious danger,” said Autumn. One student said a single suspension can make them give up on their own education. We need to shift from punitive measures to restorative practices. This will greatly improve the education of the black, poor, and behaviorally challenged and also help to deconstruct the school to prison pipeline. Elements of public education’s current form are racist and ableist. This leaves me thinking about times that I’ve personally benefited from my race in school.

Kiran

That’s something the last week has made me think about. An experience that I’m privileged to have, where I can make these connections, ask these questions, and expand on this type of learning. I want other kids to experience this, I think we NEED other kids to experience BCL. I’m glad that even while in BCL I can criticize parts of BCL, and BSD and I hope to continue to do that. 

Rehema
Interviewing Kyle Dodson, Burlington Director of Police Transformation.
Interviewing Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger.

My experience with the Social Justice documentary group went great. Not only did I feel like I was truly focused the whole time, I also found myself talking a lot more. This was easy because I am so comfortable with the people in the group. We have difficult conversations in BCL, and I notice that I still tend to shy away from speaking. I’ve never once felt like that in this group, even though the topics were challenging. At times, I even felt like I was talking too much. Overall, I felt really engaged. With that energy, it was easy to reach out to people, and to do the interview process.

Safiya

One theme that I have noticed in the last week during the co-created units was empowerment. We had control over our own learning, but I also feel really heard by all the community partners that we had consultancies with. When we spoke to the Mayor, I felt lucky to know a lot about what he was discussing. If it had been more of a conversation, I feel like I could have fully participated, and been just as knowledgeable as he was. Maybe he knows more about policy, the legal issues, and what is currently happening in regards to racial inequities in Burlington, but I felt more knowledgeable on racial issues than I ever had before. I felt empowered from the learning that we had done over the last week and weeks before when it came to understanding the systemic issues that BIPOC people face. 

Elle

Here is the short film students produced with their interviews, distilling and editing over two and a half hours of footage into what you see below. We will let it speak for itself.

In addition to the documentary, students explored a variety of ways to grapple with the issues in this project. One powerful medium that emerged was poetry. Somehow, it feels fitting to let two poems have the final word.

Perfect American
by Maddy Baker

All men are created equal, they say?
Except for the fact that you’re born into wealth or poverty. 
Except for the fact that as soon as your innocent newborn head pops out from the womb,
You’re placed into a group.
A label stuck onto your forehead with permanent adhesive.
Your skin color screams either privilege or loser.
If you’re white you have a head start.
If you’re anything else you’re placed in the back. You grow up hearing your peers talk about American Girl Dolls.
But you wonder why none of them look like you.
Band Aids that cover up the wounds of historic oppression don’t seem to blend in with your skin.
Like a splinter lodged underneath the layers. 
When it’s time to draw yourself with crayons, skin color was peach, and you learned to accept it.
Makeup palettes, with shades too light for your beautiful skin.
Cover up the wrinkles and worry lines from countless experiences of racism, bias, and stereotypes.
A little girl makes fun of your fufu and plantains, 
So you beg your mom to pack lunchables the next day.
Made of 1 part calories and two parts bland.
You’re quiet.
Too scared to show the individuality that lurks within, for fear of being even more of an outcast.
The obnoxious football captain who turns in half hearted work gets A’s.
While you’re putting your whole heart into just learning english.
You’re taught to do better.
Be better.
Work harder your mom says.
Fear the police.
She says.
Don’t speak out.
She says.
How can you rise above, if there are rocks tied to your ankles.
And eventually you’re so broken down.
The culture stripped from your body like the hijab ripped off your head by a middle school bully
That you’re tired of fighting.
And you become the “perfect American”.
A robot, a poster child for conformity.

The Race
by Kiran Bleakney-Eastman

A day for running. A day of independence. 
A blank fires and the Firecracker Fun Run begins
Colorful sneakers line the pavement

A cheerful girl runs as a patriot
Sprinting down shady streets and laughing with joy
A mass of children run past opulent homes with tidy lawns

Glee and elation on their faces

They wear American flags and patriotic face paint, their grinning faces warm the hearts of the senators, watching them from their doorsteps

In a nearby neighborhood

A day for running. A day of oppression.
A gun fires in the Bad Part of Town 
Worn out sneakers hit the pavement

A black boy runs from a patriot
Jumping over barbed fences and ducking down alleys
Terror and fear on his face

He wears two hundred years of pain on his back, his tear streaked face tortures the hearts of his family, watching from their windows

First place goes to the police chief’s son
The black boy wasn’t allowed to finish the race

He was too busy outrunning his skin

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