Select Board Forms Racial Justice and Equity Taskforce

by June Pichel Cook

CRAFTSBURY – The select board meeting last week left many with a feeling it was a step forward in widening the conversation on racial and social injustice within the community. Both select board chair Bruce Urie and vice chair Jim Jones said that the meeting resulted in a positive movement.

The select board voted unanimously to form a Racial Justice and Equity Taskforce with a core group from the community.    A special meeting was held yesterday to define a mission and create wording for a post card to be sent to all residents.

Last week’s select board meeting utilized both in-person and Zoom interaction, with about 70 to 80 people present, according to Urie.

“It’s a conversation (racial justice and equity) to have here in town,” Urie said in a telephone interview. “It is something we need to talk about. I am hoping this core group will be able to come up with the kinds of answers that we need to questions and to have some conversations about the mural.”

A Black Lives Mural painted in front of Craftsbury Academy has generated gratitude and appreciation, as well as animosity and anger. The mural was painted without seeking permission from the Craftsbury School Board or select board. Some community members felt the mural was graffiti and should be removed; others felt it should not be in front of the school, but elsewhere. Some said that all lives matter, and that the BLM was a terrorist group.

Urie explained that two groups had evolved from the June 10 rally on the Common. One group was petitioning for banning the Confederate flag from any place in Craftsbury. At the June 10 rally, a confrontation occurred between participants and Jay Wright of Craftsbury, whose pick-up sported a Confederate battle flag and a Don’t Tread on Me flag.

The banning of the Confederate flag anywhere in Craftsbury was tabled after discussion because it would be unenforceable. The board could control public places, but not private entities, Urie said.

The second group, concerned with racial and social justice, sought a resolution similar to what Hardwick and other communities have issued and Governor Phil Scott’s Juneteenth Recognition Day Proclamation.

Governor Scott’s proclamation called for being better neighbors, better citizens, and better human beings. He stated: “…we must do more to openly acknowledge that the struggle for equality only began with the Civil War, and openly confront and eliminate the legacy of slavery – the significant racial inequality and systemic racism – that continues to exist in our country and our state today:…”

The on-line petition at the board meeting called for a task force to be formed and was done through social media. Matt Allen indicated that the petition had 69 digital signatures and read comments added to the petition.

Opal Savoy read the petition at the meeting: “We, the undersigned, support the establishment by the Selectboard for a racial justice and equity task force. The task force would be in charge of a rigorous process in order to represent Craftsbury diversity. We recognize our diversity in race, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, religious or political affiliations. This task force would be in charge of facilitating guidelines about racism and other inequities in Craftsbury with a goal of developing an action plan for the town to implement.”

Farley Brown said in a telephone interview that she had first asked to be on a board agenda in 2018 to discuss racism and establishing a task force similar to what Sterling College has done. Brown, a professor at Sterling, said the request followed incidents at the college. Earlier, a student of color had been assaulted while skateboarding and a BLM sign removed; the state police investigated. She asked to be on the agenda again in June, continuing the conversation and urging the select board to make a statement or resolution.

Last week’s meeting created confusion, Urie said, with petitioners wanting to set up another meeting. Some didn’t feel welcomed and some were reluctant to come; others didn’t want to be inside the town hall. He said the meeting had been warned; it was a full and open meeting.

Urie expressed disappointment at the town’s divisiveness and the “lines being drawn in the sand” with local people sitting either on the “red” side or the “green” side at the meeting.

“We don’t want people not feeling welcome in Craftsbury or being afraid of being in town. We have some really good people on the core group and hoping more will join us. The special meeting is to figure out our mission and wording for the postcards.”

Some people felt the rally and BLM mural had caused a greater division in town and the term “white privilege” had engendered a backlash. Brown said the term, “white privilege” is misunderstood; it’s about being able to stand up and say something without any fear or reprisals. She felt that establishing a task force was a positive action forward.

Jones noted there were people at the meeting who felt they were being “come down on” for something of which they weren’t even aware and hadn’t experienced.

“They hadn’t experienced a lot of racism and didn’t know it was happening,” he said.    “One incident is too much. This (task force) is going forward in a positive way.”