Black Lives Matter at BFA

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Photo credit:

Rachel Ledoux, Writer

In recent months, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has gained quite a bit of attention in the US. From the recent trial of Derek Chauvin to the few examples of police brutality (namely Daunte Wright and Ma’Khia Bryant) that have occurred over the past few weeks, many have been left wondering what they can do to educate themselves and support the BLM movement in our community. If you are one of those people, then the BFA Social Justice Club (which I am a member of) has an opportunity for you. We have recently put out a petition to our community to fly the Black Lives Matter flag at BFA. This petition aims to draw attention to the modern-day struggles of black people, both in our community and around the world. It will not be acting as a sole attempt at activism in our school, but rather a catalyst for future projects and initiatives for our club and any other interested parties. The petition has gathered much attention so far as we currently have over 200 signatures as well as some diverse feedback. We are working to get signatures from as many people as possible and would love your support.

It is easy to disregard our modern society as being anti-racist due to the lack of apparent slavery or segregation. That is why some people may believe we have no use for the BLM movement and feel that it discriminates against non-black people. However, those viewpoints are inaccurate. BLM aims to, to quote their official mission statement, “[combat] and [counter] acts of violence, [create] space for Black imagination and innovation, and [center] Black joy.” This does not mean that the lives of non-black people do not matter, just that, because black lives are currently the ones not being treated like they matter, they are the ones we need to be focusing on. 

It is also important to note that justice and support for black people will also improve support for non-black people of color, by combating systems and beliefs that hurt all POC (people of color). Another common argument may be that Vermont, because it is primarily a liberal state, doesn’t discriminate against people of color or need the BLM movement. That, too, is misguided. While it is true that Vermont is known for being more democratic than some other states, we are also the second whitest state in the country and have our fair share of racist residents. In the words of Gov. Phil Scott, during an interview with VTDigger, “Vermont is unlikely to be an outlier” when it comes to participating in racist behavior. That same article also highlights the large variety of racist attacks and actions that have occurred in Vermont recently, from vandalism to white nationalist symbols. 

These racist ideologies and experiences are present at BFA, too, even if us white students may have a difficult time seeing it sometimes. One example of these biases is present in the subject of much of our petition’s feedback. A large number of responses (approximately ⅕) bring up concerns, or outright fear, for the safety of POC students if we succeed in flying the flag. The fact that both white and POC students alike are concerned for POC students’ safety speaks volumes about the racism surrounding BFA. A simple flag stating that the lives of black students matter should not be cause for violent outbursts.  The fact that the beliefs that would fuel attacks like that are present in our area is exactly the reason we need to fly the BLM flag.

One common response we have received about the BLM petition through the survey is that it would not put a stop to racism in our community by itself, but rather act as a bandage of sorts; that, unless anti-racism was actively being taught to BFA students, the flag would be a performative act of allyship and nothing more. The Social Justice Club wholeheartedly agrees. In the words of Lauren Liberatore, one of our club advisers, we aim to “help guide our school community to a deeper understanding of our current state, develop the ability to make sense of it and, most importantly, create a more just, fair and peaceful future.” This will not be accomplished by just putting up a flag. 

Flying the Black Lives Matter flag at BFA is only the beginning of a long list of plans the Social Justice Club has for promoting anti-racism at our school. One plan that has already been set into motion is an anti-racist book club featuring educational resources for white students. The first book we will be reading is How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram Kendi. Students are also encouraged to come to club meetings, even if they disagree with some of our actions. Discussing and being open to learning about opposing viewpoints is important to us, and we would love to hear your (politely-worded) thoughts. If you’re interested in the book club and/or joining the SJC, please feel free to reach out to Nicole Schubert, one of our club advisers. Flying the BLM flag is only a way to begin conversations about race at BFA and is not at all a solution to racism in the community.

The BFA community should be taking action to promote and support the installation of the Black Lives Matter flag at our school. Once the Social Justice Club has received signatures from the majority of BFA students and staff members (which comes out to around 900 people), we will be presenting our petition to the Maple Run School Board, and your support would be greatly appreciated. If you would like to sign the petition or offer any further thoughts on the subject, you can find the form here. We are currently in the process of responding to the criticisms and questions we have received so far, and we would love to hear from you. We have a long way to go to combat racism in our community and in the world, and your support would be welcomed and extremely helpful. Racism is still very much a prominent issue in the world, and in our community, so the responsibility falls on our shoulders to do everything we can to support our BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) peers.