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Black Comfort, Or Lack Thereof, In Vermont

Three polaroid images with families set against a graphic background shaped like a sun ray with colors green, red and black
Photos: Courtesy
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Graphic: Elodie Reed
Brave Little State reached out to Vermont families to help answer the question: “I have Black children, and wonder if they would be made to feel uncomfortable if we moved to Vermont?”

Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio above if you can! But we also provide a written version of the episode below.

We get comfortable — or uncomfortable — and talk about living in Vermont with, or as, a Black kid.

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Brave Little State is VPR’s people-powered journalism show, where we answer questions about Vermont that have been asked and voted on by you, our audience. We think our journalism is better when you’re a part of it!

A little heads up for this story, however — we couldn’t get in touch with our question-asker, who submitted the following: “I have Black children, and wonder if they would be made to feel uncomfortable if we moved to Vermont?”

Nonetheless, we persist. I’ve got a whole lot to say on the matter, because not only did I just move here, not only do I now have a Black kid in Vermont, but in 1985 — I was that kid.

I’ve got some trust issues

myra-family-courtesy.JPG
Courtesy
Baby Myra Flynn with her parents.

My parents moved to Vermont from Rockford, Illinois when I was 1, because they wanted me to be more comfortable. At the time, their interracial marriage was less-than-welcomed in Rockford. And racism was pretty simply defined by some sort of threat to our physical safety.

So in the rolling green hills of Vermont, with space between neighbors and a chance to really, as they have put it in the past, ”be themselves,” my folks pretty much felt like they’d won the safety lottery. It was, and always has been, difficult to harsh their sense of optimism when it comes to this state.

Even when a neighbor placed a woodchuck on their mailbox, with a noose around its neck.

I, on the other hand, left as soon as I could. I graduated from Randolph Union High School at age 16, and really never looked back.

Music, and my own cultural curiosities, have taken me to amazing cities like New York, Sydney, Australia and for the last eight years, Los Angeles, California.

And now I’m a mom. And when Avalon was born in LA, we had record COVID numbers, a racial reckoning that caused so much upset we never even went to the grocery store, and wildfires 5 miles from our house.

What’s that they say about understanding your parents more as you get older?

Long story short, now I’m in Shelburne, where we are safe. I think.

three polaroid photos of people set against a graphic background that looks like a red sunray
Photos: Courtesy
Meet Myra Flynn's family: Phil and Avalon.

But the culture shock has been real.

For instance, I might have a few trust issues when it comes to my front door. The other day, this woman just started banging on my door like a police officer. And I was wondering what was going on, and I opened the door, and she was standing there, and she was like, “You have a package!” She just wanted to let me know I had a package. She was … aggressively nice.

I told this story to the Menard-O’Neil-Livingston family, who I had the pleasure of joining at their weekly Sunday Zoom dinner. And in this family? Everyone answers the question differently: I have Black children, and wonder if they would be made to feel uncomfortable if we moved to Vermont?

There’s Alexis, who’s 12: “I think that most of the time, they'd probably feel comfortable, but like, there would definitely be times when they wouldn't. Because of their skin color.”

And then there’s Ashley, who’s 27, and pregnant.

I came into college telling other Black people that racism didn't exist where I came from,” Ashley says as the rest of her family laughs. “And being looked at like, I don't know, ‘What's wrong with this Black girl? I think she's broken.’”

Leesh, who is 25, trans, queer and living and working in New York, says:

Something that would have been really helpful for me growing up would be to like, be involved in more Black and Brown spaces. Like even if you have to commute for it. Like I feel like it's worth it.”

And then there’s their mom, Christine Menard-O’Neil. She raised her family in Essex, and she reached out to us after hearing our winning question. She’s had a different experience than her Black children.

“As a white woman, like, I've never walked in their shoes,” Christine says. “You know, and I may overlook things as well and not think I'm saying something that might be biased and unintentionally. And I think I've learned a lot from them, as well.”

So just to be clear: In one family we have a Black kid in school, a Black expecting mother, a Black trans kid who is now living in a major city, and a white mom who raised them all in Vermont. Sooo many different life experiences!

Comfort is human stuff

As you might imagine, this family has seen each other through a lot. It was hard to know where to start.

I began with Alexis, Christine’s youngest. I asked her, in general, what makes her feel comfortable?

To me, what makes me comfortable would probably be like, to dress in comfortable clothes, I guess,” she said.

And then ...

... like, socially, it would probably be like, anybody who would be like, accepting, you could say, or like, wouldn't care about my skin color.”

Alexis says in general, with her comfy clothes and her friends and family by her side, she does feel comfortable being Black in Vermont. Though her experience has not gone without incident. Like at summer camp, for example.

There has been a time I would have, like, a past camp that I've been to, and I had some of my friends who were also Black and stuff,” she says. “And this one kid, who was also white, he was just kind of saying mean things about it, saying, like, ‘Oh, you look like poop.’”

Ah yes. The old “your skin looks like poop” insult. I know it well.

And even at 12, Alexis knows to take this insult to an adult. She took it to her camp counselor, and spoiler alert: Many of these stories are less about racist experiences for kiddos, and more about the adults who are dealing with them. Or aren’t.

And we tried telling our camp counselor that we didn't feel comfortable, and he was being racist, that’s how we felt,” Alexis says. “And our camp counselor, who was also white, said, ‘We're not going to use that word, because it could hurt the other person's feelings. If we call him that, then we’re the ones who are being hurt.’”

To be clear, when Alexis reported this event, her counselor told her that calling out the other kid’s racism would make that child feel uncomfortable.

Alexis says some advice for young folks moving to Vermont, who may experience the same racism she did? An insult is only an insult depending on who it’s coming from. So stay calm, and don’t help them out.

“If somebody were to be like, racist or attacking you because of it, I wouldn't like, be rude to that person afterwards,” she says. “Because that would also like, make them act like they're proving a point.”

_

Leesh Menard is Alexis’ older sibling. And they kind of dealt with the discomfort of living in Vermont the same way I did: They left.

“I think that being in a place that is very diverse, and then going, returning home to a place that's predominantly white, is very shocking,” they said.

Leesh is now living and working in Manhattan. I asked them, now that they are in a city surrounded by Brown and Black faces, are they more comfortable? And could they ever see themselves also doing what I did, and coming back?

I think that it makes it harder to be in Vermont, to be honest, because it just feels a little more suffocating,” Leesh says.

To them, anonymity equals freedom. And in a small state like Vermont, that’s nearly impossible to achieve.

“When I'm in New York, I don't think about the fact that I'm Black that often, besides if there's like, a police presence or something like that,” Leesh says. “Versus when I'm in Vermont, I feel like, I mean, I get stares, like I'm the only Black person in the room … I’m also reliving and unpacking a lot of racial trauma from high school and middle school and elementary school. So I think it makes it a lot harder in a lot of ways to be back there after being in a place where you don't have to think about it as much.”

More from Brave Little State: How To Support Vermonters Of Color: 'Listen To Us'

Leesh is a poster-child for intersectionality. Not only are they Black, but they are trans and queer.

I had to ask, what does comfort look like for them? It’s gotta be different than it does for me — right?

“What makes me comfortable is when I can feel at ease, like when my breathing is slow, when I can just like, laugh and relax,” Leesh says. “And when I don't have to think about my identities, whether that's being trans or queer or Black, like if I can just exist as a person and not think about all of the structures that are trying to keep us down.”

Comfort is pretty human stuff. And Leesh says they want to be safe. In all ways.

“And I think that in terms of comfort for Vermont, like I always felt physically safe, I was never afraid of, like, police brutality in the way that you might be in like these cities with stronger police presence,” they say. “But the emotional safety is really lacking, I think, in Vermont.”

Christine’s oldest, Ashley, is seven months pregnant. She lived in Essex until her high school graduation, then didn’t stray too far from Vermont: just over the lake to the community college in Plattsburgh, where she says the student body was made up of about half and half BIPOC to white population.

She says aside from the small handful of Black friends she had in Vermont, it was her first time really immersing herself in Black community and culture, and she had to deprogram her own whitewashing, which she notes was a symptom from growing up here.

And that’s the thing. Growing in Vermont, Black can sometimes be so uncomfortable, you fight like hell to maintain any equilibrium, or some sense of belonging. By doing this, you can easily deny your own heritage, and not only perpetuate your own self-loathing, but also become part of the problem.

It’s called, among other things, “passing,” and some of us bi-racial folks have the privilege of getting away with it more than others.

By the time you realize there is a problem, and after high school is usually that time, your friends might not have the patience for your latent awakening. Whether they’re Black or White.

“I felt isolated in a different way than I felt in Vermont, because I was in a place where everyone assumed I was a Black girl from New York City,” Ashley says. “And so White people kind of weren't socializing with me the way that I was used to in Vermont. But at the same time, the other Black students and people of color I went to school with, were looking at me, like, we don't trust this woman, because she seems to have some internal racism going on. And like, I didn't see it as that at first. I just saw it as ‘Black people don't like me.’”

I asked Ashley what events supported a transformation in her thinking? Her answer: She realized her fight to fit in was only leaving her out. She was only harming herself.

Being brought up to think that my Eurocentric features were better than having Afrocentric features is a form of white supremacy. And you know, I didn't really understand that then,” she says. “I was, you know, still saying things like, ‘I have good hair,’ and calling myself ‘light-skinned.’ And like, things like that.”

PSA for folks who might not know, Ashley’s reference to “good hair” is actually a derogatory term steeped in slavery, when straighter hair, along with other Eurocentric attributes, were usually celebrated more because of their association with whiteness.

Announcing that you have “good hair” — not so good.

I asked Ashley how she feels about her hair now.

If you want to know the truth, I think that my hair is thinning a tad, so …” she says.

A white parent to Black kids

Something about the phrasing of this question makes me wonder if our asker is a white parent with Black kids. Perhaps it’s because they say “I have Black kids,” as opposed to, “we are a Black family.”

And should that be the case, it’s a very specific journey I cannot relate to.

Except the parent part. If there is anything I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that being a mom is the most. I have never simultaneously been so obsessed with someone, so consumed by someone, and so in love with someone.

Or so protective of someone. Of course. Of course you want them to be comfortable. Of course you want to protect them, and I can only imagine how difficult that must be, when the monsters aren’t only under the bed. They’re kind of everywhere.

Which brings us back to Christine, the white mom to this incredibly diverse family.

three polaroid photos of people set against a graphic background that looks like a black sunray
Photos: Courtesy
Meet the Menard-O'Neil-Livingston family: Christine, Ashley, Leesh and Alexis.

One thing Christine and I have in common: We both spent some time living in Randolph.

“It was definitely unique,” Christine says. “Because you're looking at the early 1990s, you know, almost 30 years ago, and I think ... people were a little bit open as to what they would say to you. And then the daycare, I guess the thing that I can remember most was the daycare that I had Ashley in at the time, I would get questioned as to whether I was actually their mother or not.”

Oof. This kind of stuff is where race and our stories lean more away from words like comfort, and begin to enter dangerous waters.

My parents were once stopped at the Canadian border because they thought my mother had stolen me. That wasn’t uncomfortable for her. That was terrifying.

“And that was, I was, yeah. It kind of stunned me that anybody, we've been asked that question to begin with, you know, but then to, you know, try to confirm it,” Christine says.

Christine’s Randolph experiences were short-lived, she says. She soon moved to Chittenden County, where although diversity was limited, at least it was there.

And regarding comfort, in Christine’s family, she’s the only white person. I asked if there was ever a moment where she felt othered in her own house — if she was so separate from what her children were going through, that she couldn’t comfort them? And if she did, how did she reconcile that with the never-ending duty of motherhood?

“As a white woman, like, I don't, I've never walked in their shoes,” Christine says. “You know, and I may overlook things as well, and not think I'm saying something that might be biased unintentionally. And I think I've learned a lot from them, as well. And they've educated me, this has been a good path, a good road for both of us.”

_

During this interview, Christine’s eldest daughter, Ashley Menard-Livingston, was seven months pregnant. Does she worry for her future child’s comfort here in Vermont?

“Yes, I do, even if my child ends up coming out, you know, white-presenting, because of, there is a possibility of that, my partner's, he's Jewish,” Ashley says. “So he's got really curly hair, but he's white, so, it's still gonna be really important for me for this child to understand that there's more out there than what he sees here in Vermont. Vermont's kind of a bubble. So it's gonna be something that I hope he'll be aware of. And I think we'll try to educate him.”

Education

Education. Yes. I kind of feel like anytime there is a systemic social problem, we bank on education.

But we aren’t just here to talk to white people and parents about how to be more comforting and educational. What if you’re Black, a parent and a teacher — and you have to do it all?

It turns out Alana Harte, a Bennington educator and author of the children’s book Eli and Glamma, is doing it all. She says her book is one of her greatest efforts to achieve both education and comfort. Especially for her son, Eli, the star of the story!

“I'm glad that there are so many books that are about like, our big curly hair, and all of our brown skin and our features, but I also was like ... he's just a regular kid doing regular kid things, and hanging out with his grandma, and it's super relatable,” Alana says.

Alana notes a particular struggle I can strongly identify with. As a Black mom, it’s your job to simultaneously uplift and point out your child’s Blackness in a state where they are racially outnumbered, but also, you gotta make sure your kid feels normal. If you’ve never had to straddle that line before, I’ll tell you, it feels more like doing the splits than a straddle. And that’s when books like Eli and Glamma are really most helpful.

“So it was important to me that he just had a book that was just about being a kid and capturing that for himself and others,” Alana says.

a person holding a child in a polaroid photo against a graphic background shaped like a green sunray
Photo: Courtesy
Meet Alana Harte and her son, Eli.

On top of being Eli’s mom, a Black woman and an author, Alana also has a doctorate in educational leadership and is the dean of students at Pine Cobble, an independent school just over the border in Massachusetts.

She also has an extensive resume of racial justice and equity work. In fact she consults for the Vermont Partnership for Fairness & Diversity, which conducted a DEI audit report for my job, here at VPR. I like to think of her as a human barometer for all things fair — especially in schools.

Some people feel like equity work … or anti-racism work doesn't belong in a place that only or mostly has white people, but that's where it most belongs,” Alana says.

Alana notes that if the goal is obtaining equity in a classroom, it’s gonna take work. It’s gonna get uncomfortable.

It's harder sometimes to find the joy and like the equity part, because the equity part has joy, but it has work first,” she says.

And Alana says “the work” has as many equity don’ts, as it does do’s. (Try saying that five times fast).

One is, don’t treat equity work as one-size-fits all.

Sometimes we reach for multicultural, because multicultural is much more pleasant and fun, and feels like, just like a joyous learning activity,” Alana says.

And another equity don’t: Stop with the shortcuts. Our heritage is not a potluck.

“We can't be limited to, can everyone pick a country and bring a food, can everyone name a person, you know, 28 Black people for the 28 days of February and what they did, that's a great starting point,” Alana says. “But you shouldn't stay there for very long. And even in that moment, it should be the jumping off point to a much more important conversation about why those things matter.”

Alana says parent or teacher, you just gotta talk to your kids. And that there’s no better time than now except yesterday.

Students are having these conversations without us,” she says. “It reminds me of like, people who decide not to talk to their kid about sex. They don't not know about sex because you didn't talk about it. They still know, they just don't know from you. They only know from their friends and people who might give them an uninformed and problematic and troubling view.”

I mentioned Alexis, the 12-year-old we heard from earlier in the story. And the age-old first-ever racial insult many of us have received in Vermont, that our skin looks like poop. I also brought up hair touching, something I dealt with over and over again as a kid in Vermont (and as an adult), and asked Alana for some step-by-steps for teachers in really how they deal with these moments.

Her initial thoughts: Teachers, when you get uncomfortable and begin to look for the adult in the room — no one is coming. These days, it’s all you.

“It's a very hectic life, right?” Alana says. “I've taught English for 11 years. And there are so many things happening at once, you're literally trying to change the wheels while the bus is moving all the time. And … it is a little tempting at times to say, ‘I just want to roll through whatever I'm doing and keep going.’”

But Alana says if you don’t stop right then and there and confront the situation, your student is gonna remember that moment for a lot longer than you are.

She adds: “I think the most important thing is to know that it's happening to your student, whether you respond or not. So not only is it a disservice, and not only is it inequitable, but it's also pretty intensely unethical to not respond in that moment. And you can ask anyone over 30 for some traumatizing moment from their childhood. And if that person is a person of color, it will likely be something that was race-related. And whether the teacher stopped it or not, will stay with them, literally forever, positively or negatively.”

Given all this, I asked Alana how she would respond to the question-asker: “I have Black children and wonder if they would be made to feel uncomfortable if we move to Vermont?" She says yeah … they will. But as a parent, you can do a lot about it.

But I would say that our job as parents ... and educators — and your parents are your first teachers, and they're your forever teachers — [is] to always keep that door open for conversations, to always be prepared to advocate for your child,” Alana says. “But also, whenever possible, I mean, keep your child in as many BIPOC circles as possible. I think it requires a conscientious effort to help the child, and to like, expose the child to people of color, especially if they're not in their general community, and they're not in their home. It can't not happen somewhere, right? They still need to be around people of color, that's pretty essential to their development.”

an illustrated family all together
Courtesy Alana Harte
A page from "Eli and Glamma," which Bennington author Alana Harte wrote both for the education and comfort of her son (the story's star!).

I thought maybe I could sneak a mama moment in here and ask Alana for some show or book recommendations for Avalon. I told her I’d just discovered the kids’ section on Netflix, and we’d been watching the Lorax.

“And I never, ever, ever let my son do anything Dr. Seuss-related,” Alana says. “There's no Lorax in this house. Dr. Seuss is deeply problematic and racist. And he's been canceled from many schools. Dr. Seuss week has been canceled..”

Damn — I did my research, and Alana is right. Dr. Seuss is highly problematic. See? We are all still learning.

My high school’s mascot

I mentioned that I went to Randolph Union High School, and something about this investigation into Black comfort didn’t feel right without talking to someone there. So I reached out to my then-social studies teacher, Brian Rainville (I still like to call him Mr. Rainville). I have a lot of love for him.

“I’m curious as to where you think we were as a community and a school, in those conversations, as an alum?” Brian asked me.

I told him that in my experience, conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion didn’t exist. And I asked him how he experienced me, and my Blackness, at R.U.H.S during those formative years.

“My memory of you is such a shy, sweet, caring person,” Brian said.

From what I recall, Brian was the only teacher to even mention Black history in the whole of my time there. And though at the time we were still a long way from learning the Black history we needed to, in a small and rural town like Randolph, he was considered a pretty radical dude.

“The high school that you experienced, hopefully is not the same school, state, community we are today. I'd like to think there's been a lot of evolution," he says. “And it's been really painful to watch. Because of division, emotion, anger, resistance, denial. And Randolph's really been a crucible of that, not merely with the mascot but with the Black Lives Matter flag, and with a gay-straight alliance.”

The mascot. Oh man, that R.U.H.S mascot. The "Galloping Ghost."

Legend has it, the nickname for the mascot dates back to the 1940s, when the R.U.H.S basketball players moved so quickly about the court that opponents only saw flashes of their white team jerseys. “They moved like ghosts,” people said.

But the mascot itself, drawn by the now-deceased artist Robert Chamberlain with many interpretations since, was an image of a person atop a horse, wearing a white cloak with cut-out eyes, and a pointed hood.

a page with a drawing of a figure in a while hooded cloak on a rearing horse
1992 Randolph Union High School yearbook
The "galloping ghost" mascot, used at Randolph Union High School until 2020.

Remind you of something disturbing? You're not alone.

“Apparently nobody realized that a pointy hood with a cloak that covered part of the animal and was in motion might look like something that you didn't want your community to summon or represent,” Brian says.

People in Randolph will tell you that the galloping ghost was never intended to be racist.

But it didn’t matter. When visiting teams came to our school, I would often field questions from the Black kids on those teams, as to why we had a giant Ku Klux Klan member painted on our gym wall.

I never knew what to say.

It seems that just last year, in 2020, others began to finally see what I saw, and the image was stripped off of uniforms and taken out of yearbooks.

Though Brian says the mascot itself hasn’t changed.

It's still the ghost,” he says. “But the superintendent made it clear, he said, ‘Look, the ghost? That's Randolph, that's unique, that's part of our community history. But these visual representations have to change.’”

I’ll agree, the many new incarnations of the ghost have changed. They do look significantly less offensive. More horse, less ghost, no pointed hood.

Brian says the change in the Randolph community, to quote Dylan Thomas — “did not go gentle into that good night.”

Yeah, it didn’t go too well.

Because the divisions were so deep,” he says. “[There were] people who said, ‘This is my culture, and it's under attack, and how dare you,’ without that moment of reflection to say, ‘Well, how does this look to other people who don't have this history in their DNA, of knowing what this symbol has meant to this community for more than half a century?’”

Brian said the giant mural on our gym wall began to look frayed.

And I felt like those fissures and the paint represented what was happening in the community, because something that was there and seemed stable was literally coming apart,” he says. “And as a historian, as a student of American history for three decades, that's what I feel like right now, that everything is just kind of peeling away, and we're starting to see the big picture underneath.”

Brian fascinates me. I spent this whole conversation, as us reporters like to do, trying to get a sense of his political lens on these issues. Is he left, right? Radical? Switzerland? Like where does he, the person actually stand?

On all topics it became increasingly clear that Brian Rainville is none of the above. What he is, is an unwavering historian. He believes that history is a traumatic and messy study of loss. And that’s what made him such a great teacher.

“I think that's one of the challenges as a history teacher, is trying to get a sense of what do your students need,” he says. “Because you have people in that room who know a whole lot about American history, because American history landed on them. And you have folks who live within the fables of American history, and will struggle immensely when you start to really look at the complexity of it.”

Brian, who has now been at R.U.H.S for 25 years, recalls getting his first angry letter from a parent, questioning his lesson plan: ...[They] said in really indignant terms, ‘How dare you question the morality of the founding fathers? They were good, honest, God-fearing Christian men, and slavery was another matter entirely.’”

I learned at the end of this interview that Mr. Rainville is 48 years old, making him a whopping 12 years older than me. This means when I was in his class, he was 26 — kind of a kid himself.

How to listen

Comfort is subjective. For one person, it can look like taking down an offensive high school mascot. Whereas comfort for, say, an asylum seeker in Vermont? Well, that’s a very different matter altogether. Particularly in rural areas.

I spoke with Libby Hillhouse, Vice President of the Northeast Kingdom Asylum Seekers Assistance Network (NEKASAN) in St. Johnsbury.

“The Black community here is either really angry or very quiet,” she says.

According to our state’s Gov. Phil Scott, since the establishment of the Federal Refugee Resettlement Program four decades ago, more than 8,000 participants have moved to Vermont.

These asylum-seekers, some of whom are Black, are coming here with very different needs than, say, me. Their comfort looks like survival.

“They come across the border, legally, and they are put into jail, basically,” Libby says. “And it might be a regular jail, a portion of which is for asylum seekers. So they are called asylum-seekers because they are here legally. And they have to show a credible fear, if they were to be returned to their country, something terrible would happen to them.”

Libby added that most come hungry, tired, traumatized and put into detentions, which are far from COVID-safe.

Food, money, shelter, clothing, community. NEKASAN works with its asylum-seekers to help provide these basic essentials. And Libby says, even with all that goes into providing their creature comforts, that’s still just the tip of the iceberg.

After all, if you don’t have your mental health, none of the rest matters.

“We are trying to build a good infrastructure to support people who arrive traumatized and have real trust issues, maybe frightened, maybe suffering from all kinds of things,” she says.

_

I spoke with a lot of different people in this story, who are all, in one way or another, responsible for the comfort of their Black community — as mothers, as teachers, as leaders, as providers of refuge. And they all do one thing, incredibly well: They listen.

“If we are truly welcoming people who come from other places and other experiences, then how do we welcome without deeply listening to who the other is, and being brave enough to maybe share our own story?” Libby says. She adds that listening to others is also of benefit to you, and your own comfort.

“The building of welcome is the creation of safety,” she says. “And when we're truly listening, it's more than just listening, it's being listened to.”

Libby says a poem by Vermont poet Major Jackson, entitled “How to Listen,” tells you everything you need to know:

I am going to cock my head tonight like a dog

in front of McGlinchy's Tavern on Locust;

I am going to stand beside the man who works all day combing

his thatch of gray hair corkscrewed in every direction.

I am going to pay attention to our lives

unraveling between the forks of his fine-tooth comb.

For once, we won't talk about the end of the world

or Vietnam or his exquisite paper shoes.

For once, I am going to ignore the profanity and

the dancing and the jukebox so I can hear his head crackle

beneath the sky's stretch of faint stars.

Dear question-asker

I wonder if I didn’t hear from our question-asker because coming forward made them uncomfortable. If so, I get it, and crafted this story just for them. I have some final thoughts.

If you are a Black kid in Vermont, good teachers will see you, and know you are uncomfortable. Teachers like Brian Rainville.

“It's race, it's gender, it's faith, it's sexuality. And it's all hitting at once,” he says. “And I don't understand as a community, how we can't rise with one voice and say every child who comes through our doors has the right to succeed. It's a moral issue.”

And as Libby Hillhouse reminds us, just like adults, kids will need to feel welcomed, and they will need to learn how to welcome others.

Welcome goes both ways,” she says. “So it's not only you needing to be welcomed with your baby in Vermont, but I have the same need to be welcomed into your community. Into anybody's community.”

Alana Harte tells us there will be important work involved, so do as Mr. Rogers does, and "look for the helpers" to ensure you keep up your own energy.

Allies. I like to start with people who, no matter where they are in the equity spectrum, have like a genuine interest in being better,” Alana says.

And as Christine Menard-O’Neil knows, if you are a white parent with Black kids in Vermont, you won’t always be able to relate to their pain. But it’s on you to listen and to talk to them about it.

“I think I keep a really good communication network with them,” she says. “Ever since they've been young, they feel they can come and talk to me about any and everything.

And even if you do all of this, Brian Rainville says we have to try to have a little faith: “I'm marveled that it's happening now. Because I didn't expect young people to lead the way.”

Black Lives Matter flags, pride flags, mascot changes. Young people are leaders in change — with more coming up behind them. And change, real change, is always a little uncomfortable.

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A thin grey line.

This episode was reported and produced by Myra Flynn, and edited by Josh Crane and Angela Evancie. Mix and sound design by Josh Crane. Our digital producer is Elodie Reed. Ty Gibbons composed our theme music; other music by Blue Dot Sessions and our very own Myra Flynn.

Special thanks to Curtiss Reed, the Randolph Herald, Brendan Kinney and Timothy Sonnefeld, and to Myra’s family: Phil Wills, Martha Mathis and Tim Flynn, for allowing their story to be part of this episode. Thanks also to Major Jackson for giving us permission to use his poem “How to Listen.”

As always, our journalism is better when you’re a part of it:

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public Radio. We’ll be back soon with more people-powered Vermont storytelling. Until then, remember: Be brave. Ask questions.

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Myra Flynn joined VPR as an engagement producer in March 2021. Raised in Vermont, Myra Flynn is an accomplished musician who has come to know the lay of dirt-road land that much more intimately through touring both well-known and obscure stages all around the state and beyond. She also has experience as a teaching artist and wore many hats at the Burlington Free Press, including features reporter and correspondent, before her pursuits took her deep into the arts world. Prior to joining VPR, Myra spent eight years in the Los Angeles music industry.