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Homegoings: Three Vermont teens on power, history and hope (Transcript)

Full Transcript:

Note: Our show is produced for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio if you can! Also, transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print. 

Listen to the full episode here.

Myra Flynn (in tape): OK, so let’s go ahead and we’re gonna go three, two, one…


Myra: This pandemic has made reporting really weird.

Myra (in tape): Yeah?

Don Kiputa: Yeah

Myra: Oh…Ok!

Myra: And I get that that’s not unique. It’s made everything really weird. And weird is also a pretty kind word. But I mean, my job is to talk to people. To find people. To connect with people. To serve people. Basically, my job … is to people.

Myra (in tape): How do you survive in Vermont, what keeps you going?


Myra (cont.): I can ask one person at a time if that’s helpful?

Myra: And then, sometimes, that reporting gets even more specific. And so do the people. Like, I don’t know, trying to seek out Black artists in the whitest state in the union who are not only willing to share their art with me, a stranger, but also unpack their joy, grief, rage and systems of healing. You know … casual conversation.

Myra (in tape): Have you had any friendships or interactions with folks where you’re like, alright, they are starting to see me eye to eye here?


Myra: And what if I wanna talk to young people? Teenagers, in fact. Who are also Black in Vermont, who just might be, if I’m lucky, willing to do all of the above?


Myra (in tape): So I guess, no?

Myra: And you know, all of this. But on Zoom. The platform that just screams “we are connecting.” While unmuting. And sharing our screens.

Myra (in tape): And Don, you won't have to worry because I’m just recording this right in Zoom, OK?

Don: Sure.

Myra: So sometimes, it’s no surprise to me when I get straight up…

… crickets. Can we cue the crickets?

(cricket sfx)

Myra (in tape): What brings you joy here in Vermont?

Naomi Fitzpatrick: Umm…..

Myra: Ok! I guess I’ll move on to the next question!


Myra: The struggle is real. But it’s cool. I get it. Sometimes, when it comes to this stuff, I don’t feel like talking either.

(Brave Little State theme)

Myra: Welcome to Homegoings, a series from Brave Little State featuring intimate conversations with Vermont artists of color.

I’m Myra Flynn, and today, I feel lucky enough to speak with not one, but three young, brave, Black Vermont youth. They’re not professional artists … yet. In fact, they’re still in high school. But they are all doing what teenagers do: testing out participating in the arts as a form of self-expression.

Throughout this series, I've used a metaphor of a house to describe the Black experience –- the pillars of that house are grief, rage, healing and joy. Today, we add a few more pillars to that metaphor. Pillars like history and power…

Faith Awotho: And with my rage, I also feel a sense of power. And a lot of that is also how I survive.

Myra: Sincerity…

Naomi: And someone was like, “Raise your hand if you believe Black lives matter!” And everyone was like, “I do I do!” And there is nothing wrong… there’s nothing wrong with that.

Myra: And this little thing with wings, albeit sometimes broken ones, called hope.

Don: Our hope is to make sure our voices are being heard by everybody. And what we say is being considered.

Myra: Pandemic be damned. Racism be damned. Zoom be damned, we will be doing all we can to keep these conversations with Vermont artists of color going. This is Homegoings.

(BLS theme resolves)

Myra: I met Naoimi, Faith and Don through something called The Listen Up Project. It’s an original musical based on interviews with hundreds of teenagers across Vermont. We’ll hear more on that later.

And, full disclosure, before I began my job here at VPR, I was somewhat of a musical mentor on the project. I helped them write a couple songs.

(snippet from the song “Generation 1.5”)

Myra: But the one we’ll hear later, the title song, “Listen Up” — they wrote that one themselves. It turns out they don’t need any help speaking up about racial injustice.

Faith: As much as I love it here, I do describe it as surviving.

Myra: That’s Faith Awotho. Faith is from Essex, and as you’ll hear today, she and the rest of the group are just so darn insightful, you have to remind yourself that they are young. Faith is 18.

Faith: And that isn’t always pretty and that isn’t always joy and pride. A lot of it are the parts I have to suppress.

(Faith’s verse from “Listen Up”)

Myra: What I would hope for all Black youth right now is happening for Faith. As in, she doesn’t know what she wants to do next. Maybe be an artist in Burlington? She says it’s still up in the air. Yasss freedom!

Don: OK, first we need to believe in what we are doing.

Myra: Don Kiptua lives in Winooski and he’s 19. He’s originally from Zambia and came to Vermont in March 2020.

(Don’s verse from “Listen Up”)

Myra: Don used to be painfully shy, and now he says he wants to be an advocate for underrepresented people here in Vermont. And that the Listen Up Project gave him the confidence to express his views without fearing anyone.

Don: Since we are here, we are simply raising our voice for people to hear us.

Myra: Who says art doesn’t change the world?

And lastly, this is Naomi Fitzpatrick. She’s 14.

Naomi: I don’t have a lot of experience living in Vermont, but since I’ve been here family has been really helpful. It’s just nice to know that you’re not alone.

Myra: Naomi lived in Boston until age seven, then spent five years in Burkina Faso. And now, she’s here in Dorset, Vermont. She says it’s alright here, especially once a year.

Naomi: People here have been accepting. Especially since the start of Black History Month, people at my school have been trying to be extra nice to me. Because, you know, I'm Black.


Myra: But Naomi also says, ain’t nobody got time for insincerity.

Naomi: Don't be nice to me for one month of the year. That’s not how it works.


Myra: Speaking of, you may notice that we’re not putting this episode out during Black History Month. I don’t know about you, but my Blackness doesn’t wear off after February. And neither should these conversations.

And, also, while we’re on the subject — ufff, Black history month. Any Black listeners out there feel like there’s always something a little off about February? I know I do. I mean, I’m so proud of our Black history, or at least the history I’m aware of; The history that was actually kept in the books or passed down to me from my family members; The history and leaders and the Malcoms and the Martins and the Rosas that I’ve been allowed to know about.

And yet, there is still so much I don’t know about my Black History because of salvery and the total human erasure that came with it. My white father, from whom I get this last name, Flynn, has deep and traceable roots to Ireland.

My Black mother has deep and traceable roots to … Alabama. That’s it. When I was little, I used to pretend I was from Egypt, mainly because I thought the women there were so beautiful. But, also, I just wanted to say I was from somewhere. And that somewhere claimed me.

And you may notice that these three teens are not a Black American History monolith. And Black in general is not a Black American monolith. So, I guess my biggest beef with Black History Month is the assumption that we all share the same history. What if the Black American History, you know the one shaped in part by trauma and slavery, is not yours to own? Like for Don Kiputa, the only new American in our group conversation. As I mentioned earlier, he moved here two years ago from Zambia. And any fear he holds about being Black in America is learned.

Don: You know, I came in March. And in May, that was when George Floyd died. So, I was quite afraid. I was like, how would life be for me, like in the in the future years to come? How will it be seeing as George Floyd is dead and his blood, and there’s all these racial injustices that are being displayed within the community. So how will it be for me?

Myra: Somehow, Don seems the least worried of all of us in the interview. He says that’s because he has art.

Don: Then, when I went into The Listen Up [Project], OK, I really learnt a lot. And today, I feel like I'm able to become an advocate for some people who do not have voices. For those Black people who feel like they're low. They don't feel like home. I feel like I’m home now based on the family that I found, my friend Naomi and then Faith, OK, they’re pretty good to me. And today, I feel like everything is quite new. And I'm enjoying life now.

(music bump from “Listen Up”)

Myra (in tape): What do you find most powerful about yourself?

Faith: It's not me, it's the history.

Myra: This is Faith again.

Faith: My family's Congolese. And so, coming here and like really understanding and integrating myself into the Black American experience has been, like, so enriching in just how I view the world and how I view my place in it. And there's just, I could talk about it forever, honestly.

Myra: Faith knows that Black History is still being made. It’s active. It’s living. Right now, it’s damn near palpable. There’s murder, movements, reckonings and this thing called social media that’s capturing it all, packaging it and circulating it with truths and falsehoods alike. I asked Faith if she found social media to be helpful or harmful in 2022, especially when it comes to cultivating community.

Faith: And when you see campaigns like Black Lives Matter that like achieved such virality through social media and online — it's real and it's not. And I feel communion with all these people, but at the same time, it feels fragile and it feels like it's being controlled by something else. Some other force.


Myra: Up next, Don, Faith and Naomi respond to your questions about being young and Black and new American in Vermont in 2022.

This is Homegoings, from Brave Little State.

(sponsor break)

Myra: Welcome back to Homegoings, a series from Brave Little State. I’m Myra Flynn. Back in 2019, Kingdom County Productions, which is based in the Northeast Kingdom, began conducting interviews with teenagers all over Vermont. Ultimately, more than 800 teens participated in the project. And the result was a musical, written and performed by these brave highschoolers. They even toured the project in the summer of 2021.

The Listen Up Project does tackle racism, but it also boldly attempts to tackle all teen issues happening today. And, I can safely say that as a child of the 90’s, those issues — you know, the ones that come with High School — look different these days. There’s still puberty, cliques and breakups, but they now walk shoulder-to-shoulder with a climate crisis, social media and a pandemic. Is it tough to be young right now?! It was hard to even come up with appropriate questions for this interview. How can you ask anyone to reflect on trauma when they’re currently in the thick of it?

So, I got a little help. From you! My community. As you know, here on Brave Little State, we have a storytelling model predicated on answering your questions. So, I put this question to my public Facebook page. I asked: What do you, the people, want to know about being young and Black and new American in Vermont in 2022. Lucky for me, you came through.


Myra (in tape): This one’s from Ferene Paris Meyer of Burlington. She says, “This is not your job. Yet you show up 100% invested doing the courageous s**t. What keeps you going as Black Vermont youth?” … Anyone wanna take that one?

Myra: Eventually, Naomi Fitzpatrick did. She’s the 14-year-old.

Naomi: I I feel like, I don't know, there's something inside of you that just says that you can get out there and, um, and you can make it happen. It’s the history, it’s just so strong.

Myra: But Faith adds…

Faith: I feel like I need to call light to the fact that it is hard to so often be expected to be kind of that figure or a teacher or whatever it is. And so many days, I want to be like, “No, I don't owe that to anyone,” because I don't. And it shouldn't be expected of me. But more often than not, like, my answer is simply that I have to. Like, like, how else am I supposed to imagine anything different for my future than by laying out what I expect and what I need and what I'm demanding right now?

Myra: Another audience question came all the way from LA.

Myra (in tape): Megan Ibarra of Los Angeles, California who tunes into Brave Little State said, “What’s something your community could do better or more to celebrate you and your experience?”

Myra: Don took this one. And he thinks it’s hard to celebrate your future if you don’t know your past.

Don: If we are without the knowledge of our own past history, then we are more like a tree without without the roots. So, if we know the past, then we'll be able to focus on what… we'll be able to do something that is different.

Myra (in tape): Did you see racism in Zambia? Did you see like the same kind of racism that we deal with here in America? Or was it different?

Don: I literally didn't didn't see any. Maybe cause there was just different kinds of people that are Black. But here we are mixed, Blacks and Whites.


Myra: Our final listener question is pretty straight forward.

Myra (in tape): Mike Geroge of Roxbury wants to know, “Do you feel safe?”

Myra: Here’s Faith:

Faith: I don't want to say no, but I think I have to. It's layered. And it doesn't always look like someone following you or yelling slurs at you on the street, but like that happens. It happens to me and I watch it happen, but, like, you walk away. What actually hurts so much more is when it's my friends, when it's someone I trust, someone I'm intimate with who just says the wrong thing or doesn't think about the implications of what they're doing. And then it's moments like that where I realize I feel safe until I have to remember I'm Black. And then it’s all just like gone.

Myra: I’m a mom. I have this 2-year-old little Black daughter. And the thought that one day she might be 18 and say out loud that she sometimes feels safe until she remembers that she’s Black is more than heartbreaking. It’s unacceptable.

And Faith (who lives up to her name) doesn’t accept it either. Almost in spite of this lack of safety, she has faith in an anti-racist society. But it’s gonna cost.

Faith: I think that it's very trendy and rewarding to be anti-racist. But it's not, like, problematic at all to be racist. And, like, that's an issue, right? And so when I say “make it expensive, make it dangerous, give it social consequences.” Like, I mean exactly that. Like, you cannot excuse the instances of bigotry you are seeing in your life. And every time you see it and excuse it you are perpetuating it.

Myra (in tape): You will be fined $500 for every racist slur.

Faith: I wish! People would stop being racist so quickly. We don't do that. And that's not even just, like, in a personal, like one-on-one situation. That is, like nationally, like, make institutions of racism pay for that. Give it, like, institutional and societal consequences. Like, you should be afraid to say what you're gonna say if it's gonna hurt someone. Like, I don't get it.

Myra: I’ve been reading a book about hope written by Jane Goodall. Yes, that Jane Goodall. She writes, “Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think it is simply passive, wishful thinking. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement. And why would you bother to take action if you did not truly hope that it would make a difference?”

If Jane’s right, then none of the pillars in the Homegoings house built of Black grief — rage, joy and healing — exist without hope. Active hope has always been essential to Black survival. But I had to ask the group, does hope feel functional right now for Black youth? What reasons remain to be hopeful, if we even should? This question finally, got everyone talking. I was offered a diverse bouquet of answers.

Don: Our hope is to make sure our voices are being heard by everybody. And what we say is being considered

Naomi: I feel like it's hard to hope. It is hard to hope.

Faith: We've never been awarded joy and hope and imagination in our past.

Don: They should put it into use, what we say.

Naomi: When you keep, when you don't keep going at something, it eventually disappears.

Faith: And when you're never given that image of, like, what the potential you have is and what you can do, it's hard to believe in that.

Naomi: I feel like, eventually, there will be justice. It'll just take time. But we need to keep going at it. And if we don't, who will?

Faith: And so I have hope because I have to. But it’s not what motivates me. Like, hope isn’t a plan.

Naomi: If we slow down nothing's gonna keep it going.

Don: Here in Vermont we should be living a very free life.

Myra: My takeaway from this conversation with three young, brave, Black artists is that the Black battle between history and hope, or the fight to know our history and not fall hopeless, lives on. And for us the battlefield is usually a stage. A stage like church. Or a stage like a musical, like The Listen Up Project.

Don: I definitely wrote everything just to make sure my voice is heard. And what I’ve been crying is able, is put on the plate and people are able to see [it] and hear [it].

Naomi: I also thought of it as an opportunity just to kind of yell out what we want, what we're demanding right now. Like, you're not just talking about it within your, your, your friend circle or whatever. You can yell it out so all of Vermont hears and eventually the world.

Myra: Or a stage like Vermont, and the few places we get to come together safely, like here on Homegoings.

Myra (in tape): And remember the state also has brown people who are listening to this as well. So sometimes I catch myself only talking to white people. …

Faith: I'm so guilty of that! I am so guilty of forgetting like my melanated individuals out in the world because, honestly, living in Vermont is spectacle, like my existence is spectacle. And I'm told that I only exist for white audiences. But yo, if you're Black and brown, like you're incredible and you're beautiful. And in case it no one told you like, elite elite, you are the best. This is your life. This is your world. And own it, fully and entirely and without apology. Like that is something I needed to hear. And it's something that should be said more often.

Myra: What you’re about to hear is the title song for The Listen Up Project. And it’s a good reminder for all of us that when it comes to young folks, maybe, we just have to listen. So let’s do that now. Settle in and:

Faith: Listen up.

Naomi: Listen up.

Don: Listen up.

(“Listen Up” song in full)


I'm so sick of a history

that glorifies colonizers liars and thieves

that teaches the success means control and greed

I shouldn't have to be nice to get you to agree

To hell with respectability

I'm not here for you but for prosperity

To bask in this black, miraculous and holy

It's magic, fantastic, bear witness to me

cause this is my reckoning

my body is defiant and it's wrestling

this skin is my birthright

the struggle is the same

my protest is to smile despite all the pain

so I'll be happy the way my mama taught me

and I'll keep fightin’ to undo these racist policies

and I'll believe in better things even if it's naive

cause this is black excellence

it's what we need


Seen as collective, typical

I am an individual

You see the same in visual

I have a different ritual

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above the system

Freedom is a must

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above

Rise above


Oh yes!

I know I wasn't born here

But I equally deserve to be treated like everyone else

Being Black is not my fault and it’ll never be my fault

Therefore treat me like I’m your own

I may sound different from the tone of my voice

All I need is just for you to listen

Maybe the pain within me will disappear


You tell me who I am but how would you know

Following a custom started centuries ago

I'm shouting to be heard

It’s like I never said a word

I'm done living like this

I know your vision is obscure

So take me as ignorant, decide my identity

Bystanding is just white supremacy

The pain is normalized, the suffer unrecognized

The beauty we carry unwanted and criticized


Seen as collective, typical

I am an individual

You see the same in visual

I have a different ritual

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above the system

Freedom is a must

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above

Rise above


Now it’s me the young man in the center of attention

Taught by the white man, excuse my lack of retention

I can't disagree or they would send me to detention

Could leave my attitude home

They’d still give me suspension

There’s many other things that I’d like to mention

But I got a timestamp and I already put a dent in

There have been some assumptions that should now be called to question

Sorrow in my heart four-hundred years it’s been kept in

Listen up

To the voices who lay down the foundation

Listen up

With our power we have built the nation

Listen up

From your heart we’ve take a vacation

Listen up

My people got some better representation


Seen as collective, typical

I am an individual

You see the same in visual

I have a different ritual

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above the system freedom is a must

Celebrate us, elevate trust

Rise above

Rise above

The spirit’s been so low, it’s time to rise above

So let’s celebrate (elevate)

Liberate (liberate)

And love

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