A Vermont fourth grader successfully petitioned his Middlebury school to fly the BLM flag
"School should be a place of fairness, where all students know they will be treated with respect. School should be a safe place where everyone feels like they belong. School should also be a place where all students feel like they matter."
Those are the words of 9-year-old Elias Urang, a fourth grader at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan School. He delivered them recently in a speech to the Addison Central School District (ACSD), requesting that a Black Lives Matter flag wave outside his school.
After gathering over 100 student signatures, and preparing and presenting that speech, the ACSD Board voted 12-1 to grant Elias’ request. The flag went up on Thursday, Jan. 4, and will fly through the end of this school year.
Elias joined host Jenn Jarecki in the Vermont Public studios to discuss the significance of the BLM movement and what the flag means to him. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.
Jenn Jarecki: All right, well, let's start big picture here. Elias, why do you think it's important to have a Black Lives Matter flag wave at your school?
Elias Urang: Well, I think it'll be a reminder to Black students and teachers that we're not alone. And it could also be a reminder to white students and teachers to be aware of their bias, and to make sure they’re treating everyone the same.
Jenn Jarecki: Before you spoke to the school board, you presented your ideas to third, fourth and fifth graders at your school, right?
Elias Urang: Yep.
Jenn Jarecki: Will you tell us a bit about that?
Elias Urang: I did get some pretty hard questions, but overall, it was good. I also brought a Talk book to some of the classes, so that made it a little bit easier.
Jenn Jarecki: What's a "Talk book"?
Elias Urang: Well, it's about like, a kid who has to worry about life, and being safe because he's Black, and to talk about it. And [it] talks about, like all the different problems that Black people and students can have.
Jenn Jarecki: What was it like to present in front of the school board?
Elias Urang: Well, I felt nervous. But a couple of students and teachers came to support me. And it made me feel a little bit better.
Jenn Jarecki: There are a lot of folks around Vermont who will hear this. What do you think they need to know about what life is like for you? I mean, what don't adults understand?
Elias Urang: Well, I don't think some adults understand, but like white adults, I don't really think they understand, like life is a lot different. Because you can't, well back then, you couldn’t do a lot of same things. And you also get more likely to get punished more harshly at school or get like in bigger trouble with the police, or sometimes even get shot for no really good reason. So, I think adults don't really understand that, like that's happening, and it — I think they need to be more aware of themselves and what they're doing.
Jenn Jarecki: What excites you most about the rest of the school year ahead?
Elias Urang: Probably the Black Lives Matter flag.
Jenn Jarecki: What do you think it'll be like to see it flying on that first day after school vacation?
Elias Urang: Well, I think it'll be pretty exciting. I also know a lot of students at school are also, like pretty happy about this. It's also like a big achievement for me. And I also think it will make the school a better place.
Jenn Jarecki: It sounds like you've had a good deal of support from students and staff. Have you have you gotten any pushback from anybody about this?
Elias Urang: Yes, I actually have.
Jenn Jarecki: Can you tell us more about that?
Elias Urang: Well, at the school board, Brian [Bauer], he was a representative from Middlebury, he said no, because he thought that white people had to do with it, and if white people aren't included in it, then it shouldn't happen. And he's the only one who did, he voted against it.
Jenn Jarecki: What would you say to that argument?
Elias Urang: I would say that white people don't have anything to do it, because, well, like they're being treated fairly, but Black people aren't. And it's not really fair. I don't really think he gets that not everything has to do with white people, and I think that was his concept, that everything has to do with white people.
Jenn Jarecki: What might you say to other students of color in other Vermont schools that might be predominantly white, who might have interest in doing something like what you've done here?
Elias Urang: I would say to them probably, to be brave. And like, if someone's trying to stop you, don't let them and because well, it didn't really feel good when Brian [Bauer] said that, but you just have to, like never lose hope, basically.
Vermont Public contacted Addison Central School District board member Brian Bauer for a response to Elias' comments, but was unable to reach Bauer.
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