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Reed: New Role Models

This year Vermonters of color hold a record number of elected positions. In this last election cycle, eight brave souls threw their hats in the ring of which five won their seats on selectboards in Brattleboro, Hartford and Middlebury as well as the selectboard and school board in Winooski. They joined other Vermonters of color who already serve in the Vermont Senate and House of Representatives, Burlington City Council, Rutland Board of Aldermen, and a number of school boards, town representatives, and justices of the peace.

Elected Vermonters of color hold a wide range of socio-political and economic thought based on their lived experiences. Some are retired and approaching 80 years old, others are still in their 30s or 40s and in the prime of their working lives; some were born in Vermont, others were born elsewhere but had children and raised families here; some are immigrants; they are Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and Independents; some claim African heritage, others Asian or Latino; some are heterosexual, others not; and some are in interracial relationships and others have partners with the same racial identity. As these elected officials address the issues which drew them into the political arena the body politic should avoid stereotyping.

As Vermonters of color they are acutely aware of the devastating impact White supremacy and racism have on their lives and the lives of those close to them. They do not however live in a perpetual state of victimhood of a racist society but as survivors of racial injustice. And while they share a common love for the Green Mountains they also share the same goal to eradicate racism to make Vermont a desirable destination for all.

Finally, win or lose, the participation of Vermonters of color in electoral politics sends a powerful message to Vermont children. For children of color it signals there is a place for them as productive adults in their communities; for white children it clearly says that their classmates of color have potential to become important movers and shakers.

In addition to inviting elected officials of color to speak before classrooms, our schools and communities should use the Vermont African American Heritage Trail to educate residents on the civic engagement of historic figures such as Alexander Twilight, Daisy Turner, and Lucy Terry Prince among others. Such exposure will certainly encourage future generations of Vermonters, a growing percentage of whom are students of color, to engage in our democracy beyond the ballot box.

Curtiss Reed, Jr. serves as executive director of the Brattleboro-based Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan, research, educational and advocacy organization presenting the Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future Conference in November.
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