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Juneteenth Commemoration Spurs Call To Action For White Vermonters

Xusana Davis stands at a podium next to a screen that says Juneteenth.
ORCA Media
Xusana Davis, Vermont's Director of Racial Equity, called on white Vermonters to learn about racism and help dismantle it during the governor's regular press conference on Friday, June 19, also known as Juneteenth.

Vermont’s director of racial equity used the commemoration of the end of the slavery in the United States to call on white Vermonters to play a more active role is dismantling systemic racism.

Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive proclamation Friday that recognizes June 19, 2020, as “Juneteenth Recognition Day” in Vermont. The day marks the anniversary of the freeing of 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas in 1865, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

“If we’re being honest, most of us, including me, haven’t always reflected on the magnitude of this date on the way we do other anniversaries and days of remembrance that are included in our calendar,” Scott said during a media briefing Friday. “This says a lot about how much more work we need to do to have a better understanding of what implicit bias or systemic racism even means.”

Xusana Davis, appointed by Scott as Vermont’s first-ever Director of Racial Equity last June, said the work of mitigating that systemic racism will fall largely on the shoulders of white Vermonters who don’t experience it.

“It is your moment to act,” Davis said. “Because as people who wield outsized and often unearned power and privilege in our society, it’s especially important and necessary that you be the ones to exercise that privilege in a way that makes things more equitable for everyone.”

"Once you have listened and once you have learned, then you defer to the people who are impacted by this work, and then you act." ?— Xusana Davis, Vermont Director of Racial Equity

Davis said many white Vermonters are likely unfamiliar with the term “Juneteenth.” She said addressing issues of racial equity in the state will require them first to broaden their knowledge of other cultures and races.

“Certain histories in our nation have been suppressed or forgotten, either intentionally or unintentionally,” Davis said. “One of the most important things that you all, that we all can do is keep that history alive, and to keep the lessons that it teaches us alive.”

Davis said personal education then needs to lead to “action.”

“Once you have listened and once you have learned, then you defer to the people who are impacted by this work, and then you act,” she said. “However you choose to participate, however you choose to act, know that you must do something. It is no longer enough just to be neutral and say that that’s enough.”

Read through the Racial Equity Task Force's "Actions And Allyship" guide here.

Allowed restaurant capacity increased

Scott issued the his Juneteenth proclamation on the same day that his administration announced its latest attempt to reopen the Vermont economy from closures prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.

Beginning June 26, restaurants and arts and entertainment venues will see limits on allowable capacity go from 25% to 50%. Secretary of Commerce Lindsay Kurrle said the new caps, which are based on fire occupancy limits at individual establishments, will help them "return to profitability.”

“We realize the incredible burden this sector has taken on, and we are working diligently to open things up as fast as we can,” Kurrle said.

More from VPR: Scott, Lawmakers Tussle Over COVID Relief For Vermont Businesses

The new capacity limits do not apply, however, to the lodging industry. And Scott said recent conversation with representatives of one lodging group underscore the financial strife the sector is enduring.

“I think their prediction is they’re going to see bankruptcies,” Scott said. “And it’s not going to be too far in the future that we’ll see that.”

Correction 5:20 p.m.: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date of the anniversary of the freeing of 250,000 enslaved African Americans in Texas. It was in 1865, not 1855.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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