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Shelburne, Charlotte Teens Lead Village In Rally For Racial Justice

Youht activist walks next to protest with fist raised
Abagael Giles
VPR File
This month, Emma Marden graduated from Shelburne Community School. On Friday, she led a rally for racial justice through the village.

More than 100 people gathered on Shelburne's town green Friday afternoon to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement and anti-racism.

The event, led by rising Champlain Valley Union High School ninth grader Emma Marden and rising junior Veronica Valliere, brought demonstrators down Route 7 to the Shelburne Community School.

Friday marked Juneteenth, the holiday that commemorates the day in 1865 when Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that enslaved people were free — a full two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued.

Shelburne Community School was one of six schools in the Champlain Valley School District to raise Black Lives Matter flags Friday after an unanimous school board vote earlier this month to approve the action

More from VPR: Teenagers Of Color Lead The Way At Protest Rallies

While other schools within the district raised flags and held a moment of silence, Marden, who just graduated from Shelburne Community School, saw an opportunity to involve students and the community more broadly through a rally and march. It started at 2 p.m. at the town green and passed through the village to the school.

At first, students, teachers and families gathered, distantly, at the green with signs.

Family stands with signs on town green
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Rio, Aviana, Rodney and Melanie Centeno live in Shelburne village, and came to show their support for anti-racism in their community Friday.

When Valliere and Marden called those present to march, demonstrators moved towards Main Street, where Shelburne's police stopped traffic to allow the growing crowd to pass. There were many school-aged children in the crowd: on foot, on bicycle, on tricycle and scooter

Two young women lead a protest down Shelburne's Main street
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
High school students Emma Marden, left, and Veronica Valliere, right, led protesters down Shelburne's Main Street Friday.

As Marden started leading the crowd, calling, "Black Lives Matter!" a man's voice called out "Keep it going, you're doing great!"

One protester's sign read "Honk If You're An Anti-Racist." Another quoted Martin Luther King Jr., saying, "There Comes A Time When Silence Is Betrayal" and "Take Responsibility. Educate, Speak Up!"

A crowd of protesters walks down Shelburne's Main Street
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Protesters walk down Main Street in Shelburne Village.

As chanting continued, the crowd rounded the corner, with Marden and Valliere at the front and ahead of a swath of middle school and high school-aged students. The street ahead of them was empty.

Protesters march on Main Street
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
The line of demonstrators on Main Street stretched from the main intersection with Harbor Road back to the green, around the corner towards the school.

At Shelburne Community School, Principal Scott Sivo set a series of students up with a microphone and podium to speak to the crowd. They spoke about their experiences with racial bias and their families' experiences.

Marden thanked her classmates and teachers for being there. "Black lives matter as much as white lives, and as other lives," she said. "And when we say matter, we mean they deserve to be treated equally, fairly and with respect."

She asked her classmates to say something when they see someone around them being treated unfairly. "That means not teasing them - kids who are different, or not bullying them. For adults, it means that all people should be treated fairly under the law."

A second student speaker, Gretta White, took the stand, and called on other White Shelburne residents to be "more than allies."

"We must strive to be anti-racist, and being anti-racist is something to constantly work on. Have those difficult conversations with your family. Realize your biases, have the experience of being uncomfortable, lead and learn," she said. "And remember, it is not a Black person's job to teach you how to not be racist. But when they do want to teach you something, listen."

Student Clare Stackpole-McGrath took the microphone next.

“I shouldn't have to be afraid for my brother, my mother, my friends and my family," she said. "My skin color shouldn't be it's own crime. George Floyd isn't a wake up call. It's been a problem since 1619, and we are far from a solution.”

Woman with sign "Teach Hard History for an Anti-Racist Future"
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Katie Fraser, a fifth grade teacher at Charlotte Central School, listens to speakers at Friday during an event at Shelburne Community School with her son, Ronan

"I'm tired," Stackpole-McGrath said, "of hearing my mother tell my brother that he can't wear a hood while he's out because people might get 'the wrong idea.' I'm tired of hearing my dad tell me that I have to work four times harder to get my voice heard. I'm tired of hearing another life lost on the news because of their skin color.

Protester holds up a Black Lives Matter sign
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Protesters listen to speeches at Shelburne Community School Friday.

"I am scared. I'm scared for my future," Stackpole-McGrath said. "We haven't changed in previous generations, but let's change for our generation and for generations to come."

Valliere read a poem she wrote, and other students spoke about the significance of Juneteenth.

More from VPR: Talking With Kids (And Parents) About Systemic Racism

Madeleine Kunin at a protest
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Student speakers thanked Madeleine Kunin, the first woman to become governor of Vermont, for her support. She listened to their speeches Friday from her car, and thanked them for, quote, working to make a better world for all of us.

Friday's event was organized with the support of Yasmin Gordon, co-director of the SCS Planning Room, Shelburne CVSD school board representative Barbra Marden, Emma's mother, Hinesburg School Counselor Vicki Nelson and Jeanne Kaczka-Valliere, Veronica's mother. According to Gordon, all are parents of students of color in the CVSD district.

More from VPR: The Future's In Flux. An Opportunity For More Equity In Vermont

Gordon credited Superintendent Elaine Pinckney and SCS Principal Scott Sivo as well, and teachers at SCS for rallying student involvement.

"It was phenomenal that this was an almost entirely student-led endeavor," Gordon said.

Friday’s crowd listened to more about new district-wide initiatives regarding racial equity, including CVSD's plan to hire its first director of racial equity to help the board review existing polices for implicit and explicit bias, and work with administrators, staff and teachers to do so in school curriculums. Then it was time to raise the Black Lives Matter flag.

Students raise the Black Lives Matter Flag
Credit Abagael Giles / VPR
Emma Marden and Veronica Valliere raise the Black Lives Matter flag at Shelburne Community School on June 19.

Marden and Valliere hoisted it together, to cheers and calls of "Black Lives Matter!"

At the event's conclusion, Marden, 14, and Valliere, 16, said the turnout was "awesome.”

"It felt really empowering to see all these people gather to support for the Black Lives Matter movement," Marden said.

When asked what she hoped protesters would take away, Marden said, "I think what I was looking for was awareness, just to show people – to include people – in how to make change. Really, my hope, is to show people that no matter where you are, and no matter what you do, you can make a difference, and it does have an impact on the world."

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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