By Anna Syrell
On Friday, June 19, schools across the Champlain Valley School District raised Black Lives Matter flags. The school district said in an announcement, “We recognize that raising this flag is only the beginning and that true, systemic change must happen to ensure that Black, Indigenous, Students of Color (BISOC) have the same opportunities, are treated with the same respect, and are shown the same love as their white counterparts.”
Charlotte parent and member of the Charlotte Central School (CCS) Diversity Committee Jeanne Kaczka-Valliere spoke at the CCS flag-raising. At 8:46 a.m., the gatherings across the community observed a moment of silence.
This is the text of her speech.
Thank you for coming out today. I’m here as a parent representative of the CCS Diversity Committee. Before we begin, we wish to acknowledge the Abenaki people on whose land we are gathered today. I pay my respects to their Elders, past and present.
I’m honored to be here today to raise the BLM flag. Today is also a holiday, Juneteenth. A very important holiday for many Black Americans, and completely unknown to most white Americans. Juneteenth is also known as Emancipation Day and Freedom Day. It celebrates the day that the enslaved Black people of Texas were told that they were “free.” This was over two years after President Lincoln signed the Proclamation of Emancipation. (Please learn more about this holiday.) Yet today in 2020, a black and brown person in American cannot…
Birdwatch in a park.
Jog in their neighborhood.
Listen to loud music at a gas station.
Walk home from a snack run to 7-11.
Wear a hoodie.
Drive after swimming.
Drive in a car with a white girl.
Appear in public in New York City.
Walk on the wrong side of the street.
Drink iced tea in a parking lot.
Seek help after a car accident.
Inspect your own property.
Show up at your job.
Talk trash after an NFL game.
Throw a temper tantrum in kindergarten.
Buy designer accessories at Macy’s.
Be a 13-year-old boy.
Enter your own home.
Botch a science experiment.
Be a tourist.
Lay face down in handcuffs.
Or, as my kids have experienced, stand in line at school, take the school bus, eat lunch in the cafeteria.
For these are all actions that have resulted in racist slurs, attacks, the police called, arrests made, and even death to Black Americans. Maybe some of you have seen this list on social media lately. So, I ask you…What is free? Freedom? Justice? Equality? Justice? In America today.
I recently read, “America is raw right now. Her wounds are exposed. But what gives me hope is the people. People from every race, sex, gender, religion and age are protesting for justice and equality.” I echo those sentiments.
And, white Americans, we have work to do…I’m going tell you how this work starts…by listening to Black and brown Americans, lifting the voiceless, standing back, checking your privilege, seeking representation, asking questions, reading and educating yourself, humbling yourself, learning about intersectionality (all your privileges because this work is intersectional) because white Americans have no idea what it’s like to be Black in America.
I’m going to tell you a quick story…my first encounters with racism were in this very community at this school, against my children. So, I started reading, learning, educating myself the best I can to protect, support and be the voice for my children. I joined the CCS Diversity Committee, spoke with principals, community members….What I don’t know and can never know and will continually need to seek to understand is the lived, everyday experience of being Black in America. I have the privilege of calling on my whiteness to protect me every day.
Just yesterday I was dropping off signs for the Shelburne rally this afternoon, my friend and her daughter like my daughter are Black. She bought paint sticks to put signs on. I said, you don’t need to buy those, you just take them … she, with her humor and gentleness laughed and said, I can’t just take them, I’m Black. I felt embarrassed. I should know this. Of course, I am afraid if my daughter goes into stores alone…I, Me, I should have known. This is the difference between white privilege and lived experiences. My point is, therefore we must do the work every day, continually. This work is not easy, and we will feel ashamed. Take it. Do better. I have been doing this work a lot, I’m a mama bear protecting my babies, and I need to keep at it, where are you in the process?
So, while I’m honored and hopeful being here today to raise the BLM flag, I want you to understand too. My family has had a BLM poster for years. A poster my Black kids have NOT wanted us to put up outside our house. My daughter has a BLM T-shirt; she will only wear it to bed…Why—for safety? So, I ask you as we stand here performing these actions today, to contemplate the heaviness, the deep symbolism and the importance of the flag. The BLM flag is a big deal, AND this flag has come with a heavy cost: cost of families separated, lives lost, kids harmed. My point is, do not take flag or antiracism work lightly, do the work every day.
At 8:46, we will have a moment of silence for our fellow black humans that were unjustly and unnecessarily murdered, but also for all black and brown individuals in our community and beyond who do not have the physical, emotional and psychological freedoms and privileges simply because of the color of their skin. 8:46 is the amount of time George Floyd was on the ground, until he drew his last breath.
“Love and Justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters,” Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams, Sensei.