The Richmond Selectboard voted to incorporate a statement of equity and inclusion into the city’s mission statement.
The statement, proposed by Richmond Racial Equity, was approved unanimously Monday evening after a brief discussion. However, this followed nearly a year and a half of debate over how best to encourage inclusiveness in a thoughtful way and ensure that Richmond, who is 95% white, remains welcoming to all.
“The City of Richmond, Vermont, condemns racism and welcomes all people, regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age or disability, and want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our community, ”the statement read. “As a city, we strongly condemn all discrimination in all its forms, we are committed to the fair and equitable treatment of everyone in our community, and we will strive to ensure that all of our actions, policies and operating procedures reflect this commitment. “
In Richmond, and in communities across Vermont and across the country, the May 2020 murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis by a police officer sparked a movement to fight systemic racism, strengthen inclusiveness, and support black Americans.
In its approach, the Burlington suburb of just over 4,160 people sought to create a more inclusive community without injecting anti-law enforcement sentiments, which have sometimes accompanied anti-racism efforts.
In June 2020, Richmond hoisted a Black Lives Matter flag outside City Hall and placed a sign with the same message on the lawn in front of the city center in a bid to “show a willingness to grow by recognizing our responsibility to clearly and support publicly the global race for racial justice, ”according to the Richmond resolution supporting the display of a BLM flag. The symbols remained in place for three months, as stated in the resolution.
“There was a lot of urgency” after the murder of George Floyd, said Christine Werneke, chairman of the city’s selection committee. “We started with symbolism or consciousness – how do we make it clear that we are paying attention? ”
Some community members and city leaders have expressed a desire to deepen the discussion on racial equity and the actions that could be taken to support it.
The desire was underscored in an hour-long discussion at the select committee meeting on October 18.
Bonny Steuer, a member of Richmond Racial Equity, has asked the board to consider carrying the flag year round and adopting the inclusion statement, which other towns in Vermont including Milton and Bennington , had already done. The organization also announced its intention to ask the city to allocate funds for diversity, equity and inclusion work.
Some at the meeting questioned exactly how the money would be allocated, while others cautioned that it is difficult to change attitudes about race. One person said that although the city budgeted $ 5,000 for diversity training last year, such programs don’t always have an impact.
A community member pushed back even harder. Ian Bender asked specifically what type of work would be done and urged the jury to reconsider using the BLM flag as its primary symbol of inclusiveness.
Bender asked if the town should have a flag, sign and declaration, should they be associated with BLM or can they be associated with something else that “doesn’t stir up as much emotion among some of the residents of the city, myself included?
The 17-year-old resident said: “I just think BLM is really a flashpoint now. It is a conduit to the war of cultures and I think that puts off a lot of people.
Werneke, the chairman of the selection committee, warned the issue was complex and raising a flag was just the start. “It is a flawed statement or visual symbol that we use to emphasize our need to bring equity to the individuals of BIPOC in Richmond,” she said.
Werneke said the jury heard from some residents concerned that the flag could be interpreted as an anti-police statement.
Werneke, who voted in favor of the declaration, said: “People say, ‘I don’t feel like black lives don’t matter; I don’t even mean that all lives matter, ”they just think that using that as a call or symbol has other elements that weren’t discussed and maybe not quite right. in line with the values of our city. ”
She said the next important steps for the city are to look beyond the symbolism and identify the systems that need to be changed to help the city become more welcoming and inclusive for all. Already, the jury has approved a resolution “in favor of a fair and impartial police policy,” she said.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has published a list of actions that municipalities can take to encourage diversity, equity and inclusion in their communities.
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