Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Blog

Join us to Protect the Results of the 2020 Election

Today, we vote. At the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance we’re voting for a future where BIPOC lives are valued and empowered.

Everyone counts. Every vote counts. And every vote must be counted. These are values we all hold, and they are not negotiable.

That’s why we’ve joined a coalition of other Vermont organizations to Protect the Results, a movement to defend our democracy in the wake of this tumultuous election. Learn more here:

Should victory be declared before all the votes are counted or actions taken to intimidate or prevent the legitimate counting of votes, Vermonters will be ready to mobilize. 

Join us on Saturday, November 7 at noon for a Rally to Protect the Results in Montpelier. Mark Hughes, coordinator of the Racial Justice Alliance, will be among the speakers. Please sign up here if you plan to attend.

In these uncertain times, it’s hard to know what might come after election day. We need to be prepared to join together in huge numbers all across the nation to demand every vote is counted and the results of the election accepted.

We are proud to be in coalition Rights and Democracy VT, VPIRG, The Battery Park Movement, The Black Perspective, and many others who are dedicated to protecting the results of the 2020 election.

Response to Mayor Miro Weinberger’s Appointment of Director of Police Transformation & “Five New Actions on Policing”

By Mark Hughes & Members of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance remains committed to the work of implementing Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. as articulated and in the June 29th, Burlington City Council Resolution. Restructuring public safety, Implementing cultural empowerment, Securing equal opportunity and Enabling racial equity inclusion and belonging are ALL still our priorities.  The  Mayor’s recent appointment of a new Police Transformation Director (The Director) and his “Five Additional Actions on Policing” are problematic, primarily because they don’t go beyond restructuring public safety. The work of dismantling symbolic systemic racism in city government requires a commitment that extends beyond social and political differences on policing.  True commitment must be given to addressing the whole of government and the cultural and economic dimensions outlined in R.I.S.E.   

Another shortcoming of the Mayor’s approach is that the planning and appointment was done bilaterally with the Burlington police Department, at the exclusion of the Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, the City Council, the Joint Committee of the City Council’s Public Safety Committee and Police Commission, the Public Safety Committee, the Change Charter Committee and the Police Commission “the other stakeholders”.  This approach circumvented and undermines the inclusive and earnest efforts of the other stakeholders that are advancing the ongoing work.  The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, the BIPOC-led Battery Park Protesters, and the community have been in good faith providing continuous input to the Joint Police Commission and Public Safety Committee on ensuring public engagement, a functional assessment of the Police Department and re-envisioning of public health and safety.  

Our concerns surrounding the Mayor’s “Five New Actions on Policing” are material, beyond process. The “Five New Actions on Policingcollectively create executive cover for the Burlington Police Department. These solutions supplant the Police Commission’s authority; close out other stakeholders; create false deadlines; set dangerous precedents; and pass the buck.

  • The Executive Order supplants the Police Commission’s recently released policy and their authority in the complaint process and delays their visibility into related complaints until late in the process.
  • The decision to assign the City Attorney to work with the Police Officers Association (POA) to review the contract closes other important stakeholders out of the discussions, potentially jeopardizing the ability to have a more robust and meaningful engagement.  With a contract till June 2022, the November deadline is unnecessary.
  • The recommendation for the Police Commission to approve body camera footage release policy is top loaded. A “Concepts and Principles” document was pre-prepared by the Deputy Chief, the Mayor and the City Attorney with another unnecessary deadline (end of October).
  • The proposal for the Community Service Liaison in the form of social workers in the police department creates a dangerous precedent and blurs the line between policing and social services at a time when community members are asking for clearer separation of roles.
  • The proposal for the Police Commission to create a policy for release of investigations into officer conduct passes the buck on work that clearly should be addressed through a full outside assessment of the department and engagement with the POA and City Attorney.

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has been working in good faith with all of the other stakeholders, including the Police Department and the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Director to ensure the full implementation of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E.  The Mayor’s bilateral work with the Burlington Police Department in the creation of the Director position and “Five New Actions on Policing” does not indicate his willingness to do the same.  

The mission of Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. is to transform the lives of black and brown people by investing in their lives, holding space for their culture, providing them opportunity and ensuring the equity they deserve to thrive.  All of the work that we are doing started as a result of a double pandemic – COVID-19 and ongoing murder and violence of BIPOC at the hands of the Police. Police violence against BIPOC with impunity is a symptom of a larger sickness of a nation.  We must heal the sickness while we address the symptom.

We will continue to do our work with the City of Burlington in good faith. We implore the Mayor to show himself as a fully committed and trustworthy partner in the work of protecting BIPOC bodies; focus on the “I, S and E” in R.I.S.E. with urgency; and collaborate with the other stakeholders to synthesize his approach to comport to and support the work already underway.

Veto Request on Cannabis Taxation and Regulation Bill, S.54

Dear Jason, Rebecca, and Xusana,

Please find attached a letter to Governor Scott, signed on behalf of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, urging him to veto S.54 upon arrival.  This bill has been flawed from start to finish and not only ignores the Administration’s opportunity to repair harm and ensure equity but is also actually harmful to African Americans of Vermont.

We ask that the policy be stopped and the Marijuana Commission be charged with researching effective reparative and equity provisions that provide meaningful measures to address the historical social and economic impact that marajuana has had on African Americans and the current impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry.

We stand at the ready to continue to offer additional constructive recommendations to address these challenges such as those previously offered.  We appreciate you promptly getting  this letter to the governor and would be happy to answer any questions you or members of your team might have surrounding this matter.  

Here is an active petition with over 460 signatures on the matter.


Governor Scott,

Please say NO to the taxation and regulation bill, S.54.  This bill has been flawed from start to finish and not only ignores the government’s responsibility to repair harm and ensure equity but also actually is harmful to African Americans of Vermont.  With little or no access to land or capital, Black Vermonters are most severely impacted by this policy.  S.54 also harms small growers by giving medical dispensaries sole access to integrated licenses and a jumpstart on market access. The bill does not consider cannabis cultivation agriculture, excluding most land and infrastructure in agricultural easements and current use, and most farmers from having equitable access to this crop and a market that could support their farm income. Further:

  1. No research was conducted by the Marijuana Commission on the historical adverse impact of marijuana on African Americans or the impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry (they did provide reports on Taxation and Regulation, Road Safety and Education).
  2. Despite proposals from racial justice and emerging grower advocates there has been no significant language to address the historical impact, industry systemic racism or disadvantage that small farmers suffer in this market.
  3. The House and the Conference Committee ignored numerous requests to provide adequate reparative and equity language.
  4. Symbolic gestures including the passage of a separate expungement bill, mild licensing concessions and Cannabis Control Board appointments do little to address the true harm or provide equitable opportunity.
  5. The fact that the bill calls for the Cannabis Control Board (yet to be created) to provide recommendations to the legislature to address reparative and equity language indicates that they have not done their homework.
  6. Access to the final discussions that concluded the Conference Committee was not even made available to the public resulting in our discovery of the final agreement by way of out-of-state pro-policy lobbyists.  

S.54 fails to address in any significant way the devastating historical social and economic impact of marijuana on African Americans, the current impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry or the disadvantages of emerging growers!  In short, Black people and small farmers are not made whole and fail to economically benefit from this bill.  Again.  Even now, in what is a national racial reckoning, we’re still doing this.  The passage of this bill exacerbates the economic oppression of Black folks who already have a median wealth of 1/13th that of white people.  This is wrong and we all know that it is wrong. 

It is reprehensible that despite a double pandemic that is exacerbating the impact of systemic racism on Black and Brown bodies that this policy is on your desk. It makes no sense that small farmers would also be disadvantaged by big industry.  Please use this as an opportunity to communicate that placing profit over Black and otherwise economically disadvantaged Vermonters ends here. Please veto this policy to give us the opportunity to ensure that it addresses harm and provides everyone an opportunity to thrive.  Charge the Marijuana Commission to provide the analysis to enable a data-driven approach in shaping just and equitable tax and regulate legislation.


Mark Hughes,
Executive Director,
Justice For All
Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

VRJA Legislative Priorities

In short, the murder of George Floyd, the shooting of Jacob Blake and thousands of others are a symptom of a much larger problem.  Systemic racism.  Reach out to the legislature with us on these very important policies now!

These are the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Legislative Priorities

About Taxation and Regulation of Cannabis (marijuana)

S.54, the Cannabis taxation and regulation bill is coming out of Conference Committee any day now. The outcome is so disappointing that it approaches insulting.  Here are the problems:

  • Despite reports from the Marijuana Commission on Taxation and Regulation, Road Safety and Education, No research was conducted on the Historical adverse impact of Marijuana on African Americans or the impact of systemic racism on the cannabis industry. 
  • Neither the House or Senate added substantial language to address this massive disregard of what we know is catastrophic. 
  • The Conference Committee has ignored all requests to provide adequate reparative and racial equity language.
  • The fact that the bill calls for the Cannabis Control Board (yet to be created) to provide recommendations to the legislature to address reparative and racial equity language indicates that they have not done their homework 

Ask the legislature and the governor NOT to advance S.54 this year and charge the Marijuana Commission to provide the analysis to enable a data-driven approach to addressing the reparative and racial equity aspects of taxation and regulation of cannabis.  It is reprehensible that despite a double pandemic that is exacerbating the impact of systemic racism on black and brown bodies that this policy is being moved forward at this time.  It is shameful that this is a matter that we should be required to fight with so much more that threatens African American lives at this time.


Other Legislative Priorities

  • Providing COVID-19 targeted relief for Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC) in Vermont 
  • Enabling economic development and empowerment for BIPOC in Vermont, such as adult education and job training, empowerment and support for BIPOC owned businesses, etc.
  • Funding a statewide database to track racial disparities to inform transformative data-driven solutions
  • Passing transformative racial justice bills already in consideration (Staffing Racial Equity Office: Bill (H.937) & Reparations: Bill (H.478)
  • Tackling Criminal Justice reform, providing effective & transparent Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement and pass bills already in consideration
  • Update Population Quality of Life Outcomes to include a “People of Color” 3 VSA 2311
  • Embracing the ACLU 10 point plan outlined by the ACLU, and endorsed by Justice for All, among others. Find more information about that plan here.

Ask the legislative leadership, Government Operations Committees and the Senate Chair of Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs to advance the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance priorities.  

Mark Hughes’ Letter of Resignation from the Burlington Police Commission

Mark A. Hughes
September 3, 2020

My resignation from the Burlington Police Commission is
effective immediately.

The statutory authority, delegated powers and design of the
commission render it ineffective. The City Attorney and the
Police Union Contract further limit any authority that the
Commission would have to provide adequate oversight. The
Department’s gatekeepers ensure limited visibility of the
Commission into the BPD. The investigation and disposition of
the social media matter leading to the resignation of Chiefs was
a complete failure and continues to be unresolved. Despite
these conditions, I continued to serve.

The handling of the discipline of the three offers involved in
violence must be framed with historical race data on traffic
stops, search rates, arrest rates, use of force and more. The
challenges must additionally be contextualized with racial
inequities in housing, employment, education, economic
development and more. This is systemic racism.

Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. is a start in addressing systemic
racism in Burlington. “Restructuring Public Safety” is the “R” in
Rise. In addition to reducing the uniformed officer budget by
30 percent, work is underway to better understand community
values and vision for services and assess the department for
restructuring. All parties must be committed to seeing through
in earnest this plan, which was arrived at in a democratic

Currently our Deputy Chief, a former mayor a former chief of
police and others instead choose to engage in divisive
campaigns that seek to undermine any hope for its success.
The mayor has a responsibility to address this and lead.

The Racial Justice Alliance calls for the removal of Officers
Corrow, Bellavance and Campbell included hundreds of callers
that spoke for hours in public testimony. The BIPOC-led
protesters in Battery Park are asking for the same thing. These
BIPOC folks are emblematic of all black folks in this city and I
am concerned that their asks are not being considered in light
of the 401 year-old problem of racism, the current racial
reckoning of a nation or the commitment to change in the City
of Burlington. The flat out dismissal of their demands is
hypocritical as we declare racism as a public health emergency
as the top concerns for danger or death of black folks like me in
Burlington is interaction with a police officer.

These protesters have been peacefully protesting for the past
ten days at risk of their lives with folks with live weapons on
site, being fired upon with B-B guns and numerous other
threats. Focusing on their on the potentially threat they pose
on so-called public safety ignores the proven threat that
policing has had on our black community from inception to
present day, indicated nationally and here in the city of
Burlington. Strategic and political decisions to elevate the
concerns of insomnia ridden residents resulting from this cry
for justice reveals the priority to return the privileged white
residents to slumber, not protect the woke black folks of

The problem is not that this administration does not have the
ability to take action on this demand. This administration
chooses not to take action because they are unwilling to accept
the cost of doing so. This administration is unwilling to
consider that cost that black bodies have paid throughout
history or the pornographic levels of wealth acquired by white
people as a result of it – unwilling to consider the cost that the
folks of the BIPOC-led Movement in Battery Park are
willing to pay.
At the time of this resignation, there has been
no emergency meeting scheduled for the Police Commission or
the City Council. In the absence of such quorum, no action can
be taken to a vote; vital votes that would be required to take
the actions of terminating these officers or asking for their
resignations at a minimum, despite the city attorney’s skillful
fiduciary advice. The mayor has shown no political will or
intestinal fortitude to act unilaterally on such decision.

I stand with the Racial Justice Alliance in support of the
demands of the BIPOC protesters in Battery Park. I can no
longer do so while serving as a Burlington Police
Commissioner. It is not likely that anyone in this
administration should be surprised by my position. I ask that
the Police Commission and the City Council to convene in
emergency sessions and do what you know you must. I ask the
mayor to be a history-maker by placing a priority on the
protection of black bodies above money. I call on the
community to dial in to this moment, support this movement
and vote! Black Lives Matter!

Mark A. Hughes

Press release: RJA’s reaction to “Race Disparities Traffic Stop Data” published on August 24th by the University of Vermont

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020
Mark Hughes (
Ashley Laporte (

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance’s Point of View on “Race Disparities Traffic Stop Data” published on August 24th , 2020 by the University of Vermont

We at the Racial Justice Alliance are not surprised by the racial disparities communicated in the recently released report on race traffic stop data in Vermont, published by Stephanie Seguino, a University of Vermont Economics professor and Gund Fellow; Cornell University visiting associate professor Nancy Brooks; and Pat Autilio, data analyst. The findings in this report are predictable. But most of all, we are frustrated that the State of Vermont has made zero progress when it comes to the creation of a centralized data infrastructure to house and publish this kind of race related police data. Race related data like the race traffic stop data released in the study by Seguino and Fellow would be more powerful if it were a part of a robust state-wide infrastructure and if it were properly framed through the lens of systemic racism. The advancement of Vermont’s Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) depends on a more holistic approach to race related data.

First, we believe that a robust data infrastructure is required to eradicate systemic racism in Vermont. The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance continues to call for a centralized and robust state-wide data infrastructure that supports the aggregation and correlation of ALL race-related data in Vermont. This data system would be significantly more impactful than the current racially disaggregated, periodic, and competing third-party-provided reports. The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has begun this work with our Race Traffic Stop Data Dashboard, and we remain committed to its expansion. We call upon the State to do the same. Secondly, we call upon State, and local policy makers and leaders to create transparent and effective civilian oversight apparatuses. Lastly, we continue to urge legislators to create a robust Racial Justice platform that focuses on holistic systemic and reparative solutions to end systemic racism in Vermont, including targeted economic development, staffing for the State Racial Equity Office, establishing a Reparations Task Force and more, as outlined in the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Legislative Priorities.

Mark Hughes, Executive Director of Justice for All and Coordinator of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance commented, “We need systemic solutions that offer the promise of BIPOC community safety and prosperity. Without this, with each new, de-centralized report we will simply return to the beginning of the conversation of racism in Vermont where some choose to still be “shocked” and actions to eradicate racism are not pursued.”

The COVID-19 crises and racial referendum in this nation have left BIPOC folks in the most perilous of times. The tired shock and appall that always comes in response to the release of these reports without a systemic racism framing consistently leads us to the same place – information without action. We need systemic solutions that offer the promise of BIPOC community safety and prosperity, not another distracting report that returns us to the beginning of the conversation and fails to advance the work of eradicating systemic racism. It is time for Vermont to do what she knows she must. No matter how many times we look at those reports, they are going to say the same thing. We call on legislators to move forward policy directed at eradicating systemic racism in Vermont. Now is the time!

New Data Shows Black Vermonters are 10x More Likely than White Vermonters to be Infected with COVID-19

Data recently released from the state clearly illustrates that racism is a public health crisis. COVID-19 does not spread evenly across racial lines due to long term, systemic health, social, and economic inequities. Black Vermonters are a whopping 10 times more likely to be infected with COVID-19 than white Vermonters.

This new data indicates that 11.2% of COVID-19 infections have impacted Black Vermonters, while only 1.4% of Vermonters identify as Black. While this disparity is shocking, it’s no shock to the folks who have been sounding the alarm on the many inequities in social determinants of health that have made BIPOC (‘Black, Indigenous, People of Color,’) Vermonters increasingly at risk of infection or worse due to COVID-19. These disparities include, but are not limited to, health care, housing, education, employment, criminal justice, and finances. 

While Native Americans currently experience a low rate of COVID infection in the state of Vermont, nationally Indigenous Americans are experiencing some of the highest rate of COVID infections among any other group. In particular, in our neighboring state of New York, the Navajo Nation faces the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate nationwide.

covid disparities

Several weeks ago, alongside Mayor Weinberger of Burlington and more than 30 Chittenden County based organizations, we declared Racism a Public Health Emergency. As part of the declaration, participants announced a commitment to the sustained and deep work of eradicating racism within their organizations, immediate and specific actions that they are taking to address the emergency in the work that they do and a commitment to participate in ongoing joint action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism in Chittenden County.

While the declaration of Racism as a Public Health Emergency in the city of Burlington was a big win, to truly eradicate race-based health disparities across the state, we will need ongoing joint action from individuals, state leaders, businesses, elected officials, and healthcare administrators in response to statewide systemic racism. 

Organizations, businesses, and agencies must:

  1. implement a programmatic approach to eradicating systemic racism; and
  2. designate a person responsible for eradicating systemic racism, reporting to the chief executive; and
  3. provide sufficient data, policy, training and outreach support for the function of systemic racism mitigation; and
  4. undertake a comprehensive review of their practices of collecting high impact, high discretion, racially disaggregated data; and
  5. create data dashboards to enable management of progress; and
  6. implement a fairness and diversity policy; and
  7. conduct initial and ongoing systemic racism mitigation training;
  8. conduct racial impact assessments of all existing and emerging policy; and
  9. review hiring, appointment and promotion processes through a racial equity lens; and
  10. integrate systemic racism mitigation as an integral component of employee evaluation.

The Declaration of racism as a health emergency is a component of a larger strategy put forth by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance referred to as Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E.

Operation Phoenix Mission:

Transform the lives of black and brown people by investing in their lives, holding space for their culture, providing them opportunity and ensuring the equity they deserve to thrive.


Restructuring Public Safety

Implementing Cultural Empowerment

Securing Equal Opportunity

Expanding Racial Equity, Belonging and Inclusion



Contact us for recommendations on resources your organization can use to eradicate systemic racism.

August 22: Celebrate 401 years of African American History at the First African Landing VT Commemoration

The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and the New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church are pleased to present the second annual First African Landing Vermont Commemoration in Vermont on Saturday, August 22 from 2-6pm. The event will be live streamed from Burlington, Vermont.

The event serves to recognize the 401st anniversary of the landing of the first enslaved Africans in English-occupied North America at Point Comfort in 1619. It will feature a commemorative ceremony of storytelling, dance, drumming, musical performances, and more.

Click here to learn more and see the agenda for the event!

Access the live stream here on August 22, beginning at 2pm:

Continue reading “August 22: Celebrate 401 years of African American History at the First African Landing VT Commemoration”

Burlington City Council Votes Unanimously to Pass a Historical Reparations Resolution

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, August 11th, 2020
Contact: Ashley Laporte, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

Burlington City Council Votes Unanimously to Pass a Historical Reparations Resolution to Study Reparations for Vermont’s Role in Chattel Slavery Burlington, Vermont

On Monday, August 10th 2020, the Burlington City Council voted unanimously to pass a Reparations Resolution, instituting a task force to study reparations for the role Vermont played in chattel slavery. The Resolution, introduced by Councilor Perri Freeman (Central) continues the work outlined in the historic Racial Justice Resolution passed in June.

A five-member panel will begin meeting by October 1st, and will meet for one year to form a recommendation for the City on how to proceed with reparations. The group will be funded via the new Racial Justice Fund (established via the Racial Justice Resolution), and will include Tyeastia Green, the city’s first Director of Racial Equity, as well as appointees from Mayor Miro Weinberger, Council President Max Tracy (Ward 2),The Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and the Vermont Human Rights Commission.

Burlington’s Reparations Resolution was co-created with the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and is the next step in their Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E work which galvanized support for Burlington’s Racial Justice Resolution passed in June. The new Reparations Resolution was informed by H.R. 40, a Congressional bill to establish the Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans. H.R. 40 states “the commission shall examine slavery and discrimination in the colonies and the United States from 1619 to the present and recommend appropriate remedies. Among other requirements, the commission shall identify (1) the role of federal and state governments in supporting the institution of slavery, (2) forms of discrimination in the public and private sectors against freed slaves and their descendants, and (3) lingering negative effects of slavery on living African-Americans and society.”

A similar Reparations bill has been proposed at the state level in Vermont, H.478 and similarly recommends the creation of a task force to consider reparations at a state-wide level. This bill has been sitting in committee since February 2019. The passing of the Burlington Reparations Resolution is historic in that it moves forward the process of Reparations at the City level and has the opportunity to provide a guidepost for similar work at a State and Federal level.

Mark Hughes, Executive Director of Justice For All and Coordinator of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance commented, “This nation has never made an intentional or sustained effort to be a nation reflective of its storybook tales of being a place where the unalienable rights of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness are possible for all people.” He said, “ We stand on the shoulders of Belinda, Callie House, Queen Mother Audley Moore “Reparations Ray” Jenkins, and the late Rep. John Conyers, bringing about a reckoning for this crime against humanity and beginning the journey to heal our nation.”

This win in Burlington comes as the state legislature prepares to go back into session at the end of August, and to pass a budget in October. Building on recent wins in Burlington, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has re-introduced its State Level Priorities to make progress against systemic racism in Vermont. Supporters of the Racial Justice Alliance have been signing up to make comment (or submit comments) during the upcoming state-sponsored public forums on Policing & Public Safety. The Alliance seeks to broaden the conversation from Policing & Public Safety to tackling systemic racism holistically, including making progress against H. 478, the state-level Reparations Bill.

Representative Brian Cina, Racial Justice Alliance Steering Committee Member stated, “In order to dismantle systemic racism, we must recognize its roots in the institution of slavery and we must make amends as a society for the harm that was caused. By passing this Reparations Resolution, Burlington is taking a transformative first step on the city level towards a state and national process of truth, reconciliation, and healing. Now it’s time for the Vermont Legislature to pass H.478.”


Press Release: Racism Declared a Public Health Emergency; Groups Announce New Actions


July 16, 2020

Mayor Miro Weinberger, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and 30-plus Chittenden County Organizations Together Declare Racism a Public Health Emergency and Announce New Actions

Organizations announce immediate actions to address this emergency both internally and in their work, and commit to ongoing joint action to eliminate race-based health disparities and systemic racism in Chittenden County

Burlington, VT – Today, Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and more than 30 Chittenden County organizations announced a community declaration of racism as a public health emergency. As part of the declaration, all participants also announced: 1) a commitment to the sustained and deep work of eradicating racism within their organizations; 2) immediate and specific actions that they are taking to address the emergency in the work that they do; and 3) a commitment to participate in ongoing joint action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism in Chittenden County. Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and State Executive Director of Racial Equity Xusana Davis also announced the State of Vermont’s intention to support and collaborate in this regional public health effort.

“Deep and structural racism has shaped the systems of our nation and community for far too long. Here in Burlington, we have shown while battling the coronavirus pandemic, the climate emergency, and the opioid crisis that when government, non-profits, businesses, and residents share a vision, focus on science and data, and collaborate closely, we can forge remarkable progress on even our toughest challenges,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “Today’s declaration signals that going forward the major institutions of Chittenden County will apply these principles of collective action to eliminating systemic racism and its attendant stark disparities in health outcomes. I look forward to working with the Racial Justice Alliance and many other community partners to achieve this long overdue progress, and creating a Burlington where our structures and policies support opportunity, well-being, and true health for every member of our community.”

“We at the Racial Justice Alliance are proud to have spurred the declaration that racism is a public health crisis,” said Mark Hughes, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance. “But it is imperative that our fellow Vermonters recognize that this is not a new crisis. The systemic racism that has pervaded our society for years – from sub-standard medical treatment caused by limited resources and doctors’ bias, to eugenics, to environmental racism that causes people of color to be unjustly exposed to pollutants that make us sick. Racism has been a health crisis since the inception of this country. We must work together to ensure that being Black or a person of color is no longer a pre-existing condition.”

Impetus for Community Declaration
The community declaration of racism as a public health emergency comes at a pivotal moment. First, the globe is contending with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Second, across the nation and across Vermont, Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) have raised their voices to speak out against systemic racism and police violence in response to the death of George Floyd in May. On June 29, the City of Burlington, in partnership with the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, joined a small but growing number of municipalities that declared racism as a public health emergency in response to the enormous health disparities between Blacks and whites in many areas, including COVID-19 infection and mortality rates, infant mortality, morbidity and mortality rates of many chronic diseases, and police-involved killings.

To truly address these disparities, however, will take much more than a governmental response. Over the past two weeks, a steering committee of the City of Burlington, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, University of Vermont Medical Center, Howard Center, and United Way developed a vision for a community response of many individuals, organizations, and institutions working together to bring sustained focus and action to eliminating race-based health disparities in Chittenden County.

The organizations participating in this effort represent a broad coalition of partners whose work spans the social determinants of individual and public health, including opportunities and outcomes for employment, education, housing, justice, and health.

In all of these areas, disparities based on race are stark and persistent, caused by systemic racism, and adversely impact the health of Black people and all people of color. Recently, the coronavirus has exacerbated these disparities. Black and Latino people in the United States have been nearly three times as likely as white people to become infected with COVID-19 and nearly two times as likely to die,[i]  and those disparities are even more marked among younger age groups.[ii] These same disparities exist in Vermont, and during the current pandemic, though Black residents comprise just over 1 percent of Vermont’s population, they account for approximately 10 percent of the total confirmed COVID-19 cases as of July 8, 2020.[iii]

These disparities extend far deeper than the current pandemic: race-based disparities exist at the local level in many areas that are the most important social determinants of health. For example, in housing, only 4 percent of homes in Burlington are owned by people of color though people of color comprise 18 percent of Burlington’s population,[iv] and potential home applicants who are Black are four-and-a-half times more likely than white applicants to be denied for a home loan (83.3 percent to 18.2 percent).[v]

Such disparities continue across many other critical metrics of economic well-being. In Chittenden County, 26 percent of Black residents are in poverty compared to 10.6 percent of white residents, 8.1 percent of Black residents are unemployed compared with 4.3 percent of white residents, and 39.6 percent of Black residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher compared with 49.9 percent of white residents.[vi]

To improve health outcomes for Black residents of Chittenden County, and create true equity, will require addressing disparities in all of these areas.

Immediate Actions from Participating Organizations
This community declaration of racism as a public health emergency is the starting point for action to address this emergency that will be both immediate and ongoing. In joining the declaration, participating organizations also committed to immediate actions that they will take to address this emergency in the work that they do. Together, these groups represent some of the largest and most impactful employers, educators, service providers, housing organizations, and other organizations in Chittenden County. Several highlights of these new commitments are below, and a full summary of commitments from all participating organizations is attached.

  • City of Burlington: Create a new Public Health Equity Manager position to expand the City’s public health capacity, support the efforts of the City and partners who have declared systemic racism a public health emergency, and assist in crafting a strategic plan for the City’s racial health equity work. The strategic plan will involve the restructuring of City operations to support this new capacity. [For all of the City’s commitments, see attached document]
  • Burlington School District: Review our core curricular materials and develop a plan to ensure our curriculum and teaching is culturally relevant, anti-racist, and holds high expectations for what all students know and are able to do. [For all of BSD’s commitments, see attached document]
  • Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO): Hire a Director of Racial Equity to focus on organizational development as well as working with the communities we serve. [For all of CVOEO’s commitments, see attached document]
  • Howard Center: Create a data dashboard system to identify health disparities and inform practice change within our agency’s clinical practice and recruitment plan. [For all of Howard Center’s commitments, see attached document]
  • Lake Champlain Chamber: Provide education and resources for businesses on how to take action toward advancing racial equity. [For all of the Lake Champlain Chamber’s commitments, see attached document]
  • UVM Medical Center: Implement a Workforce Diversity Assessment of its 8,000 employees in August to ask them about how they experience equity and racism at work. This assessment will be used to increase recruitment and retention of BIPOC staff and leaders, identify gaps in equity within the organization, and reveal learning opportunities to increase cultural humility throughout the organization. The assessment will also take place across the UVM Health Network. [For all of UVM Medical Center’s commitments, see attached document]
  • Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA): Disaggregate VHFA’s programmatic data to make clear who VHFA’s lending and assistance programs serve and which neighborhoods may be over/under represented. This information will be public and we will target future resources in response accordingly. [For all of VHFA’s commitments, see attached document]

Commitment to Ongoing Joint Action
To truly address race-based health disparities and systemic racism in Chittenden County will require sustained and coordinated work that is grounded in data and science. As part of this declaration, participating organizations also have committed to participating in ongoing work and joint action.

The exact form this ongoing joint action will take is still emerging, however, Chittenden County has recent experience to draw from with sustained collective action around a public health emergency in the County’s response to the opioid epidemic. Since the fall of 2016, dozens of Chittenden County organizations have convened at monthly meetings known as CommunityStat to review the data on the opioid epidemic, develop shared strategies, and rapidly deploy resources. Actions taken by these partners contributed to Chittenden County experiencing a 50 percent reduction in opioid-related overdose deaths in 2018, and sustaining that progress in 2019. The success of this effort has demonstrated the potential of collective action to address public health challenges, and this experience will now be applied to the urgent problem of eradicating systemic racism in Chittenden County.

Statements from Participating Organizations
The more than 30 organizations that have joined this community declaration are a multi-sector group that span the County’s largest employers and small non-profits, health care providers and affordable housing organizations, financial institutions and schools. These organizations shared the following statements on their commitment to this declaration, immediate next steps, and ongoing joint action.

Dr. Stephen Leffler, University of Vermont Medical Center: “The mission of the UVM Medical Center is to improve the lives of the people we serve through high-quality health care. That begins with doing everything we can to make sure that we treat each other with respect, humanity, and empathy, and doing the work to become an anti-racist organization. We’re proud to join the city of Burlington and this coalition of community partners to tackle racism in our city.”

Jesse Bridges, United Way: “Our United Way has long had a priority of fighting economic inequity with equity and inclusion as a foundational strategy – we need to do better in our role as individuals and as an organizations so we can actively engage in solutions to racial inequity and justice. We are committed to being an actively anti-racist organization by using our voice and platform to advocate, by mobilizing community resources and volunteers, and by making racial equity and justice a criteria for our community investments.”

Catherine Simonson, Howard Center: “We are committed to a world without racism. With roots in social justice, Howard Center staff work each day to serve our community and strengthen diversity, equity and inclusion in our organizational culture and system of care. We look forward to joining together with our community partners to strategically and fully eradicate systemic racism throughout our community.”

Laura Zeliger, Burlington Housing Authority: “BHA stands together with the City of Burlington and community partners in these efforts to collaboratively eliminate systemic racism.”

Tom Flanagan, Burlington School District: “We are grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the collaborative effort to declare racism a public health emergency. At BSD, we believe we have a critical role to play in combating racism and in employing anti-racist practices. We are committed to working with the City, and all of the partners who signed on to this declaration, to ensure Burlington, Chittenden County, and the nation directly confront the systemic racism that plagues our nation.”

Tanya Benosky, Boys & Girls Club of Burlington: “We stand by racism as a public health crisis.  We are committed to providing opportunities to our BIPOC Club members that will give them the experiences they need to live healthy lives, from providing food and warmth to educational and economic advancement.”

Donna Carpenter, Burton: “What feels right is to stop, and listen, and take a close look at ourselves, our sport and our industry.”

Kim Fitzgerald, Cathedral Square: “If anything positive can be said about the pandemic, we’re optimistic that it has opened the world’s eyes to the egregious inequities in all aspects of our society, and the institutional racism at the core of them all. We have a lot of work to do to dismantle structural racism and truly provide ‘equal opportunity for all.’ Cathedral Square is ready and eager to participate in this important work.”

Tyeastia Green, Director of Racial Equity, Inclusion, & Belonging, City of Burlington: “This moment isn’t about George Floyd, although the situation in Minneapolis sparked a world-wide effort for everyone to see systemic racism for what it is. Racial disparities in health and social determinants of health have been around for centuries. COVID-19 shined a bright light on that. I’m proud that this declaration is being signed today, and also proud to be a part of making it happen.”

Benjamin Ola. Akande, Champlain College: “We are proud to support the City’s efforts to create a whole-systems approach to addressing the crisis of systemic racism that is threatening the lives and well-being of members of our community and our nation. Champlain College is committed to working in partnership with the City and those advocating for racial justice to advance this work in our community and contribute our institutional strengths and expertise to create a stronger, more inclusive Burlington for all who live, work and study here.”

Brenda Torpy, Champlain Housing Trust: “CHT affirms and reaffirms its commitment to fight racism and to the principle that Black lives matter in its policies, programs, and employment in all aspects of its work.”

Charlie Baker, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC): “At CCRPC, we believe deeply that resources and opportunities – employment, affordable and plentiful housing, accessible transportation, quality education and health care, environmental justice, and overall quality of life — must be allocated fairly so that all people can thrive. We must actively eliminate barriers to full, meaningful participation in community life and work tirelessly to correct past injustices. We are committed to working through these issues together with our member municipalities, partner organizations, employers and residents.”

Jeffrey McKee, Community Health Centers of Burlington: “Identifying and reducing health disparities has always been central to CHCB’s mission of care. As such, we are uniquely prepared to act as part of our local Population Health Alliance in addressing racism as a public health issue. We are eager and ready to work together with our organizational partners to build a future built on antiracism and equity for all members of our community.”

Paul Dragon, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO): “Systemic racism, systemic poverty, poor health outcomes and the disregard for our own environment are mutually destructive and all self-inflicted. We built it and we can now change it.”

Nancy Owens, Housing Vermont: “Housing Vermont is glad to sign on to this community effort; it is through our collective action that we can make progress eliminating systemic racism and its negative impacts on public health.”

Vicky Smith, King Street Center: “”At King Street Center, we’ve been examining our own practices, programs, environment, and integrating this learning into our ongoing strategic plan. While we are not experts and recognize that this is an ongoing listening and learning process, we commit to being loud & proud members of an anti-racist community in which hatred and intolerance have no place.”

Aly Richards, Let’s Grow Kids: “Racism—or antiracism—starts early. Children notice race and begin making judgments on race when they are very young. They begin to be treated differently, by other children and by adults, based on race when they are very young. They begin to experience inequity—in their health and educational opportunities—when they are very young. That’s why Let’s Grow Kids is recommitting our movement to creating an equitable early childhood education system that advances racial justice for the next generation of Vermonters.”

Reverend Christopher Von Cockrell, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Steering Committee and Interim Pastor, New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church: “We wholeheartedly support the Declaration of the City of Burlington that racism is a citywide health emergency. As the only church in Vermont worshiping in the tradition of African Americans, our collective stories are rich with experiences of the impact of systemic racism. We commit more than ever to embedding in the message of Jesus Christ the resounding call for racial justice in our outreach to a hurting community and stand as a partner with the Racial Justice Alliance as the Mother church in organizing the Burlington community of faith for the purpose of eradicating systemic racism. We call upon the city of Burlington, nonprofits, and local businesses to stand with us in this work and our commitment to the construction of a new church that we will call home.”

Christine Hughes, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Steering Committee and Executive Director, New Seasons Vermont: “We stand in full support of the declaration ‘Racism Is a Health Emergency’ being put forward by the City of Burlington and the Racial Justice Alliance. As a black, woman-owned business in Burlington, New Seasons has been a benefactor of the false narrative of scarcity and we therefore fully embrace the prospect that for once we will be offered an opportunity to thrive. From employment development, to job training, adult basic education, basic computer skills, and reentry services, New Seasons will be a key player in ensuring the economic empowerment long awaited and deeply deserved by BIPOC communities in Burlington. We are encouraged that all sectors are converging on this community health emergency and have high hopes that as a result of this partnership that we will realize the resources required to save lives in Burlington.”

Kate Laud, Opportunities Credit Union: “Opportunities Credit Union stands in solidarity with all Black, Minority and New American communities.  We support ending systemic racism and reaffirm our 30-year commitment to racial justice. To honor our members, staff and volunteers, we will seek new ways to listen to Black perspectives.”

Christine Lloyd-Newberry, Sara Holbrook Community Center: “At Sara Holbrook, we believe that our world is a better place the more diverse, equitable, and inclusive it is. While we further recognize the intersectionality facing those we serve, taking into account not only race and ethnicity, but gender identity, socio-economic status, and sexual orientation; we recognize that addressing racism needs to happen on its own right. Now. With no exception.”

Benjamin Longmore, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and Vermont Cannabis Partners: “The Declaration by the City Burlington of racism as a public health emergency is both timely and meaningful. For too long have minority-owned businesses been left behind, and this sad fact seems to be replaying itself in the Hemp and Cannabis industry in Vermont and Burlington. The key to this industry is land and capital, neither of which is at a premium for the BIPOC community, especially here in Vermont. It is for this reason that we are hopeful that efforts to eradicate systemic racism will open opportunities for black-owned businesses in the cannabis industry and lead us to the place where true wealth can be built in the BIPOC community. It is our hope that creative solutions will be developed as a result of the relationships established by the city and Chittenden County, local businesses and nonprofits that place us on the path of equity and prosperity.”

Xusana Davis, Executive Director of Racial Equity, State of Vermont: “This declaration acknowledges the systemic and widespread nature of racial disparity in this country and this community. It signals the urgency with which we must address racism, and establishes anti-racism work as a priority for the city. We at the state stand ready to support the city’s equity work.

Mark Levine, MD – Commissioner, Vermont Department of Health: “It is critical that we work together to address systemic racism at the personal, local, state and national levels. Health equity exists only when all people have a fair and just opportunity to be healthy – especially those who have experienced socioeconomic disadvantage, historical injustice, and other systemic inequalities.”

Maura Collins, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA): “Housing finance and zoning have long been the primary tools used to make our nation’s racism systematic. In doing so we have locked out Black and Brown households not only from affordable homes but also economic and educational opportunities. VHFA is joining the City’s effort to combat this public health emergency because we all deserve equal access to housing and opportunity.”

Mohamed Jafar, Vermont Racial Justice Alliance and Vermont Racial Equity Association: “As a Burlington-based, BIPOC-owned company offering professional and managed services specifically designed to eradicate systemic racism in businesses, non-profits, and government agencies, we strongly support the long overdue Declaration by the City of Burlington and the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance that racism is a public health emergency. The signatory supporters’ work ahead will require new data-driven approaches and a framework that is built upon an integrated strategy, clear measures of progress, and methods to hold stakeholders accountable. We’re grateful that economic development opportunities are being created to support the advancement of the work of the BIPOC companies like the Vermont Racial Equity Association and we are looking forward to supporting a cross-section of the community to eradicate systemic racism within their organizations.”

Kyle Dodson, YMCA: “It is almost trite to say at this point, but this ‘George Floyd moment’ does seem to have a different energy; somehow broader and deeper, and more resolute than earlier efforts. All of us who are committing to this initiative, are stewards of our children’s futures. Let’s not squander this opportunity.”

For additional information, please see three accompanying documents:

–          A. Community declaration of racism as a public health emergency, including list of all signatories

–          B. Summary of participating organizations’ immediate commitments

–          C. Public action advisory from the Racial Justice Alliance about this declaration

[i] “The Fullest Look Yet at the Racial Inequity of Coronavirus,” New York Times, July 5, 2020

[ii] “Race gaps in COVID-19 deaths are even bigger than they appear,” Brookings, June 16, 2020

[iii] “Weekly Summary of Vermont COVID-19 Data,” Vermont Department of Health, July 10, 2020

[iv] 2017 HUD Burlington Assessment for Fair Housing, via “2019 Equity Report,” City of Burlington, March 2020

[v] “MSA/MD Aggregate Reports,” FFIEC Home Mortgage Disclosure Act, August 7, 2019

[vi] U.S. Census Bureau 2012-2016, via the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment

Please note that this communication and any response to it will be maintained as a public record and may be subject to disclosure under the Vermont Public Records Act.