Letter: Bennington needs a Truth and Reconciliation Commission

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To the Editor:

Words can't adequately describe how disappointed I was to learn there were no Select Board members at the "Visible in Vermont: Our Stories, Our Voices" panel discussion that opened an exhibit at the Bennington Museum on Saturday, Sept. 28. Nor were there any school board members or administrators present, or representatives from the police department. Thankfully a few teachers were there, so I know some people actually see and care about what's happening to and with people of color in town.

Brattleboro's The Root Social Justice Center is sponsoring the exhibit as part of the "I Am Vermont Too" project, which began in 2014 "to bring awareness to Vermont communities about racial micro-aggressions " and the impact they have on people of color (Banner, 9/30/19). The exhibition goes through Dec. 30.

Mia Schultz, site coordinator for "Visible in Vermont," is a parent with sons at Mount Anthony Middle and High Schools. She works with all the town's schools to develop awareness of and curricula on racial disparity and how to address it. One of the panelists, Ms. Schultz said she has experienced regular micro-aggressions, which have caused her to feel "invisible, demeaned, less than."

She's not the only one in town, not by a long shot. Other panelists related similar stories. Numerous anecdotal stories from friends and colleagues of color confirm that, as Ms. Schultz said (according to Banner correspondent Anne Archer), "there are problems that need to be addressed and take action [on]."

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Because of the prevalence of such micro-aggressions, I suggest that the town needs a version of a truth and reconciliation commission. Based on the Ubuntu philosophy that "recognizes the humanity of a person through a person's relationship with other persons" (Wikipedia), the TRC - facilitated in part by now-Archbishop (Anglican) Emeritus Desmond Tutu - helped post-apartheid South Africa heal.

Such a commission could be part of the citizens' police oversight group that many residents advocate, or a separate entity might be more effective. Either way, town and school leaders need to know that too many people of color in Bennington need, and deserve, healing.

And they need to be believed. Ms. Schultz said that "support from the community means being believed." We all need to open our eyes and ears, to hear our sisters' and brothers' stories, and we need to trust and believe them. A TRC-type commission will help them become visible, uplifted, and "more than."

Genie Rayner



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