RUTLAND >> Tabitha Pohl-Moore grew up in a racially diverse family, the daughter of a white mother and black father. But now raising her own children in Rutland County, she's living in an area that's even more Caucasian — 96.8 percent — than the state as a whole, which is second only to Maine as the nation's whitest based on a census figure of 94.8 percent.
"Some days I feel starved for connection with people who reflect me," she said, "and I see my own kids searching for identity."
That's why, after watching Chittenden County charter the state's first chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People last year, Pohl-Moore wants to organize the second in Rutland.
The 38-year-old educator has read headlines reporting allegations of racism in the Rutland City Police Department and community division over a plan to host an estimated 100 Syrian refugees. Such news, however, isn't what spurred her to want to develop "a structured organization devoted to issues of ethnic and racial equity."
Pohl-Moore's Green Mountain roots go back seven generations. But many people have viewed her coffee-with-cream complexion as different since kindergarten, when classmates curiously would touch her face and hair.
Today the wife and mother works as a counselor at her alma mater, Mill River Union High School in Clarendon. Her native state prides itself on being the first to outlaw slavery and recognize same-sex unions. But she points to human rights obstacles to overcome, be it headline-making shootings by police nationwide or local questions about discrimination involving jobs and housing.
Pohl-Moore began thinking about forming a chapter of the NAACP, the nation's oldest and largest nonpartisan civil rights organization, after speaking with the leader of the Champlain Area NAACP, Mary Brown-Guillory, who has received calls and complaints from people of color in southern Vermont.
Pohl-Moore, a member of the Vermont State Police's Fair and Impartial Policing Committee, must sign up at least 100 local NAACP supporters to admit the area chapter into the national organization. She hopes it will be a place for Rutland residents to learn about problems and collaborate on solutions.
"People are really willing and wanting to do this work, but it's a tricky conversation," she said. "There's a polarization that doesn't need to happen."
Vermont was the first state to outlaw slavery, in 1777, and to enroll and graduate a black college student, Alexander Twilight, in 1823. He went on to become the first African-American elected as a legislator, in 1836. But the Ku Klux Klan boasted Green Mountain State membership as late as the 1920s, and University of Vermont students wore blackface during an annual "Kake Walk" dance until 1969.
The first meeting of the Rutland Area NAACP organizing committee is set for Aug. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Rutland Free Library, with more information available by emailing email@example.com.
"It's not just a watchdog group, it's a gathering place for people who want to make the Rutland area a place where people of color feel safe and comfortable," Pohl-Moore said. "You don't have to be a person of color to join. We need to find all our allies and get everyone on board to address the issues happening in our community."
Kevin O'Connor is a Brattleboro-based writer. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.