BRATTLEBORO — Curtiss Reed Jr. will be recognized for his many contributions toward making Vermont a more fair and inclusive state.
On Tuesday, Reed will receive the Terry Ehrich Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility (VBSR). Subsidiaries of Reed’s company CRJ Consulting include the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, the Vermont Vision for a Multicultural Future and I Am A Vermonter.
Roxanne Vought, executive director for Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, said the award is in honor of the late Ehrich, who founded Hemmings Motor News in Bennington. Since going to Ehrich posthumously in 2002, the award has been given every year since.
“It’s a prestigious award,” Vought said. “It isn’t always given at the end of someone’s life, and that is a very important point. Because as a lifetime achievement award, we have people receive it who are nowhere near reaching their potential.”
Her group holds an open call for nominations from the public each year, then a nominating committee made up of members of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Board of Directors evaluates potential awardees based on various criteria. For the Ehrich award, Vought said, “we’re looking for a sustained commitment to the environment, workplace quality, progressive public policy and community.”
“And we’re also looking for outstanding leadership, which sometimes is very public and sometimes is very private,” she said. “This year’s awardee is an example of both.”
Vought said Reed is not a name known to all, although she acknowledged he may be better known in the Windham County area. Reed was “a little pleased to know that not everyone knew him,” she said.
“Some of our committee members had to educate other members about his incredibly exhaustive list of accomplishments and more subtly, his incredible abilities,” she said. “He considered that a mark of his working a little bit behind the scenes.”
Vought described Reed as being “very judicious” about when and where to speak up.
“Because of that, it has a lot of weight and people listen,” she said. “Those who know him have a deep respect for him.”
Vought said she has seen Reed “wear many hats” — from speaker to audience member to facilitator.
“I’ve seen him on the edges of the room for not good reasons,” she said. “But he’s always contributing wherever it is and I know that a lot of his work has informed state government and policy decisions, institutions, companies. As opposed to being a flashy figure with a big presence publicly, he gets into the hearts of organizations and goes where he needs to go in order to have real change.”
Emiliano Void, co-founder of nuwave Equity Corporation in Burlington, will receive the VBSR Young Changemaker Award. Vought said the awards celebrate Void and Reed’s work and also show “this beautiful arc of legacy” that starts with Reed decades ago.
“Curtiss moved to Brattleboro in 1979 and has been contributing in various ways to make a more inclusive economy in Vermont ever since,” Vought said. “And now, in 2020, when Vermont Professionals of Color is expanding and growing their movement, they have a foundation they’re drawing on that Curtiss started.”
Julie Lineberger of Wilmington, past chairwoman of the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility Board of Directors who is still active in the organization and now serves as co-chair of Green America, nominated Reed for the award. She served with him on a committee that started the Vision for a Multicultural Conference.
“I really appreciate his work,” she said.
Reed was “a bit prescient” because he was working on diversity, equity and inclusion before other people started talking about race, Lineberger said. When chairing the board, she invited him to make a presentation on the changing demographics of Vermont and how diversity is good for business. His work has “such breadth and depth, that it’s staggering,” she said.
Running a small architectural firm and a company creating accessible housing herself, Lineberger said they have always managed to keep a diverse staff.
“We’ve been better for it,” she said.
For the last year, Reed has been participating in the VBSR Impact Circle meeting about once a month. Members of the group talk about culture and business practices.
Reed said he has probably worked with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility for well over a decade. He considers the award an honor.
“But it’s premature,” he said. “It’s a surprise people are looking at what we do. It’s not something we beat the drum about. ... We tend to be quiet in how we approach the work that we do.”
In 2001, the ALANA Community Organization Board of Directors was looking to implement ideas from a strategic plan Reed had written.
“The organization had been hyper local, focused on the catastrophic needs of Brattleborotians of color, but I saw a much larger vision that this is work that needs to happen statewide,” he said. “We need to pull away from direct services but rather teach direct service providers in a more culturally competent way.”
Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity “became the statewide brand,” Reed said. He recounted how people would think he was with a college when he said he was with the ALANA group because it had been the name of a college campus club, with the initials standing for African Latino, Asian and Native American, so the rebranding also helped clear that confusion.
ALANA helps with education efforts associated with the Vermont African American Heritage Trail, which Reed founded. The trail acknowledges that Black American families want to take their children on vacation somewhere they will learn something.
“The idea is you have to be conscious about marketing the state to what is and will certainly be a very important market,” Reed said.
Originally from St. Louis, Reed visited Vermont for a ski trip in 1978. His friend from college lived in Newfane and invited him.
Reed said people like himself will have experiences that exceed their expectations, then they will decide to relocate. He moved here three months after that visit.
“I came, I saw, I drank, I ate in picturesque, perfect Vermont, and found home,” he said.
Reed provides consulting services for municipalities, the state of Vermont and businesses. A study of global majority-owned businesses is about to wrap up.
“Global majority” refers to Black, Brown, Asian, dual heritage and other groups racialized as an ethnic minority in the U.S. Reed said a lot of members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) community don’t like the BIPOC term.
“’Global majority’ is something that fits more appropriately with folks who don’t want to be labeled, necessarily,” he said.
The annual conference, which is anticipated to return next November after a hiatus due to COVID-19, brings together professionals in different industries. Reed described it as “a space for the cross pollination of ideas, tactics and strategies to bring us in a direction toward making Vermont a desirable destination for all.”
His group organizes meet-and-greets for newly arriving people of color. For instance, Brattleboro Police Chief Norma Hardy received a welcoming party.
Retention is about “capitulating [people] into a community that looks and sounds like they do so they have an immediate support group,” Reed said.
He feels more people are now aware of the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion than when he first started out. However, he said, there’s an “equally large number of people who don’t believe in it that are in denial.”
At a Brattleboro Select Board candidates forum in 2018, Reed asked about the lack of people of color among the town employees. Afterward, conversations and actions led to the hiring of more diverse staff.
“That’s how we work,” Reed said. “We ask a question. You are either embarrassed at the answer of it or it makes you uncomfortable, not so much that you get paralyzed into not doing something.”
Reed recounted how in his first meeting with Jim Baker, before he retired after being colonel with the Vermont State Police, he asked about racial profiling. That led to the collection of data on the issue and a downward trend over the decade.
Baker will be introducing Reed at the Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility event Tuesday.
"Curtiss Reed is truly the best of Vermont," U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt, said in a statement provided by VBSR. "He loves this place and wants everyone to feel the same. That’s why he’s pushed hard against discrimination in our state. His contribution to Vermont’s business community, to Vermonters of color, and to the state as a whole has been extraordinary. Congratulations to Curtiss on this much-deserved award, and I thank him on behalf of all Vermonters.”