Black Lives Matter flag run up BAMS flagpole

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BRATTLEBORO — On Friday morning, the entire student bodies of Brattleboro Area Middle School and Brattleboro Union High School turned out to watch as Black Lives Matter flags were run up the schools' flagpoles.

"I go to school for an education," said BAMS student Mya Satchell, during the raising of the flag at BAMS. "I don't go to school to be teased for the color of my skin. I don't go to school to be stared at during a lesson about slavery or immigration. I don't go to school to be told to go back to Mexico. Don't assume where I am from. Don't tell me to go back to somewhere I've never been. I was born in and raised in Vermont. I don't belong anywhere else. I belong here."

Satchell and fellow BAMS students Kia Adams and Diamond Bedward first asked the BUHS #6 School Board on April 2 for permission to run up the BLM flag at their school. On April 26, the School Board voted unanimously to allow the raising of the flag at the three schools.

The raising of the flag was part of Windham Southeast Supervisory Union's Diversity Day curriculum, said BAMS Principal Keith Lyman, during the ceremony.

The theme of Diversity Day, said Lyman, is solidarity.

"For the last two weeks, the students have been working on presenting on the concept of solidarity, of people working together toward a common goal."

Lyman said during the winter, students participating in the BAMS Aware Group, which was started in 1998 at Brattleboro Union High School to support students of color in the community, began talking about the raising of the BLM flag at high schools in Burlington and Montpelier.

"These inspiring stories have been part of the conversation our students have been having," said Lyman.

As a result, Satchell, Adams and Diamond brought their "powerful proposal" to him and then the School Board. Lyman said he had discussions with the three students about their place in the community, while warning them they probably would experience negative feedback after presenting their proposal.

"What stuck with me ... was when they said the nasty comments they will receive are things that are already happening to them on a regular basis," said Lyman. "They are already used to this happening. It was one additional way for me to have some empathy for what it's like to be of color in an area of the country that is predominately Caucasian."

The three students also told Lyman that they wanted the flag to be for more than just the students of color, but also students who have been marginalized because of their appearances, beliefs or other factors. "I decided I wanted to support them in this request. My primary responsibility is to make students feel welcome and safe in this community. This flag will help them feel welcome and supported. Our goals at BAMS are learning for life, caring for others and doing the right thing together."

Satchell asserted that the BLM flag is not meant to be a divisive symbol, "but a symbol of equality and unity. It represents all people of color. ... For the poeple wondering what the flag will do, it will support us through all racist incidents in our school. I know my school supports me and stands up with me. I want this flag to act like an educational tool for people who don't understand what we go through every day."

"I hope that one day we act like all lives matter," said Satchell. "I hope that one day we don't have to put up a flag to feel a part of something. I hope one day all lives truly do matter and are treated equally. I hope raising the flag brings us one step closer."

Adams reminded her fellow students that the flag is meant to help people to come together as a community. "Everyone is welcome. Black Lives Matter isn't meant to imply that black lives matter more than any other lives. We are all equal. We should all have the same rights and should all be treated equally because we are all important."

"Many people would like to turn a blind eye and pretend that this isn't happening, but it is," said Adams. "If knowing that other students have to go through the same racist, sometimes subtle, comments and knowing that the only option that they have is to stay quiet since it's just a joke or they didn't really mean it ... if it doesn't make you question our school system, there are problems."

During the flag raising, Shoulder Narrows, BUHS' a cappela group, sang Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" during the raising of the flag.

About two hours later, the ceremony was repeated at the flagpole in front of BUHS, with about 300 students in attendance during the voluntary assembly.

"I can't say enough for what our students have done to advocate for themselves with our School Board, the administration of both schools and I am very proud of what they've done," said BUHS Principal Steve Perrin.

The ceremony itself was very short, preceded by a pair of poems and music.

Shadda Cliche read a quote that has become popular since the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

"How many moments of silence do we have to have until we aren't silent anymore?"

Z Muhammad read a poem that said, in part, "I'm a black kid, full of fear, shooting after shooting, the bullet that hits them, hits me where it hurts the most ... the heart ... I fear every day I go outside I won't come back in. The silver shining bars on the cell they want me in are calling my name .. Why does my skin make such a barrier for the life I'm living?"

"The students from both schools are to be commended for their commitment to making this request and their ability to effectively advocate for themselves and for all of us," said Perrin during the school announcement.

Perrin reminded the student body that the phrase "Black Lives Matter" is not intended to be divisive, nor does it promote any one group ahead of others. The phrase was coined on July 13, 2013, by Alicia Garza who posted on Facebook "Black people. I love you, I love us. Our lives Matter." This was shared by Patrisse Cullors with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The post was made in response to the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had shot Trayvon Martin in February 2012.

"Black Lives Matter is now an international movement that campaigns against violence and systemic racism towards black people," said Perrin. "The movement also supports advocacy for women, transgender people, communities in poverty and other groups that are disenfranchised or marginalized. These are the same values that the BUHS community has long supported as well."

Perrin also addressed the common retort to Black Lives Matter — All Lives Matter.

"Yes, everyone matters here at BUHS and we all deserve to come to school in a safe, inclusive and welcoming environment. That said, there exists a long history of systemic racism towards black people in our country. That racism, whether it is intentional or not, continues in our school and in our larger community. I would ask that instead of being defensive about this issue, that we acknowledge the work we have ahead of us as a community and focus on educating ourselves rather than being critical of others."

Perrin said the School Board is developing procedures to address similar requests in the future.

"I would invite students who are interested in that to follow the example set by our BAMS and BUHS students to advocate with myself and the school board for such displays. Our student advocates are asking for the same inclusion and acceptance that many of us take for granted every day. This request is intended to improve our school community and create opportunities for meaningful discussion and reflection," said Perrin. "It is my expectation that our school and community support all students and staff. This flag is a clear symbol that we acknowledge and commit our school to fighting racism in ourselves and in our community."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or raudette@reformer.com.


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