Brattleboro school board approves raising Black Live Matter flag on Diversity Day
BRATTLEBORO — At the request of several students, the Black Lives Matter flag will be hoisted on flagpoles at Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro Area Middle School and the Windham Regional Career Center on May 4, which is Diversity Day in Brattleboro.
"This is totally student driven," Ricky Davidson, chairman of the BUHS #6 School Board, told the Reformer on Tuesday. "As a school board member and an adult in the community, I am glad to give them a voice and give them an opportunity to speak and be heard."
Davidson said that after the presentation by the students Monday night, the board voted unanimously to allow the raising of the flag. "Everyone agreed that it was appropriate to fly at the schools," he said.
The board first heard about the proposal at its April 2 meeting, when three students from BAMS, with the support of principal Keith Lyman, asked for permission to fly the flag.
The three teens — Mya Satchell, Kia Adams and Diamond Bedward — are members of the BAMS Aware Group, which was started in 1998 at Brattleboro Union High School to support students of color in the community.
"Raising the flag represents not just black people but all people of color," Satchell said during the April 2 meeting, which the Reformer viewed on the BCTV website. Satchell said they are considering adding patches to the flag for other marginalized groups, such as the LGBTQ community.
She also said that, in just a few days, they received 100 signatures from students, teachers and staff members. "Most of our school agrees and knows the reasoning about it."
"In schools throughout WSESU we work to encourage student leadership from fourth and fifth grade and beyond," Lyle Holiday, superintendent of WSESU, told the Reformer on Tuesday. "Each school has a group of students looking at methods to improve school culture. The BAMS Student Aware group is an example of students and adults working together to respond to student concerns and student ideas to create a more inclusive school culture. The Aware group initially brought their concerns to Principal Keith Lyman, who encouraged the group to make their presentation to the School Board."
"I am proud of you guys for standing up for what you believe in," Lyman said during the April 2 meeting.
He acknowledged that some people in the community may not be happy about the students' efforts or the board's decision.
"I met with both BAMS Aware groups and asked them a lot of challenging questions," said Lyman. "They are aware of the potential that there could be some negative comments. I hope there won't be, but they clearly know and are very aware it could happen. They still feel really strongly that this is the right thing to do and would make them feel more valued in the community."
"We are ready," said Bedward. "We've been facing these things individually."
"We are not going to let negative comments get us down," said Adams.
"We get negative comments on a daily basis just by being people of color in this state," said Satchell.
"I am very sorry you are made to feel this way," said board member Anne Beekman. "You belong here. You are not tolerated; you are treasured."
Angelique Velazquez said she is proud of Diamond, her daughter, and Mya, her niece, for standing up for what they believe in.
"The kids are the future," she told the Reformer on Tuesday. "They have a lot to say. They hear and see everything that is going on."
Youth voices have been the strength behind many social movements around the world," Mikaela Simms, WSESU's Diversity & Equity Coordinator, told the Reformer. "We are all in a privileged position to learn from the youth and listen to their experiences. I urge all community members to watch the board meetings and hear the words of the youth leaders of this cause."
"I commend you guys for standing up there," said board member Rick Mills during the April 2 meeting. "That takes a lot of bravery."
Mills reminded the teens, however, that while many people feel as strongly as they do about the issue, others might not appreciate their efforts. Mills told them they should be prepared to explain why they asked to fly the flag.
"I don't see it as a symbol of divisiveness," said Adams. "It's a thing to bring the community together. We all want to feel represented, equal and valued."
"By saying Black Lives Matter you are not saying other lives don't matter," added board member Russ Janis. "You want to feel you are treated equally. The history we all face flies in the fact of that."
Davidson said one thing the board quickly learned from the proposal is the fact that it doesn't have a procedure set in place for such requests.
"We were advised by legal council to be prepared for the next group that wants to fly a flag," he told the Reformer. "We may want to create some sort of policy or procedure around how we are going to vet these groups, about what's appropriate and what's not appropriate. After all, the flag pole is only so big."
Perrin told the Reformer that the students should be applauded and encouraged for getting involved in issues that concern them.
"What I am looking forward to is not necessarily seeing the flag fly, but where their advocacy takes them," he said.
Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 151, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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