Our opinion: Yes, black lives matter

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A trio of students from Brattleboro Area Middle School have taken the initiative and led a student movement to have the Black Lives Matter flag fly on the flagpole at their school. The BUHS #6 School Board unanimously approved their request, and on May 4, the BLM flag will fly at the middle school, at Brattleboro Union High School, and at the Windham Regional Career Center.

The students say they want to feel comfortable in their own community. They want to express who they are freely and be treated as equals in a society that has failed at that task more often than it has succeeded.

"I don't see it as a symbol of divisiveness," BAMS eighth grader Kia Adams told the board. "It's a thing to bring the community together. We all want to feel represented, equal and valued."

It comes as little surprise, in this year of the Parkland kids, that teenagers are showing the adults how to lead with the courage of their convictions.

"They talked about how if that flag had been flying here sooner, they would have felt more welcome in the community," BUHS Principal Steve Perrin said of the initiative. "For them, having the flag displayed is a symbol that the community supports them."

Vermont in general, and the Brattleboro community in particular, pride themselves on being welcoming and accepting places. All these kids are asking for is the same inclusion and acceptance that we largely take for granted.

It should be just that simple. If only it were.

"They are aware of the potential that there could be some negative comments," BAMS Principal Keith Lyman told the Reformer. "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."

Eighth grader Mya Satchell says she and her friends are accustomed to it. "We get negative comments on a daily basis just by being people of color in this state," she told the board.

Those negative comments Lyman warned of have already started. Some of the comments on the Reformer's social media post of the story were supportive, but some were borderline nasty.

And this question was asked: Why not "All Lives Matter?"

Let's address that right now, with factual examples from 400 years of tortured history.

If the black experience in America hadn't started with the mortal sin of slavery, the legacy of which still haunts our country, we could say all lives matter.

If the founding fathers of this country had lived up to their own stirring rhetoric by outlawing slavery in the Constitution, we could say all lives matter.

If slavery hadn't given way to 100 years of state-sanctioned domestic terrorism through segregation, lynchings, Klan rallies and Jim Crow, we could say all lives matter.

If African-Americans were not still systematically being denied economic and educational opportunities, we could say all lives matter.

If there was justice for the African-American victims of wrongful police shootings and their families, we could say all lives matter.

If African-Americans could drink coffee at a Starbucks or play a round of golf without white people calling the police on them — things that have taken place within the past two weeks — we could say all lives matter.

But all those things regrettably happened, or are still happening.

So Americans can't say "all lives matter" until they can say that "black lives matter."

In the meantime, we offer these kids our support, as they seek the acceptance and inclusion that should be their birthright as Americans.

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