ST. ALBANS — A Middlebury College freshman joined more than 50 other protesters in marching down North and South Main streets to Bellows Free Academy (BFA) Saturday.
The group, a mix of race and gender, were there to protest racism of all kinds, subtle and overt, in Vermont schools.
Student Charles Rainey, originally from Atlanta, Ga., shared his personal testimony with the crowd on the steps of BFA. He recalled a recent experience of racism from a past student government association (SGA) meeting at Middlebury College.
“I ran for SGA because I wanted to get involved immediately and I ended up winning the campaign, surprisingly,” Rainey told the crowd.
Rainey said he dressed to impress for the first meeting, wearing his best suit and looking “suave.”
“I sat down and I continued to raise my hand in order to say what I wanted to do during my term,” Rainey said. “In the Senate meetings, usually people are called Senator plus their last name. Senator Rainey would’ve been what I was called, but constantly the speaker of the Senate kept calling me Charles. Charles this. Charles that.”
“Everyone else, not people of color, were called Senator plus their last name of course,” he continued. “Finally, after I raised my hand the sixth time, a girl finally stood up and said, “Why are you calling him Charles? He’s a Senator.”
“[The speaker] was like, ‘What do you mean?’” Rainey said. “And she said, ‘Well he was just elected. You should be calling him Senator Rainey, not Charles.’”
“And [the speaker] said, ‘Well, I didn’t know that he was a Senator,’” Rainey continued. “And the other girl responded, ‘Well, only people who are Senators sit at the Senate table and come to the Senate meetings.’”
This comment was met with hollers and laughs from the crowd.
“And then the Speaker of the Senate told me, ‘Well, he doesn’t look like a Senator,’” Rainey recounted. “Dressed in a full suit, I looked down and up at myself and wondered what about me didn’t look like a Senator? And then I looked at my skin.”
His experience at Middlebury College matched several others who shared that afternoon, saying they were bullied and called names, all because of their skin tone.
“I grew up in Vermont where it was only acceptable to be white and to be straight.” Alyssa Chen, one of the protest’s organizers, said. “So for 29 years I was talked into getting in line.”
“For the first time in my life, I no longer desire to be white,” she informed the crowd. “For the first time in my life, I’m learning to love a woman.
“I want people to know this is why we are fighting,” Rainey said. “Yes. People may not be getting shot in the streets in our state. But there are other forms of racism that are less overt, that are constantly oppressing, constantly marginalizes voices that need to be heard to make this union better.”
“When a U.S. Supreme Court Justice said that blacks inherently belong at less advanced slower track schools, I didn’t see any outrage or nothing,” Rainey said.
He was referencing Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments back in 2015, when Scalia suggested African-Americans would be better off in less-advanced universities, according to audio released by the court.
“We deserve to be in our schools,” Rainey countered. “We are just as qualified to be here. We earned our place just like everyone else.”
“To me, St. Albans represents hundreds of other rural schools in Vermont,” Chen said.
She explained that while work is being done in Burlington schools to eradicate racism, many rural schools are being overlooked.
“So I would say yes, it’s a target because I’ve heard stories and I’m working with families up here,” Chen said. “But no, it’s no more of a target to me than any other rural school in Vermont.”
This is the second time Black Lives Matter of Vermont has organized a protest outside BFA’s halls in the last three months asking for the same things: stop disproportionate suspension and expulsions for people of color and adhere to strict racial bullying and harassment policies.
“In my theory of change, conflict creates change,” Chen said. “So that’s another reason to be up here. This isn’t going to happen by just singing songs together.”
“We have to continue to fight and it doesn’t end here,” Rainey said, wrapping up his speech. “We have to continue to dismantle the white liberal progressiveness that is not responding to our voices. We want to be heard. We deserve to be heard.”