Black Vermonters share stories about life in the Green Mountain State

On May 25 2020, George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, was killed in Minnesota when a police officer knelt on the back of his neck for almost 9 minutes. Floyd’s death sparked protests all over the world and prompted a nationwide reckoning with racism in policing and in communities. In Vermont, thousands have attended protests and rallies throughout the state in solidarity with racial justice causes. 

We spoke to Black Vermonters about what it’s like to work, learn and live in a state in which white people make up the overwhelming majority. Here are their stories:

Roy Hill, first Black director of corporate relations at UVM, on racism in America

Roy Hill in Battery Park on July 9, 2020.

Roy Hill is lean, walks with a cane, and wears a straw fedora with a black band. His eyes are still young. He speaks through a mask during a conversation about race on a hot afternoon at Burlington’s Battery Park.

Hill, 77, carries a thick study Bible with him everywhere he goes, in a black zippered case. The Bible is extensively annotated.

“I was born into a Bible-believing, God-fearing family,” Hill said. “God has always been my guide. I was instilled with acquiring an education so I could help others, and not be dependent myself on others.”

Hill came to Vermont in 1987, recruited by the University of Vermont (UVM) to become the first African-American director of corporate and foundation relations — fundraiser — in the school’s history.

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‘BLCKGRLMGC’ podcast explores everyday life as a Black student at a majority-white college

Destini Armstrong (left) and Megan Job (right) are the creators of the podcast blckgrlmgc.

Destini Armstrong’s favorite episode of her own podcast is called “Thank You, Drake.” Armstrong and co-host Megan Job open the episode with a delighted celebration of singer and rapper Drake’s then-new single “Nice for What,” focusing on their favorite scene in the music video: Actress Issa Rae stands at a table of white men arguing, powerfully commands them all to sit down, then looks directly into the camera and smiles as Drake sings to her, “And you showin’ off, but it’s alright.” 

The hosts then pivot to relaying their experiences of being the sole Black woman in a classroom — scrutinized, stereotyped, stressed — and how that pressure affects their academic performance. 

“When I’m in a classroom, especially when I’m the only Black woman in it…it makes me more nervous,” Armstrong said. “I feel like when I do raise my hand or I do say something, it has to sound like the smartest thing ever, or I’m looked down upon.”

For the full story, click here.

South Burlington athletic director has battled racism his whole life

Mike Jabour

Mike Jabour has dealt with many forms of racism as a person of color growing up in South Burlington.

In elementary school, Jabour was cast as Martin Luther King Jr. for a play. He had asked to audition for another role.

“That upset my mom and she told the school, ‘He got that because he’s the only Black kid in the class,'” said Jabour, who moved to Vermont from Atlanta after being adopted as a newborn by white parents.

Jabour was called the n-word on a regular occurrence in middle school. At a breaking point in eighth grade, Jabour reported it to school officials. The response? Educate your peers.

For the full story, click here.

What it’s like when someone doesn’t believe you’re from here

Eliza Phillip poses for a photograph.

People have questioned where Eliza Phillip is from since she was a child.

The Vermonter guessed she was 5 years old when a nurse asked where her mother, who is white, got Phillip, who is half-Black. She has gotten the “Where are you from?” question a few times in her life. But a recent encounter in Burlington stood out. 

“I was leaving the ATM in Burlington, Vermont, near Church Street,” Phillip, who is 25, said in a June 16 Facebook post that has generated over 1,000 reactions. “And a woman came up to me and said: ‘Can I ask you a question? Where are you from?” 

She said she was born in Vermont, but that the woman told her she was lying. The woman told the Vermonter that this didn’t have to do with race and she wasn’t being targeted, according to Phillip’s video account. She continued to follow Phillip, who momentarily wished she had her birth certificate on hand to prove she was telling the truth.

For the full story, click here.

BHS alumna: ‘Activism is fighting for yourself’

Zanevia Wilcox, 17, talks about her support for Bernie Sanders on the day of his announcement to run for president. Feb. 19, 2019.

Before Zanevia Wilcox got up on stage at Battery Park in Burlington, she had to remind herself to slow down.

This wasn’t her first time speaking in front of a crowd, but it was a rare moment to speak to a crowd about her experiences growing up Black in Vermont.

Wilcox was one of a dozen or so people who spoke on June 20 following a march against police brutality and racial injustice in Burlington. The demonstration follows local and national protests in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a Minneapolis police officer.

“You grow up not realizing that activism is fighting for yourself. You don’t really realize it’s an ongoing battle,” said Wilcox, 18, who grew up in Burlington and has been engaged in social justice work for a while.

For the full story, click here.

Kevin ‘Coach'” Christie on what it’ll take to address systemic racism in Vermont

Rep. Kevin "Coach" Christie, D-Hartford, introduces Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Dunne in Barre on Monday, Oct. 5, 2015. Christie spoke of his friendship with Dunne's parents, John Bailey Dunne and Faith Dunne.

Vermont Gov. Phil Scott last month recognized Juneteenth, which commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States, at a news conference. One of the people by his side that day was Kevin Christie. 

Vermont State Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie (D-Hartford) moved here in the early 1970’s. He worked in a number of capacities throughout his life: He opened an automotive business, coached track and football, worked as a therapeutic case manager for children in foster care and is currently the chair of the state’s Human Rights Commission.

Being Black makes every interaction feel like a new experience.

“Sometimes an outgoing, friendly encounter is just very settling and then other times, you sense tension,” he said. “And that’s real. It manifests itself in different ways with different folks.” 

For the full story, click here. 

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