Wanda Hines moved to Burlington from Mississippi in 1963 when she was five — and didn’t encounter another person of color in a classroom until her senior year of high school.
She doesn’t leap at the chance to yet again talk about what it’s like being Black in Vermont.
Although conversations about race have grown more intense lately, “there’s nothing new in it for me,” Hines says. “I’m not shocked; I’m not surprised.
“I recognize where we’ve been and where we are now, and where we need to go,” she continues, “and we’re not going to get there overnight.”
Hines speaks with authority. For decades, her work has taken her to the front lines of social justice.
She directed the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf (now Feeding Chittenden) for 12 years and led the city’s Social Equity Investment Program for seven.
Hines is now director of the Joint Urban Ministry Project (JUMP), a coalition of 28 regional faith-based groups that annually serves the emergency needs of more than 2,000 households.
“The job is a perfect fit for me,” she says: “The act of serving is an instrument, a means to an end. When my neighbor hurts, I hurt.”
The work keeps her plenty busy. Too busy to engage in public demonstrations, she says she finds herself “taking more of a back seat.”
Still, Hines cheers on a new generation of activists.
“This is your time,” she tells young folks. “We all have a role. Go out and participate. I’m tired.”
She’ll offer advice — but only when someone asks her for it.
“Every day is about race to me,” she explains, “whether I engage in the conversation or not.”
Despite the challenges of being Black in a mostly white state, she says she is grateful: “It’s a good community and I’m glad to be here.”
Furthermore, she is in “proud-Mommy mode” — her son just graduated from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
Most alarming to Hines these days is the broader community’s “free-fall” due to COVID-19.
“It’s caused us as a nation, to stop and look differently at ourselves,” Hines says of the pandemic. “We might have arrived on different boats, but we’re in the same boat now.”
Contact Joel Banner Baird at 802-660-1843 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @VTgoingUp.
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