The return to Vermont for Jess Laporte was nothing like she could have expected, arriving in the middle of a global pandemic and a couple months shy of national waves of protests against police brutality.
“My experience over the past month and half is completely different from growing up here,” said Laporte, who in the past several weeks has spoken at Black Lives Matter demonstrations across the state.
Protesting has been, in part, a chance for her to connect with other Black Vermonters and re-establish a sense of community with her home state.
“I’ve put a lot of hours and energy and personal emotion behind showing up and speaking up and sharing my story,” Laporte said. “In some ways that can be draining, but in other ways that can be a clear way to show up and value my own life and build the future I want to be a part of.”
Laporte returned home in April following several years in the Boston area for school and, more recently, six years in Haiti.
“I really knew Vermont as a child,” Laporte said, who grew up in Stowe alongside her sister, mother and their extended family.
At that time, her family struggled financially in the affluent ski town, something that was often just as impactful as her skin color.
“In many ways in our childhood we were also experiencing the ways in which the town became inaccessible economically for the working class people,” she said.
By the age of 14, Laporte had the opportunity to go to boarding school in Massachusetts. Time away afforded her the chance to develop her personal racial identity.
From there she connected with other Black students and students of color, got involved in equity and social justice work during college, and eventually worked as a professional in Haiti, reconnecting with her father’s home country.
“Coming back as an adult, I knew it was going to be so different,” Laporte said.
In her plans to return to the United States, Laporte pined for a chance to be close to her family again alongside her husband, and reconnect with Vermont’s scenic mountains and bodies of water.
Since coming back, one of things that Laporte and her sister have started is a “Black Womxn Walking Group,” inspired by the national health movement GirlTrek, an organization geared toward Black girls and women.
“That group has already been such a safe haven and fun time and we’ve been able to support each other as individuals,” she said.
But as Laporte has spoken at demonstrations the past month, she’s also sat with the comments she’s received from people asking her for advice.
She added, “I think at the end of the day we end up in those conversations hearing the same questions: ‘What can I do? How should I proceed? How should I intervene?'”
The work to undo racial inequity can start at the local level, she said, assessing the issues in one’s own town or city and gathering people together to put pressure for change.
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