Stand up, or wish you had

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2010 Vermont's African-American population more than doubled from the previous census. That sounds alarming until you realize that the number grew from roughly 3,000 to 6,277. Blacks still comprise only 1 percent of our population. Interestingly, we have 50 percent more Hispanics in Vermont — 9,208. We still retain the crown for being the whitest state in the nation.

Article II in Vermont's constitution abolishes slavery. That article was written in 1777; long before the Civil War. Vermont sent 10 percent of its total population (men, of course) to fight in the Civil War. Many Vermonters, including my ancestor, Gen. George Stannard, played pivotal roles to ensure victory. One hundred fifty years ago, Vermonters firmly believed that people of color should not be enslaved and be able to live life in peace; just like everyone else.

What a difference 150 years makes.

My friend and fellow musician and now film maker, Duane Carleton, has recently released his second documentary: "Divided by Diversity." About five years ago, Mr. Carleton released "Overtaken by Darkness"; a film about the murder of Sarah Hunter. His efforts prompted authorities to revisit this 30 year old case and identify the alleged murder (who was exonerated due to mishandling of evidence). His first film was very powerful, but was definitely a Vermont film.

His new movie is incredible on many levels. The story is about a Rutland Catholic high school; Mount St. Joseph, and the school's desire to increase its enrollment. At one time 600 kids attended this school. By 2010 the school was down to roughly 70 kids.

They had to do something. They hired a coach for only $2,200 and instructed him to build up the basketball program in hopes that this would have a positive impact on enrollment. The coach responded by doing exactly what was asked of him.

The coach was contacted by a man who had a very successful youth basketball program in the Bronx, in New York City.

They agreed to bring a handful of kids from the Bronx to Rutland; not just to play ball, but to get a good education. These five young, black men came from a 5,000-person housing project (that's about as many people who live in Manchester). They were exposed to 100 murders and 4,000 robberies and assaults in a three-year period. Let that sink in.

The kids came to Rutland and did what was asked of them. They worked hard both academically and on the basketball court. MSJ went from being the worst team in its division to winning the Division II championship.

The joy of victory was shattered by the level of hate directed at these black kids. Racial comments and theatrics were visible at nearly every game; including a game at my alma mater, Burr & Burton Academy. Watching white kids chant slurs from the audience made my stomach turn.

The movie is bigger than MSJ, basketball and race. The movie is more about what happens to our society when xenophobia takes over. It's more about white privilege and entitlement and what happens when good people sit back in silence and don't speak up when witnessing an injustice.

Ironically, Rutland's mayor was recently defeated partially because he stood up against our new wave of hatred. He advocated for bringing in 100 Syrian refugees into Rutland. Watching this film will help you better understand how and why the mayor was doomed from the start.

When did we transition from being a state that sent its boys to fight and die so that blacks could be free and live in peace? When did we transition from being a state of tolerance to a state of intolerance? What do we need to do to get back to where we once were?

A good place to start would be to watch this film with some friends and start a dialogue about what you see. We have to do something, right? The film will air on Vermont Public Television on May 18 at 7:00 p.m.

Bob Stannard lives in Manchester.


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