By Jason Starr
A racial equity and social justice coalition has formed under the leadership of Williston Town Manager Erik Wells.
Wells convened the coalition this fall in response to simultaneous conversations among a number of local organizations and citizens about racial inclusivity and supporting social justice. The town has received a $3,000 grant from the Vermont Community Foundation for a stipend for a person to lead the coalition.
The announcement comes two months after a group of Williston residents requested that the selectboard approve flying a Black Lives Matter flag at Town Hall, or another prominent message such as a roadway Black Lives Matter painting. School district officials have already taken the step of flying Black Lives Matter flags at local schools.
“We feel our community needs a daily reminder that there are systemic and institutional realities that keep some of our citizens from experiencing the intent of Williston’s charter and values,” group leader Pat Brown wrote in the September request to the board.
The selectboard declined to approve the request at a meeting in October and again declined to act when it met this week.
“Our job is town governance, not necessarily to take a stand on this,” board member Joy Limoge said. “I’m worried about opening Pandora’s box.”
The citizens’ request asks town leaders to go beyond a prominent Black Lives Matter display to consider policing reforms, education about existing racism in Williston, systemic racism training and “restoration for the harm that racism has brought to our community.”
Board member Jeff Fehrs asked Wells to ensure that the coalition take up those goals in its work. The Community Coalition on Social Justice consists of the Williston-Richmond Rotary Club, the Williston Community Justice Center, the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library, Williston Federated Church, Vermont Interfaith Action, the Champlain Valley School District and the Town of Williston.
“We are going to wait on the decision until we get more feedback from the coalition,” selectboard chairman Terry Macaig said about the Black Lives Matter message request.