By Jason Starr
A Black Lives Matter flag has flown on the Town Hall flagpole for 12 months — a symbol approved by the selectboard to affirm the town’s commitment to confront racism.
The original approval came last spring, then was extended in June into March of this year. Now the board is embarking on a deeper approach to addressing racism in the community.
Last week, it unanimously approved an effort led by the Williston Community Justice Center (WCJC) to delve into professionally facilitated community conversations about the values of residents when it comes to speaking out against racism — and how best to visually represent them. WCJC Executive Director Cristalee McSweeney said the conversations will take a restorative justice approach and seek out a variety of opinions.
“I’m really hoping we can be reflective of more thoughts and considerations from various experiences and opinions in our community so that we are best representing the ways in which our community wants to engage in anti-racism work,” McSweeney said.
She added that the input of those who don’t support the Black Lives Matter movement “also needs to have importance placed on it and be part of the conversation … It’s not just a conversation for someone to say ‘yes, I support this.’ It’s also for us to really hear and glean the various voices that we share a community with.”
The effort is intended to take two-to-three months and result in a formal report submitted to the board. At that time, the board will again reconsider whether to continue flying the Black Lives Matter flag at Town Hall.
Resident Cindy Provost urged the board to take down the flag and let the American flag stand by itself.
“The American flag embodies everyone in this community,” she said during last week’s board meeting. “Everyone has the same rights, freedoms and opportunities. The (BLM) flag should not be there. Our flag —the American flag — is what this country stands for, for everyone in it.”
Resident Patricia Peterson urged the town to go beyond symbolism and think of more concrete ways to work toward equity. She suggested using town resources to purchase goods and services from Black-owned businesses.
“That would be more of a true gesture,” she said. “It really doesn’t have to have anything to do with the Black Lives Matter flag.”