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Statewide plan in the works to address diversity in Vermont

Published: Aug. 10, 2020 at 8:54 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 10, 2020 at 10:38 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - As calls for racial justice continue to echo across the country, advocates in Vermont say more work needs to be done to bring people of color here.

Vermont is the second whitest state in America, but experts say it doesn’t have to be that way, and they say it all comes down to systematic change. The call for Vermont to diversify is not a new one but rather has gained new traction in recent years.

Skyler Nash came here to play basketball at the University of Vermont and has decided to extend his time, but he says one person of color at a time isn’t enough.

“That’s not how we are going to break down this lack of diversity case-by-case with a person of color, you know -- doing a recruitment job on some people from back home,” said Nash, who now works for the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance.

Vermont Racial Equity Executive Director Xusana Davis says the inability to change could have dire consequences.

“How many people in this state are confident that their school district will exist in five years? How many people are secure that they can continue to pay their tax burdens if we don’t have enough people able to cover them?” she said.

Davis says because the state has the lowest birth rate in the country and has an older population, the need to attract people to the state is here, and the benefits of a more diverse population are tangible for all. She says areas that are racially and culturally diverse attract more and younger people and lead to a bigger and stronger statewide economy.

Davis says a statewide plan is in the works that lays out the groundwork to get there.

“A racial equity plan, a statewide plan, that articulates the state’s goals and plans around racial equity, and that’s really important because not only is that going to guide the rest of our work, but it is also going to signal to people inside and outside the state that this is something we care about, that this is a priority,” she said.

Davis also says that although they hoped to have this plan done and rolled out faster, COVID-19 has delayed its writing and release temporarily. She also says the push goes beyond the capital.

“Moving away from the hierarchical and bureaucratic structures that we are used to and instead asking the communities directly that are impacted by this, what do you need?” she said.

But Davis says playing the numbers game and simply adding more people of color isn’t the answer either and that there is a need to ensure true meaningful inclusion.

“Meaningful inclusion looks like us not having to specifically chase down certain demographic groups for their input, because they are already adequately represented in decision-making,” she said.

“If we lift up and empower economically black people and people of color here, that rising tide is going to lift your ship, too,” said Nash.

Nash also says he dreams of a more diverse Vermont down the line, but for now, is excited to be welcoming more members of his family to Vermont.

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