UVM Student Athletes of Color lead conversation on racism

Published: Oct. 17, 2020 at 11:23 PM EDT
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SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Ahead of Saturday night’s Burlington vs. South Burlington varsity girls' soccer match, athletes gathered for a conversation on racism.

The UVM Student Athletes of Color Affinity Group led the public discussion Saturday afternoon at South Burlington High School. All of the students wore black shirts that said “Stand up. Fight racism” and “Black Lives Matter.” Black and brown athletes and faculty shared their personal stories of experiencing racism while living in Vermont. They all mentioned that they moved to Vermont thinking it’s more progressive and accepting than other parts of the country, and later found out that’s not the case.

UVM basketball player Skyler Nash said he first realized it while playing a preseason game in 2017, when a fellow athlete kneeled for the national anthem to protest police brutality. “And for those of us that were there, there was a pretty big portion of our crowd that has a very negative reaction to that,” Nash said. “And that’s when the bubble for me burst and I had to look at my elders and the people before me and say, ‘Okay, so this is where we’re at.’”

“I’m sure you’ve all dealt with people who will do anything to throw you off your game. But what you do when their tactics turn to racial slurs, to monkey chants, or to friends of friends who attempt to normalize things like calling me brownie or blackie,” said another athlete.

LeVar Barrino, the student achievement advisor at Burlington High School, recalled an encounter he had in Bristol. “I’m in there playing ball. I go out to get some water. The custodian walks by me and says, ‘You know, young man. You’re the first Black person to drink from this water fountain.’ What do I say to that?” Barrino said.

Other guest speakers included Kyle Dodson, the city of Burlington’s new police transformation director; Henri Sparks, the Burlington School District’s director of equity; and Mert Sells, the varsity girls' basketball coach.

The event was a joint effort between the UVM Students of Color Affinity Group, South Burlington High School, and Burlington High School. The discussion was held three hours before Saturday’s game.

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