Black Lives Matter flag raised at Montpelier High School

Published: Feb. 1, 2018 at 11:28 AM EST
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A Vermont high school says it's making history. And it is doing it to kick off Black History month. Montpelier High School claims to be the first high school in the country to fly a Black Lives Matter flag.

Staff and students there say the flag represents safety, opportunity and justice. Students in the Racial Justice Alliance took turns raising the flag. They say it also shows support for African-American students at Montpelier High School.

"Listening to the song 'Young, Gifted and Black,' it just felt very empowering and it felt like out of all the days, this one day was highlighted for us black people," said Joelyn Mensah, a senior at Montpelier High School.

The students say Black Lives Matter means equality to them. They feel they are not properly represented in the same way as their white peers. At least one student says education in black history is taught two ways: in the classroom by a teacher and at home through family and personal discovery.

On this February day in one of the whitest states in the country, a Black Lives Matter flag was raised.

"We are here to raise the flag because we want to be seen and we demand to be represented in our education," Mensah said.

Mensah is one of the students who convinced the Montpelier school board to allow it.

The Black Lives Matter movement started as a response to the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's murderer, George Zimmerman. The movement grew after a series of videos of white police officers shooting and killing black men around the country emerged.

"This flag, people usually attach it with violence that happens," said Mandi Nso Abu Azi, a senior at Montpelier High School.

But for these students, the flag is not about police brutality. It's about representation in education.

"Here there are fewer black people but there is still a greater support from not only the black community but also our allies in the white community," said Eliza Abedi, a senior at Burlington High School.

"People choose their flag because they want to be represented and they want to be seen. We students do not feel like we are seen or represented in our education," Mensah said.

We had limited access to students of Montpelier High School. We were only allowed to speak with two students, both who lobbied for the flag.

"When black students go to school, they are fed with two different stories. One story is the school they come to, which is public school, telling them they are not enough," Mensah said. "The other story is, we have to take our own initiative to learn on our own stories about ourselves."

Something Eliza Abedi wants to spread across the state and back to her school in Chittenden County.

"Hopefully we at Burlington High School can do the same thing and follow in their lead," Abedi said.

She says there are struggles black students experience that their peers might not be aware of

"You feel kind of isolated, especially in a classroom of mostly white students. And when things like slavery come up, everyone turns around and looks at you," Abedi said.

Officials at Montpelier High School want the flag to mean that everyone is included, everyone is welcome and everyone has a place.

The principal told WCAX News that locally he's received an overwhelming amount of support.

The University of Vermont flew a Black Lives Matter flag and then it was stolen. Asked if there are any concerns that could happen in Montpelier, the principal said he's going to treat it like any other vandalism issue they would face-- they will investigate it and report it to the police and hopefully move forward to honor the work the students have put into getting the flag. In short, he says if the flag is stolen, he's prepared to deal with it.