Some Burlington residents are forging their own path to greater equity

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BURLINGTON, Vt. – Building off a well-attended meeting in July, a group of Burlington residents gathered once again to tackle a complicated question: How can the Queen City be more equitable?

Earlier this year, the city released the 2018 Equity Report, which acts as a baseline measurement to inform “discussion, evaluation and policy decisions.” City officials have been seeking feedback since the report was released.

So has Mark Hughes, executive director of Justice for All Vermont, who criticized the report when it was released and has been hosting his own forums.

In May, he wrote in VTDigger that efforts at creating a more equitable city by Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and his administration’s have been “largely perfunctory.”

So, Hughes and forum participants have been brainstorming outside-the-box solutions, with a belief that Burlington can help sway the rest of Vermont.

“We know that there are disparities across housing and education, employment, access to health services and the criminal justice system,” Hughes said. “We also know that Burlington is the biggest town in Vermont, and you’ve got to believe that what we do here is going to make a difference across the entire state, that’s why this work is so important.”

The group has offered several categories of inequity and prioritized solutions, both small and complex.

One category is city administration. They propose identifying community spaces to facilitate outreach, and to create a position in city government to review equity. They also urge greater attendance at city council meetings to hold officials accountable.

One need in the education category is a more effective guidance and counseling process, particularly for minority students preparing for college.

Kenroy Walker, a Burlington resident, lead that discussion and reflected on his experiences with the guidance department at his high school.

“I remember having a guidance counselor where the main core thing was just getting through the paperwork and signing on,” Walker said. “Just get this paperwork done because there’s deadlines.

“You see a lot of students not really having a major, not declaring a major because they don’t have a sense of what they’re doing.”

In July, the forum invited Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo and Deputy Chief Jon Murad to discuss criminal justice issues, which continue to be a concern for participants.

While some have called for aggressive changes at the department, including the firing officers accused of using excessive force, others say having the police represented is important.

“The fact that was said in that space and we had a place to just say what we wanted to say and have them listen was really, really powerful and really unique,” said a woman at Tuesday’s meeting.

On Tuesday, Hughes said the forums give Burlington residents an opportunity “to begin the process of engaging themselves as opposed to looking toward the administration.”

Hughes said more meetings are expected and will be announced on the Justice For All Vermont Facebook page.

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