My family moved to Vermont in 1963 from Tiplersville, Mississippi when I was five. I left the red clay dirt of Mississippi for the white snow of Vermont. My father was a sergeant in the army and we were stationed here. He did three tours and was killed in Vietnam in 1966, leaving my mother alone with six children. We were all raised in Vermont. Before moving here, I remember going to an all-black school in Mississippi. However, I didn’t have a single person of color as a classmate in Burlington until my senior year of high school in 1976.
I am a product of the Burlington School District. Since my time in Burlington schools, much has changed. Burlington really began to diversify in the early 1980’s. There was a cultural shift here of people from the bigger cities, such as Boston and New York. Presently, one out of every two children at the elementary school I went to in Burlington is a youth of color. The Burlington School District is about 33% youth of color.
I feel as if I am part of that cultural change. I think that’s what I love most about growing up in Burlington. My classmates are a part of that change as well. I have white and black friends because I don’t feel like I am any different than a white person; on the inside I believe we have sameness. There is a real sense of community here, which I love. That is something that will always stay the same to me in Burlington.
For college I went to Montreal. I only stayed there for two years. I was recruited for basketball and became college basketball standout. I went back to school four years ago, and at fifty years old I got my degree, a bachelor of arts in Public Administration and Community Development.
I love when my son comments on what a beautiful city we live on our drive to school. That is a huge advantage of living in Vermont, the view. You can see Mt. Mansfield just driving down the street. We feel lucky to live in such a beautiful city; there is something very soothing about that to me. My wish for my son is that he remains intellectually challenged. I think in order for that to happen he needs to explore the world outside of Burlington. Here, you have the support and resources to prepare for a quality life, whether it takes place in Vermont or not. My son understands that racial divides are still existent today, even in Burlington.
I would suggest moving to Vermont because of the education it offers. I think that the education you receive in Vermont is good. This goes hand in hand with the ability you have to participate actively in your own life. You can easily participate in the local government and have an important role in community engagement. Vermont is very resourceful. How many people can just walk up and have a conversation with your mayor or your governor? I believe Vermont makes that much easier. But, of course you are only going to get out of it what you put into it. It is a place where you are able to participate in your life in a meaningful way. Like any community there are positives and negatives, but in the case of Vermont I strongly believe that the positives outweigh the negatives.
There are disadvantages like there are in any city. The economic base doesn’t have the jobs to fit the necessary skillsets of everyone in the community. I would advise people to come to Vermont really knowing what they are looking for. I think life is a series of sacrifices, especially for quality of life. I am also able to find diversity here. I find diversity in my work and in my neighborhood. Life is about finding a middle ground and if there is no middle ground, then you need to accept me for who I am and where I am at. For me I’ve never been motivated by money, I am more motivated by a sense of community, which I find here in Vermont.