On November 12, 2019, ten Edmunds Middle School (EMS) students sat in the Burlington High School cafeteria, each one wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt. All of the students present were part of the EMS activism group Youth Participatory Action and Research (YPAR), led by advisor and EMS teacher, Jeremy Demink. EMS is one of the most diverse schools in the state of Vermont. Students of color make up 28% of the Edmunds community. YPAR recognizes this and sought to raise the Black Lives Matter (BLM) flag to make the school as supportive and welcoming as possible.
After public comment, Anyier Manyok and Henry Tornwini, both eighth-graders at EMS, stated simple facts about EMS focusing on the demographics and the racial discrimination students of color experience.
“By approving this proposal to raise the BLM flag at EMS, the district would validate the difficult barriers and the hostility that students of color and their allies experience at EMS and schools all across the nation,” said Tornwini.
Manyok said the BLM flag would promote inclusion at the middle school.
“It’s critical in today’s learning environments that students of color not only feel protected but promoted and welcomed within our schools,” said Manyok.
The EMS faculty and students overwhelming support the raising of the flag. YPAR members collected 358 signatures, roughly 87% of the EMS community.
YPAR members continued to take the mic to affirm the message and encourage the school board. The proposal passed unanimously. EMS will raise the Black Lives Matter flag yearly beginning February 1, Black History month, and the flag will remain up until the first day of summer vacation.
BHS students were excited to hear of the change coming to Edmunds Middle School.
“I think it’s a big step for Edmunds and reflects well on the district,” said Junior Lovali Wretman. “It really shows what the school supports.”
Junior Bernadette Mukeba was also happy to hear about the work of YPAR. Mukeba was a part of the Burlington High School Social Justice Union(SJU) when BHS raised its own BLM flag in 2018.
“It’s amazing to know that this wave is continuing and that other students want to raise the BLM flag,” said Mukeba. “The SJU stands with Edmund’s YPAR Collective and can’t wait for the day to arrive.”
Commissioner Keith Pillsbury said he was impressed by the level of investment the students showed.
“I thought that their research, their reasoning, was all very powerful,” said Pillsbury. “I’m very proud of the work that the Edmunds students did.”
School Board Member Stephen Carey said the flag-raising promotes unity.
“It’s a step forward in recognizing the division in our society that needs to be healed,” said Carey.