In difficult times like these, it is important to listen, to stay informed, to understand the issues revolving around us. To my friends who live out of state, I tell them that here in Vermont when we agree to disagree, we are civil about it. I like to think that, in times of crisis, Vermonters know how to support each other and make difficult situations better.

Those beliefs have been challenged recently. The hurtful comments surrounding Mill River Union High School’s decision to fly a Black Lives Matter flag disturbs me. How can the situation there have turned so ugly that a student is harassed for her views and her family feels so unsafe and unwelcomed that they are leaving their town? We stand to lose an important community leader as a result.

How can a Black student at Castleton University who helps organize the Black Lives Matter flag on campus, be subjected to vicious, racist emails? What happened to the idea of a civil exchange of ideas?

Why can’t a lively discussion at Rutland High School about changing the mascot be just that, a lively discussion and not descend to smarmy remarks about “out of staters” being part of it. I listened to part of that online discussion, and the alums of RHS who spoke in favor of the change were athletes proud of their school. The fact they now live in other states hardly disqualifies them for adding their voices to the discussion. Their generation understands the importance of valuing all cultures and races. Maybe, we older folks should learn from them.

We are better than this. The good people of our community have worked hard to make the Rutland area a better place for all of us. Project VISION has worked successfully to transform a part of town that was struggling into a neighborhood we can be proud of. The collaboration between various groups has been instrumental in that work. Matt Prouty and Joe Kraus have led the way. Steve Costello has brought the city amazing sculptures that highlight contributions Rutlanders have made. The stunning mural rising three stories over Roots Restaurant is a testament to the value of supporting kids of all races and religions. Our three Syrian families have been welcomed, supported and are now key parts of our community.

It’s time for white Vermonters to open our minds and our hearts. If you have not read Al Wakefield’s perspective article in the Herald from Sept. 26-27, you should. It is titled “Getting to All Lives Matter” and ends with this sentence: “BLM is not a flag or a mantra; it is a state of mind that seeks to remind us that America will never be the ‘more perfect union’ that the Founders envisioned until we become a community of people where it is a given that all lives matter: equally, wholly and truly.“

Amen to that.

Jennifer Bagley lives in Mendon.

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