Segregation was imprinted in my early life. I grew up in Florida and it was a great place to grow up. I did a lot of fishing and hiking. I was born, though, in 1951. At the time, my elementary school was a segregated school. All of my teachers were black, all of my classmates were black, and all of the textbooks that we had were the used books from the white schools. [The black teachers] were paid less than the white teachers. There was a different bible to swear on in court, and we weren’t even allowed on white beaches. Can you imagine someone who hates a group of people so much that they think that they have to separate the waters in the ocean because they would be somehow harmed if they were in the same water as someone of a different race?
When I was 17 I moved to Washington D.C. and attended Howard University. I opened my first office in Maryland and then moved to Plattsburgh, New York, working for the department of corrections.
I came to Burlington in 1993. I always liked Burlington; I was very open and really enjoyed the experience. I love walking down Church Street. It’s vital, it’s vibrant, and it’s so cool. I love the waterfront and I love the bike path. I thought it would be a nice transition between D.C. and Plattsburgh. Plattsburgh was too small, and I was ready to take a break from living in D.C. Burlington is small enough that is isn’t overwhelming but it is big enough that it has a theater and good restaurants.
At that time, my wife’s impression of Vermont was that it was full of women who didn’t shave, didn’t use makeup and wore Birkenstocks. She said, ‘I wear makeup and I can’t make it over there!’ But now she loves it.
After I graduated from dental school, in virtually every venue I was in, I was the only black person there. So, when we moved to Burlington it wasn’t odd for me to be surrounded by people who consider themselves white.
My wife and I were our kids’ strongest advocates. I have a granddaughter who lives up here and I am concerned about her. There will be white teachers who make assumptions about her that have nothing to do with her intelligence, nothing to do with her talents and nothing to do with anything that she has control over.
I have had conversations with the school board. It’s sad that in the year 2012 there are still so few black teachers in the state of Vermont. I feel it is my job and the job of all caring people to make sure that the schools are diverse, and that they represent all of the people living here. It only enhances you when are you are around different cultures, different communities and different places.
I remember when I first came here I rarely saw any people of color on the streets, but it’s a little different now.
As a black man, I’ve definitely experienced racism, but in Vermont it’s very different than the racism I experienced when I was in Florida, or in other places. The interesting thing about racism is that it takes every form. There is overt racism, there are assumptions, and then there are things you never hear.
I’m old enough to know that racism is based on fear and insecurity. People have a fear on all kinds of levels of what being close with people of color can do to them.[In Burlington] I never felt the cloud of racism that I felt in some other places. I’ve never to my face been called a name here.
There is a certain character of the people in Vermont, and a lot of it is really good— good to the core. Small changes here can take effect a lot quicker and a lot more easily. It is a small enough state that you have access to everything and everybody. Vermont should be an experiment in the way the future world should be, I believe.
I would encourage anybody to come to Vermont; I think it’s a great place to be.