PUTNEY, Vt. – After receiving approval from the Putney Selectboard, community members recently united in front of the Putney Central Elementary School on Westminster West Road to proudly paint a message for all to see: “Black Lives Matter.”
Manned with gallons of bright yellow paint, brushes, and rollers, adults and youth alike teamed up to express their positive message, countering negative ones that had been displayed around Windham County back in July, including one such derogatory message found in Putney. The Windham County Sheriff’s Department assisted in directing traffic while the community members created their message.
The mural project had been originally presented to the Selectboard by Chairman Josh Laughlin and former board member Laura Chapman as a way to not act as a political statement, but rather to simply counter and transform prejudice.
Nearly 100 people took part in the event throughout the day, which was also attended by Steffen Gillom, president of the Windham County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, who expressed to the participants and attendees that he hoped that we can all continue to use art as a means for creating an awareness and discussion moving forward.
Putney’s Equity and Inclusion Committee, led by co-chairs Lisa Munoz and Jaime Contois, is also offering an anti-racism book club through November, as well as organizing workshops for town employees. The committee identifies and advises the Selectboard about addressing inequities and encouraging inclusive practices in town services, programs, human resource practices, and decision-making processes.
“In the immediate term, I think that Putney really stepped up to support our neighbors of color, and I hope it has made them feel safer in Putney,” Anne Beekman said. Beekman is a member of the Equity and Inclusion Committee. “It has and continues to spark important, often difficult, and sometimes unpleasant conversation among out citizens. I hope that in the long term, those conversations will bring greater understanding, creating a community that is genuinely inclusive.”
The main purpose of the committee and the mural project is to ensure that all Putney residents, town employees, and visitors receive equal treatment and opportunity regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, income, veteran status, sexual orientation, age, marital or familiar status, disability, or gender identity and expression.
“I believe that the mural was actually the least we could do, in the light of the fact that someone had offended some of our most vulnerable neighbors,” Beekman added. “However, I am heartened to see the effort that people across the country are making to dismantle the racism that is baked into our society. I am moved by the support of the Putney community and honored to serve with my colleagues on the committee.”
Other guests at the event included Senate Majority Leader Becca Balint, Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, State Representative Mike Mrowicki, and Windham Southeast School District Board Chairman David Schoales, and Vice Chairwoman of the School Board Anne Beekman.
Understanding the importance of this positive message, the school district board helped initiate the event by issuing a statement endorsing the project and giving the town permission to use the elementary school parking lot, which is private property, as part of creating the mural.
Upon completion of the mural project, which was carried through without any incidents or negative feedback from the public, the participants and attendees concluded the event with a round of applause and a positive group chant: “Black lives matter! Black lives matter!”