On February 1, Montpelier High School became the first high school in the nation to raise a Black Lives Matter Flag on school grounds, as part of a series of Black History Month events. The flag raising was the result of a year-long campaign led by senior Joelyn Mensah, who co-founded the student group Racial Justice Alliance.
Below is Mensah’s statement to the Montpelier School Board, given Jan 17. She, and the Board, have graciously allowed The Bridge to publish it
Dear Montpelier School Board,
Thank you for taking the time to meet with us this evening. With the support of our advisor, Mary Ellen Solon, and the school administration, we are here to encourage the school board to raise the Black Lives Matter flag at Montpelier High School. Raising the Black Lives Matter flag represents our school’s affirmation that the experience of Black students has been and continues to be inequitable. This act demonstrates our shared commitment to improving our community through empowering and honoring all of our students.
Intentionally or not, many have benefited from and contributed to structural and institutional racism; part of the key to rebalancing lies in open discussion and addressing the issues as they manifest within our school. For this reason, it is important to recognize that Montpelier High School is systemically racist by default.
Raising this flag is a part of a wider campaign to grow awareness and make changes in our curriculum, climate, and shared understanding of the need for racial justice. Over the past year there have been many steps forward in our community including some direct curricular choices, administrative trainings, faculty in-service, a schoolwide assembly, and the Race Against Racism. And yet, we need to do more to raise our predominantly white community’s collective consciousness to better recognize white privilege and implicit bias. The Racial Justice Alliance believes putting up a Black Lives Matter flag is imperative for both demonstrating our school’s fight for equitable education for our Black students, and modeling a brave and appropriate challenge to the status quo impeding public institutions across the country.
While the protection of all students, including students in other minority groups, is equally important, there is a unique history of oppression and mistreatment of Black Americans that requires its own unique response. The justice and equity of Black Americans is dependent upon justice and equity for all Americans, just as justice and equity for all MPS students is dependent upon that of our Black students. We view the raising of this flag not as a culmination to our work but rather as a continuation of the work and learning together—a call for action.
We will raise the flag with love in our hearts and courage in our voices. We reject any purported connections to violence or hate that may or may not have occurred under the Black Lives Matter flag. We recognize that all lives do matter, but in this same spirit not all lives are acknowledged for their equal importance until Black lives have been.
This evening, we urge you to join us in raising the Black Lives Matter flag and keeping it up on the pole until the American flag alone acknowledges the worth and dignity of Black lives. With this act you demonstrate your support in continuing the broader equity work being done in our community. Thank you for your time and for your continued dedication to all Montpelier Public School students.
The Montpelier High School Racial Justice Alliance