Racial Truth and Reconciliation
Racial Truth and Reconciliation
Aquinnah, Sept 1, 2021
Dear Officers of the Town Affairs Council, Members of the Chilmark Community Center Executive Committee, and Members of the Chilmark Selectboard:
As BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) and Abolitionist community members living on Wampanoag land currently known as Martha’s Vineyard, we are going on record as stating that the investigation and communication with the Island community regarding the incident at the Chilmark Community Center, in which two white boys placed a tent strap around the neck of a Black boy, is being mishandled and is causing further harm to all community members, especially those in BIPOC communities.
To be clear, our focus is not on shaming or punishing the boys involved. Children do not necessarily understand the impact and implications of the actions they take. Children mirror the culture in which they are raised and they follow the examples they are given.
Sophia Hall, civil rights attorney for the Black boy and his family, in an article in the MV Times on September 1, describes the incident as “reminiscent of lynching” and goes on to say “The attack itself is reminiscent of lynching, even if they (the children) don’t know what it means.” Similarly, in this document, we describe the incident as “an enactment of lynching”. Enactment does not connote an understanding of the impact and implications of the action.
For a month, the island community received neither a formal apology nor an acknowledgement from Chilmark Community Center representatives that the enactment of lynching of a Black boy by two white boys is a racial incident. For a month, our island community was asked to wait for the results of the investigation, during which we did not receive any updates regarding the investigation, how it was being conducted or by whom.
By conducting an investigation in a non-transparent and non-participatory way, the Chilmark Community Center and leadership in the Town of Chilmark are demonstrating to the community as a whole, and to BIPOC specifically, that they do not understand the racial history of lynching in the USA, nor the historic resonance and resulting trauma that BIPOC experience when a racially charged event occurs in our community.
The lack of inclusivity of BIPOC community members in the investigation and the obliviousness to the feelings and perspectives of BIPOC community members concerning a traumatic, racially charged event raises deep concerns regarding the legitimacy and reliability of the findings in the report itself.
In regard to the report, we as BIPOC and Abolitionist community members are deeply troubled by the following:
The report is unsigned.
Submitting an unsigned report regarding a matter of this magnitude casts doubt on the integrity of the report. If the report is a sincere effort to respond to the Island community’s concerns regarding an enactment of lynching, why is it that no one is taking personal responsibility for creating the report? Who conducted the “investigation”? Who took the testimony from campers and staff and under what circumstances? Who made choices about which questions to ask and to whom the questions would be asked? Were there any BIPOC, other than the Black child and their parents, involved in the investigation process, and if not, why not?
The stated purpose of the report, “to answer the question whether race played a role in the incident that occurred at the Center on July 29” is itself deeply troubling.
To question whether race played a role in the incident demonstrates a lack of knowledge and understanding of the history of the USA in regard to race and lynching, and a lack of input and guidance from members of the BIPOC community. In other words, only white privilege would pose the question of whether race played a role in an enactment of lynching. The euphemism used by the anonymous authors of the report is itself an admission of the significance of the incident: “We feel that it is important to state emphatically that the incident itself – a strap around the neck of a Black child – was incredibly disturbing to the Town Affairs Council and to the entire Center community in view of the terrible history and horrifying images that it evoked.”
We are also deeply troubled that Camper A, one of the few children of color in the program, advocated for himself prior to the incident, by asking that he no longer play with Campers X, Y and Z, but measures taken to honor his request were not adequate, and his life was endangered.
As the report states: "We are well aware that the children participating in the Community Center’s summer programs, as well as the staff, and the Town Affairs Council itself, are not particularly diverse… that lack of diversity, like other manifestations of systemic racism, is nevertheless a problem that we must address."
In this instance, the lack of diversity among campers, staff and administration and the resulting lack of understanding of issues of race, created a dangerous, traumatic situation for the Black boy, and for everyone at the camp.
We request that the Town Affairs Council, Members of the Chilmark Community Center Executive Committee, and Members of the Chilmark Selectboard together with members of the island BIPOC community, immediately engage a rigorous, reputable BIPOC organization to handle the investigation and the reporting of the investigation going forward, which includes community listening sessions, and a transparent accounting of the actions and decisions of all involved that led to a lynching enactment of a Black boy in your care.
Further, we request the Town Affairs Council, Members of the Chilmark Community Center Executive Committee, and Members of the Chilmark Selectboard make a public commitment to use this traumatic and horrific situation to take the lead in engaging a BIPOC organization to facilitate an island wide conversation about race that results in public truth and reconciliation sessions. We request that the Town Affairs Council, Members of the Chilmark Community Center Executive Committee, and Members of the Chilmark Selectboard become models for organizations on the island that serve young people, by making ongoing race awareness education as well as diversity, equity and inclusion training mandatory for all of their staff, including counselors, maintenance, transportation, and executive staff. In short, anyone who interacts with the campers or are in any way responsible for their care must be in ongoing race and equity education and training.
Finally, it is worth noting that as a result of the murder of George Floyd by law enforcement in May of 2020, a group of island folks have been holding a vigil in honor of Black Lives at Beetlebung Corner, a few hundred yards from the Chilmark Community Center where the incident occurred. Driving through Chilmark, one sees many “Black Lives Matter” banners and “Only you and I can end racism” signs.
Now is time for the residents and representatives of the Town of Chilmark and all of the towns of the island to do more than display banners and signs.
Martha’s Vineyard: It is time to walk our talk.
Support our petition to request Officers of the Town Affairs Council, Members of the Chilmark Community Center Executive Committee, and Members of the Chilmark Selectboard hire a rigorous BIPOC-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion organization, and Chilmark takes the lead in supporting island-wide truth and reconciliation conversations regarding race and bias.
Add your signature below to support racial truth telling and healing on Martha’s Vineyard.
This petition is created by:
Saskia Vanderhoop – Sassafras Earth Education https://www.sassafrasmvy.org/
David Vanderhoop – Sassafras Earth Education https://www.sassafrasmvy.org/
Freedom Cartwright – Freedom Rail Tours https://freedomrailtours.com/
Kyle Williams – A Long Talk About the Uncomfortable Truth https://www.alongtalk.com/
Patrece Petersen – MV VeganSociety https://www.mvvegansociety.com/