Legislature Says Racism is a Public Health Emergency Alliance Announces “Turning the Curve on Systemic Racism” Campaign

May 24, 2021

Contact: Stephanie Gomory, 802-505-5587

Vermont Legislature Resolves that Racism is a Public Health Emergency

Vermont Racial Justice Alliance Launches Statewide Outreach and Education Series, “Turning the Curve on Systemic Racism: Building Back a Healthier Vermont”

(Burlington, VT) — Last week, the Vermont Legislature completed the passage of a Joint Resolution, proposed by the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance (the “Alliance”), resolving that “racism constitutes a public health emergency in Vermont”.

This joint resolution commits the Legislature to “sustained and deep work of eradicating systemic racism throughout the State, actively fighting racist practices, and participating in the creation of more just and equitable systems” and “coordinating work and participating in ongoing action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism.”

Reverend Dr. Christopher Von Cockrell, Board Chair of the Alliance, said: “We have a moral responsibility to push back on the remnants of what was produced by what the United Nations calls crimes against humanity.” Von Cockrell, the newly appointed pastor of New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church, the only African American Church in Vermont, frequently brings a message of hope and racial justice to his parishioners and the community. “Our work must be deliberate, unapologetic and transformational. Our work must be now,” he said. 

Xusana Davis, the Executive Director of Racial Equity, commented: “The resolution is a critical step in taking ownership of systemic problems so that we can implement systemic solutions for them. Public health has documented millions of data points indicating that racism has shortened, stolen, and worsened the lives of people of color in the U.S. and globally, and we as a society have witnessed it in our communities and even in our own families.” 

Davis continued: “For Vermont, our challenge is to pursue this work with honesty and courage — honesty to acknowledge the depth and longevity of this problem, and the courage to use new methods to combat it. This resolution does more than put nice words on paper—it compels us to prove that we want to live up to those words through tangible and meaningful action.”

Through its Operation Phoenix R.I.S.E. initiative, the Alliance last year successfully called for a declaration designating racism as a public health emergency in Burlington. This resulted in dozens of businesses and organizations committing to various anti-racist programs and activities across the city and county, many of which are ongoing.  

Other results include a historic reparations task force, ongoing restructuring of public safety, planning for a cultural empowerment center (with programming directed toward the BIPOC community), emerging strategies to address BIPOC targeted equal opportunity and economic development, and the exponential expansion of the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging Office. 

The statewide public health resolution comes at a time of “unprecedented opportunity for advancement of the eradication of systemic racism,” says Mark Hughes, Executive Director of the Alliance. “Though white people may benefit politically and economically by inaction, that inaction places everyone at risk spiritually, physically and emotionally. Racism in a public health emergency.” 

The Alliance’s successful proposal that racism be legislatively resolved to be a public health emergency adds Vermont to a growing list of over 200 states, agencies, counties and cities.  The American Public Health Association has stated that “These declarations are an important first step in the movement to advance racial equity and justice and must be followed by allocation of resources and strategic action.”

Hughes added: “We now call on the Governor and the Vermont Supreme Court to stand with us with respective Proclamations and Declarations stating that race is a public health emergency.” 

In an effort to support the roll-out of the joint resolution, the Alliance has launched a statewide campaign,“Turning the Curve on Systemic Racism: Building Back a Healthier Vermont.” In part, the campaign provides a way for businesses, agencies, municipalities and organizations to submit up to three actionable and measurable activities or initiatives they commit to undertake to turn the curve on systemic racism. Submissions can be made through a form posted on vtracialjusticealliance.org and submitters will have the ability to provide progress updates moving forward. These commitments will be posted on the organization’s website. 

The Alliance will also engage with New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church, Vermont Interfaith Action, the Department of Libraries, the Social Equity Caucus, the Racial Equity Executive Director, and key agencies, organizations and municipalities on a statewide outreach and education series and topical mini-summits. These will include speakers and workshops leading into the fall, taking place largely at libraries across Vermont.

“Having and creating community conversation on things that impact our lives can be hard, needed, surprising, and inspirational when we work to discuss the hard topics. Libraries can be a place where civil conversations and engagement may bring us together to examine who we are, who we say we are, and how to become who we want to be! I encourage all of us to consider this opportunity to be part of this conversation,” said Jason Broughton, State Librarian and Commissioner of Libraries.

Reverend Debbie Ingram, Executive Director of Vermont Interfaith Action, said: “Vermont Interfaith Action looks forward to participating in regional presentations and summits to engender public interest in this resolution and to map out, in conjunction with allied organizations, a plan to impact the public health emergency that systemic racism is. There is no more important task before us as people of faith than to work toward a world where all persons are treated with the dignity, respect, compassion, and healing that they deserve.” 

“It is my hope that through the forthcoming workshop/lecture series and the state’s ongoing policy work, that we will put the spirit of the Resolution into practice and continue the heavy but necessary work of broad education- on what justice could and will look like,” added Davis, Executive Director of Racial Equity.

Representative Kevin (Coach) Christie, Co-chair of the Social Equity Caucus, said that “racism is the air we breathe. We can’t build on what we don’t know. This is a great opportunity for us to learn more. This is a marathon, not a sprint.”


About the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance

The mission of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance is to secure sustainable power, ensure agency and provide security for American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS), while embracing their history and preserving their culture.


How you can help!

The work of the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance has been pivotal as Vermont endeavors to address racial justice across the state. We have successfully introduced some the most impactful policy in Vermont’s history. Our outreach and education work has informed thousands. We can assure you that your financial contributions will be hard at work, changing hearts and minds.

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