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Black Lives Matter flag flies over Burlington High School


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A Black Lives Matter flag now flies at Burlington High School. It is the second flag raised at a Vermont public school, following Montpelier High School's example.

"This is one step towards equality for those who deserve to have a voice in this nation; one step towards peace with our brothers and sisters," senior Rivan Calderin, 17, said at a ceremony Monday after the students took a moment of silence to acknowledge the 17 students who lost their lives to an act of violence last week in Parkland, Florida.

More: Burlington students win approval to fly Black Lives Matter flag


Students raised the flag at about 1:30 p.m. in front of the high school in a private ceremony attended by students and staff. The ceremony follows a student presentation to the School Board on Feb. 13 that included a petition with more than 450 names of students and staff members from Burlington High School asking that the Black Lives Matter flag be raised on their campus.

Calderin explained what he saw was the difference between raising an All Lives Matter versus a Black Lives Matter flag.

"It's like going to the doctor with a broken arm and the doctor says all bones matter," Calderin said. He wanted the community to know the flag was an act of inclusion.


"This is all about students' voices," Principal Tracy Racicot said, facing into the wind after the flag went up beneath the American flag. There was a brisk breeze and a sunny sky, which showed all the flags to advantage.

Earlier, at the ceremony in the high school's auditorium, several students spoke including senior Eliza Abedi, who quoted James Baldwin, a novelist and activist who wrote about race in the 1960s through the 1980s.

"The point is to get your work done, and your work is to change the world," Abedi said, reading from a podium with fellow senior Hawa Adam. 

Adam, a member of the poetry-slam group Muslim Girls Making Change, gave a brief performance that brought the audience to its feet. Her topic was a visceral depiction of the national statistics regarding police shootings of black citizens and the anxiety of feeling like she could be next.

Burlington-area seniors Kiran Wiqar and Hawa Adams, both of Muslim Girls for Change, created this video in partnership with the Burlington Free Press for the March 2017 This Gen: Youth Summit to End Gender-based Violence. RYAN MERCER/FREE PRESS

Other students including senior Eli Pine reiterated their hopes that this flag-raising would spur a national movement. Pine said the group already had received multiple inquires from students at other schools.

"But it doesn't stop here. Get involved. Register to vote," Pine said. "Elect leaders of color. Challenge your friends and family. And most of all challenge yourself."

The students spoke to the Burlington Free Press before last week's School Board decision to explain their advocacy and what their group, the Social Justice Union, planned to do next.

For students looking to follow in their footsteps, Adam offered advice.

"You know your experience best. So whatever you feel is not adequate for you and your community and the school that you go to, then I think you need to step up," Adam said. 

Adam added, "Your personal story is just as valid as any statistic. Just make sure your voice gets heard, whatever the medium."

Balkisa Omar wanted students at other schools to follow their visions.

"If you have an idea, follow that idea, because believe it or not there are people who would support that idea and have your back," Omar said. 


Pine said the support from the school community regarding the flag was overwhelmingly positive.

Students during the Monday ceremony and last week wanted the community to know that to them the flag was about inclusion, not hate.

"This is not anti-police or anti-law enforcement in anyway," Abedi said. "We deeply respect everyone who protects us on a daily basis."

The students believe the Black Lives Matter flag is a symbol of equality. 

Burlington police Chief Brandon del Pozo wrote in an email last week that the police will ensure "all political expression happens safely and without fear or intimidation."

There were at least two officers present at Monday's ceremony.

"Vermonters have a great track record of peaceful but expressive protest and speech, and that remains the standard here," del Pozo wrote.

Students at Burlington High School in Vermont raised a Black Lives Matter flag, flown underneither the American and state flags on Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. GLENN RUSSELL/FREE PRESS

Montpelier Superintendent Brian Ricca wrote last week that things were beginning to calm down two weeks after the high school gained national attention as the first public school in Vermont to raise the Black Lives Matter flag.

"We continue to see way more positive and supportive messages than negative ones, across the board ," Ricca wrote.

Burlington students said they are available to support other students who want to try to raise flags at their schools.

"The flag is the first step in the right direction," senior Marissa Cobeo said. "There's so much more we have to do." 

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