A Candlelight Prayer Vigil was held at City Hall Wednesday, April 26. Photo: Paul Engels

Many Messages – One Community

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Thursday May 04, 2017

These are unusual times for South Burlington. Controversy over the school nickname and the reasons to keep or change it resulted in a deep divide among residents, while school budget issues created yet another strand of unprecedented polarization. However, people took a break from their pursuit of opposing goals and acrimonious Facebook posts, and joined together as neighbors in their shared concern for the children of the community during a dreadful week of violent threats and school lockdowns at the high school April 18-21.

There are many challenges ahead and efforts to mend and strengthen the community through meaningful dialogue and respect for our differences have begun.

A Community Conversation, organized by South Burlington’s Community Justice Center (SBCJC) to facilitate more open and respectful dialogue across the disparity in the community, brought together leaders from South Burlington’s faith organizations and community members Tuesday, May 2. Lisa Bedinger, SBCJC coordinator, said, “I hope that the conversation makes a difference for those who participate in it, and that meaningful conversations, learning, and more understanding of each other occurs and that perhaps relationships develop or deepen as a result.” If there is interest, there will be future conversations planned.

Two groups voicing separate calls for healing and appreciation held gatherings that took place simultaneously last Wednesday, April 26.

A show of appreciation for the work of the South Burlington Police Department during the threat case was held Wednesday evening as residents brought dinner, dessert and thank-you notes to officers and investigators at the police station. The event was organized by the Rebel Alliance, a group of residents and alumni who support keeping the school nickname.

At City Hall a prayer vigil seeking racial healing and reconciliation was held on Wednesday evening. The event was organized by Essex resident Vicki Garrison, and sponsored by the Champlain Valley NAACP and Black Lives Matter Vermont. Another event sponsored by Black Lives Matter Vermont, ‘Hands Up For Peace,’ was scheduled for the same location Tuesday, May 2 at 11:00 a.m.

The school community is also working to find their way to normal this week, the first week back to classes after April vacation. In a message to families, high school Principal Patrick Burke said students would be welcomed back to the loving, positive, supportive school culture in a positive upbeat way. There are also opportunities available for them to process the crisis situation and the school/community response.

“Growth and resiliency come from adversity,” says SBCJC’s Bedinger. She encourages “conversations based on a foundation of mutual respect with the aim of reinforcing our basis of civil discourse as well as our mutual desire to strengthen our South Burlington community.”

Many messages. One community.