george floyd

First Steps

I started on the board during a pivotal time in our nation, having my first zoom training with Glenn & Kate in June 2020.

In the same month, George Floyd was murdered. It brought light to a flame that is still burning—the Black Lives Matter movement. The world watched as a man screamed for life, his mother. and uttered his last words: “I can’t breathe”. Those 9 mins and 29 seconds caught on video shook the country, awakening awareness in some, and a reminder to others.

Some of us took to the streets to protest, others got more involved in their community, many just continued the work they were already doing, some ignored, and others remained numb. In our community, flames were caught. As a board, we began to discuss Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion–JEDI–as it related to the Co-op. 

As we mapped out what it would look like, the board decided to create a committee that would lead the charge. In March of this year, I became Chair of the Justice Equity Diversity Inclusion (JEDI) Committee for the Middlebury Natural Foods Cooperative. Since becoming chair, I observed the committee’s eagerness and desire to act and came up with a plan. Seeing this eagerness, I took a step back and reflected. I wrestled internally as I asked myself how we can “be the change” in this new space. How do we move the focus from deliverables and concrete results to regrouping and starting inward? Can we do this alone? Do we need facilitators? How do we create a safe space so we can process & be honest? Where do we begin?  

Thus, I heard the call – we began inward. This included a mix of activities that allowed us to work on our own biases hidden in plain sight. Our refocus became a process of unlearning together, learning together, sharing together, creating a safe space, to be honest, and process together.  

As a committee, we continue to connect, build trust, and reflect. Our first step was a retreat this June where we created a safe space for everyone to reflect on their own privilege and experiences. As the facilitator, I lead by inviting everyone to be present, talk about their own privilege and fears around this work through a series of activities.

This is just the very beginning; we know this is the work of lifetimes to repattern and know ourselves first.  We are invested in doing the work for ourselves, as a board, staff, and the Co-op. What will it look like years from now?  We have no clue, but we are committed to showing up together to keep taking that first step over and over to do the work.

Esther Thomas is a Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op Board Member

Juneteenth Fundraiser for NAACP

Click HERE to Donate to Rutland Area NAACP Today – Middlebury Co-op Will Match Your Donation!

Juneteenth, on June 19, is the nationally-celebrated commemoration of the end of chattel slavery in the United States. The holiday has its origins in Galveston, Texas, where on June 19, 1865, enslaved Black Americans were notified of their freedom by Union soldiers. This was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863. 

There has been some progress since then in regards to racial equality. The 13th, 14th, and 15th Constitutional Amendments – known as the Civil War Amendments – promised an end to slavery, the equal protection of the law, and universal adult male suffrage, respectively; the passage of the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, outlawed Jim Crow era discrimination based on race. However, the legacy of slavery and white supremacy persists in every aspect of American life, and so the struggle for civil rights continues. 

On Juneteenth, many Black Americans enjoy spending time with family, friends, and loved ones, celebrating Black history, survival, and resilience. Because this day commemorates when the last enslaved Black Americans in Texas were informed of their freedom, this holiday is often referred to as Freedom Day, Emancipation Day or Black Independence Day. Right now, 47 out of 50 U.S. States officially recognize Juneteenth, including Vermont. Nationally, all Americans can celebrate what Juneteenth represents. This day is a call to action! Learn about the fight for racial justice in America. Address the ongoing movement for Black liberation. Organize with your community to dismantle the forms of oppression that continue to discriminate against Black folks. Honor the work of Black leaders who have made extraordinary contributions to the shared story of American progress and to a future where Black Americans are truly free. Last but not least, this Juneteenth, please join your Co-op to support the work of the Rutland Area NAACP. 

The NAACP is an American institution of essential historic and cultural significance. With the vision of ensuring a society in which all individuals have equal political, educational, social, and economic rights without discrimination based on race, the NAACP was founded in 1909 in response to riots protesting the form of anti-Black violence known as lynching in Springfield, Illinois. There are now over 2,200 chapters with more than a half-million members. The Association continues to be instrumental to the civil rights movement, waging legislative battles, producing publications, and organizing mass protests in order to secure equal rights on the local, state, and federal levels. Through democratic processes, the Association works to remove all barriers of racial discrimination to achieve equality of rights for American citizens. In the 21st century, the Association is focused on six Game Changers: Economic Sustainability, Education, Health, Public Safety, and Criminal Justice, Voting Rights, and Expanding Youth and Young Adult Engagement. The Rutland Area Branch of the NAACP is dedicated to eliminating racial discrimination in Vermont, provides resources for the protection of civil rights for minorities, and offers opportunities for anti-racist engagement for all Vermonters. 

Racial Justice and Your Co-op

At the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, we are committed to taking action to support black, indigenous, and people of color in our community.  All are welcome at our Co-op and each and every day we will take steps to assure we are creating a safe and welcoming environment for all.

We know that learning and taking action are essential, not optional. As we work now to focus more on learning and listening to our staff, farmers, vendors, members, shoppers, and the entire community, we want to share some resources we are finding helpful. These have been compiled by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

As we keep learning, we will share the actions we are taking to fight racism and injustice in our community and Vermont.