Champlain Signs Burlington Initiative Declaring Racism a Public Health Emergency

Champlain College signed a community declaration in partnership with the City of Burlington, declaring racism as a public health emergency.

As part of the declaration, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, the Vermont Racial Justice Alliance, and more than 30 Chittenden County organizations announced what actions they are taking to commit themselves to the sustained and deep work of eradicating racism in our institutions and community and eliminating race-based health disparities.

“Deep and structural racism has shaped the systems of our nation and community for far too long,” said Mayor Weinberger on Thursday, July 16, when the declaration was announced.

“We are proud to support the City’s efforts to create a whole-systems approach to addressing the crisis of systemic racism that is threatening the lives and well-being of members of our community and our nation,” says Champlain College President Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande. “Champlain is committed to working in partnership with the City and those advocating for racial justice to advance this work in our community and contribute our institutional strengths and expertise to create a stronger, more inclusive Burlington for all who live, work and study here.”

Dr. Benjamin Ola. Akande, Champlain College’s ninth President.

The timing of this declaration comes at a pivotal moment as the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in Vermont and across the nation, our communities are also raising their voices to speak out against the systemic racism and police violence that disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC).

Organizations signing on to the declaration are asked: “to commit to the sustained and deep work of becoming an anti-racist organization, actively fighting racist practices and participating in the creation of more just and equitable systems.” Champlain is committed to the following:

  • Completing a strategy review of diversity, equity, and inclusion priorities as outlined in the Champlain 2025 strategic plan in order to identify benchmarks and metrics to measure ongoing achievements as part of the College’s strategic planning process.
  • Conducting a thorough review of organizational practices by carrying out a College-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion audit that will be used to identify opportunities and inform short and long-term priorities and implementation.
  • Supporting the advancement of racial justice work in the community by expanding external relationships, and strengthening the City’s efforts in this work by partnering with such organizations as the Population Health Alliance and the Vermont Criminal Justice Training Council to collectively address issues of access and support the development of social justice and anti-racist content.

Each organization is also asked: “to commit to participate in ongoing coordination and joint action, grounded in science and data, to bring sustained focus to eliminating race-based health disparities in our region,” which we at Champlain are determined to do.

“Today’s declaration signals that going forward the major institutions of Chittenden County will apply these principles of collective action to eliminating systemic racism and its attendant stark disparities in health outcomes,” said Mayor Weinberger. “I look forward to working with the Racial Justice Alliance and many other community partners to achieve this long overdue progress, and creating a Burlington where our structures and policies support opportunity, well-being, and true health for every member of our community.”

The work of the organizations involved spans social influences of individual and public health, including opportunities and outcomes for employment, education, housing, justice, and health.

The 30-plus Burlington organizations on this declaration include: the University of Vermont Medical Center, the Howard Center, the United Way, Burlington Housing Authority, Burlington School District, Boys & Girls Club of Burlington, Burton, Cathedral Square, Champlain Housing Trust, Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC), Community Health Centers of Burlington, Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity (CVOEO), Housing Vermont, King Street Center, Lake Champlain Chamber, Let’s Grow Kids, New Alpha Missionary Baptist Church, New Seasons Vermont, Opportunities Credit Union, Sara Holbrook Community Center, Vermont Cannabis Partners, the State of Vermont, Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Housing Finance Agency (VHFA), Vermont Racial Equity Association, the YMCA, and more.

Nadia Mitchell, Equity Initiatives Director, represented Champlain at the City’s socially distanced press conference announcing the declaration.

For more information about the declaration and actions to come, read the City’s press release here.

The Burlington community came together this past Sunday, July 19 to paint a Black Lives Matter mural across Main Street, between South Winooski Avenue and St. Paul Street. Residents of the greater Burlington area—including members of the Champlain community—were invited to attend and help paint the mural.

For resources on what you can personally read, watch, listen to, and do to educate yourself on racism and anti-racist practices, click here.

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