COLCHESTER, Vermont –
The Vermont Joint Diversity Executive Council held its third-annual cultural diversity and inclusion luncheon at the Green Mountain Armory Feb. 21.
The event’s organizer, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Selena Correa, highlighted how times are changing within the Vermont National Guard in terms of diversity.
“Historically, the Vermont National Guard is predominantly white. This is changing in tandem with the changing landscape of Vermont as diverse communities migrate here. We need to continue observances that the JDEC provides in order to become culturally aware, so that we can understand that our community is changing. Providing these informative events helps foster our understanding and acceptance of diversity and inclusion, which makes our fighting force more aptly prepared to accomplish the mission,” Correa said.
The day’s luncheon offered a wide variety of soul food prepared by gracious volunteers, performances from community artists, and a group art project for all to share.
The primary purpose of this event was to exhibit ongoing cultural barriers and the confines of racial implicit association issues in today’s society. The guests shared a means to combat such issues by way of their chosen medium of art, demonstrated public events offered by local community organizations, all which seem to focus on inclusion throughout Vermont’s communities.
“Observances are held in order to foster a climate of inclusiveness and unit cohesion throughout the organization. Involving the local community helps both civilians and soldiers understand that we are all in support of the fight for change, while at the same time, providing soldiers with multiple perspectives so that they are better informed to operate within the civilian population,” noted Correa.
The first guest, a Seattle native, poet and spoken word emcee, Rajinii Eddins, took to the podium. Eddins captivated the audience with the first of several poems titled, Middle Passage, in honor of his heritage.
“And now, sometimes I see our children are below deck; crammed into small cramped space, but the wooden planks are blocks, and stoops, and streets. But our heartbeat hope tells me we don’t have to live that metaphor,” Eddin said. “No one can ever take away our before, they sunk so that we soar, they hung, so that we soar; they sunk and sung the tears into their lungs so that we soar, this is not a metaphor. This is not a metaphor! This ain’t no metaphor- middle passage!”
Eddins shared three more poems: Blackness, Advice for Police, and For Travon. Each poem encountered continued social issues such as white supremacy, race posturing, and the hate-fueled murder of domestic terrorism.
The event’s second guest was Julio Desmont, a Hatian artist and immigrant who shared his perspective in a sequence titled, Hurtful, Helpful and Hopeful. The first expressed painful experiences he has personally encountered; the second offers a means of engagement to welcome diversity; the last uses art to encourage interactions to inspire hope.
“I can see that kids are now happier. I have the hope that whenever I go to the school, the hope that I have is the kids will be the hope of tomorrow. I can see that Vermont is the best place for that. I really see the dream of Martin Luther King happening in Vermont,” said Desmont, describing his interactions with Vermont school kids and the sense of community fostered in the Green Mountain State.
Speaking on behalf of Guard-hosted events such as these, U.S. Army Cpt. Scott Detweiler, S1 commander’s principal staff officer for personnel support noted, “I really enjoy learning about the uniqueness represented throughout our organization, and yet, every individual here has chosen to work towards a common mission: to protect and defend our nation. Observances like Black History Month allow us to take a moment to appreciate some aspects of the diversity represented in the Vermont National Guard. Our nation’s first militias were not as diverse, however, through movements such as civil rights and women’s suffrage, we now benefit from so many people of various backgrounds all working together towards a common goal. It is absolutely necessary that we recognized those groups and movements so we may increase our unit cohesion and continue to capitalize on our diversity which increases readiness and sets us apart from more homogenous adversaries,” said Detweiler.
“National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are community members themselves, events such as Black History Month, serve as an opportunity to bridge any military and civilian gaps. To share with the community in recognizing how far we have come as a culture pays tribute to the tireless work of social activists and finds a common footing from which we can work to create more inclusive communities,” said Detweiler, noting the value of the collaboration amongst the Guard and local communities.
Concluding the JDEC’s event, Desmont brought with him paint brushes, paints and a large blank mural where the audience joined him and Eddins in a collaborative painting as it related to his Hurtful, Helpful and Hopeful speech.
Both Desmont and Eddins are artists from the Clemmons Family Farm which is an African American owned and operated non-profit, located in Charlotte, Vt. To learn more about the artists in attendance or the Clemmons Family Farm, visit their website: www.clemmonsfamilyfarm.org