By NEIL ZAWICKI
The student activist group Milton for Social Justice on Monday won the right to fly the Black Lives Matter flag from the pole at the high school.
The victory was the culmination of a two-year effort by the group, during which they had to organize their message, repeatedly state their case to the school board, explain the struggle for equity at a school that is mostly white, as well as the realities of institutional racism in society, and tolerate less-than-polite opposing remarks from some in the community through social media. Still, the group had community support, and the board, after establishing official procedures that would let the students fly the flag, voted unanimously to allow it.
“You did it!” shouted Milton resident Katrina Battle after the vote, while embracing her friend Molly Gary, the unofficial student leader of the effort. The two friends continued their hug while the crowd — a little more than 20 people — applauded the decision.
“I’m really proud of all of you,” said board member Emily Hecker on the vote. “I’m really proud to live in Milton and be on this board, thank you.”
Before voting to allow the flag to fly, the board on Aug. 12 adopted flagpole procedures that gave it the right to remove any particular flag at their discretion. Further, the board required the student group not only provide a rationale for flying the flag, but give a timeframe for how long the flag would stay up.
The timeframe the group gave was, “Until the end of institutional racism.”
Board member Rick Dooley said before the vote that he likes the idea of “until institutionalized racism is ended” as a time frame.
“I would like to see that in the next year, or two,” he added, while reminding the room that “the board could potentially take the flag down, depending on what else is happening.”
“With that in mind, I would like to see the flag flying forever, and I think you guys are aware of that,” he added.
Dooley also told the students that nothing bad has ever come from trying to shine a light in the darkness.
“So thank you for shining your light,” he said.
While the vote was cause for celebration, Gary and other community members
acknowledged getting the flag up is just the beginning of a process and a dialogue that will address the problem. In fact, Dooley pointed to a collection of online comments in reaction to recent articles on the students’ efforts, with remarks ranging from “all lives matter,” to “this flag only promotes division,” to the argument that “we all start with the same chances in life.” Such remarks, said community member Quinn Doner, underscore the need for racial tolerance and equity in Milton.
“The fact is that they hate,” Doner said of the people who write such comments online.
Doner also said they’re proud of the students and “pleasantly surprised” with the board for allowing the flag.
“They may lose some votes because of this,” Doner said.
Amanda Spector is another concerned citizen. She said she thinks of what the students had to go through to achieve their goal, and how hard it must have been for them.
“It is clear to us that racism, in both interpersonal and systemic forms, is alive and well in our community,” said Spector in a prepared statement to the board prior to the vote.
The group hopes to raise the BLM flag next Wednesday, Sept. 4, at the end of the first day of school.