‘Milton can’

Milton Inclusion and Diversity Initiative breaks ground

MIDI founder Katrina Battle, far left, moderates a community dialogue late last month at Cornerstone Community Church in Milton. (Photo by Kaylee Sullivan)

Milton has a new advocacy group that aims to help marginalized students in the school district.

The Milton Diversity and Inclusion Initiative, or MIDI, formed this summer as a tumultuous outpour of racism accounts emerged. In response, the group has planned a number of dialogues and workshops, aiming to reassure children and parents of color that culture will improve when the new school year begins.

“This is a journey I have lived,” said MIDI founder Katrina Battle, a 2009 Milton High School alumna.

So, she’s setting out to create change.

Battle said the conversations about the school board’s decision to not hire a black man to replace outgoing athletic director Michael Jabour “busted the lid open” on discussions on race.

Once in the spotlight, students, alumni and teachers shared their accounts, too, calling for more cultural competency training throughout the entire district.

MIDI is starting this same work but in the community. Last Saturday, a group of nine gathered in the Milton Public Library for an educational race workshop with two facilitators from the Peace and Justice Center in Burlington. The workshops provide tools, such as how to talk to family members about race.

Attendees discussed white fragility and privilege, allyship and how to develop positive racial attitudes, concepts MIDI says shouldn’t be shut down when brought up in casual conversations.

Over the last few months, the group has also hosted various dialogues in the basement of Milton’s Cornerstone Community Church so attendees can gain perspective from hearing about issues local families face.

At these more contentious dialogues, some residents have said they don’t see racism in Milton. Right now, there’s no right or wrong answer; it’s just the beginning, Battle has repeatedly said.

(Courtesy of MIDI)

“Barriers are broken with perspective,” MIDI representatives said, recognizing everyone is at different awareness levels. 

MIDI also organizes student talks. Battle said a group of high-schoolers expressed interest in starting their own version of MIDI within MHS.

Although numbers usually remain below a dozen at each gathering, organizers said there’s often a new face in the crowd.

When people leave, there’s no consensus, but the point is conversation is ignited. There’s victory in knowing more and more people are making the leap, slowly removing fear of talking about racism, said MIDI leader Veronica Valz, a Milton parent.

MIDI believes staying silent isn’t being neutral but rather professes a comfort with not working toward change.

While MIDI’s focus has been advocating to school trustees, Battle and Valz attended a recent joint meeting with the selectboard to educate members on what’s going on in their community, an entity for which they’re responsible for molding a vision.

Battle said the selectboard’s response of gratitude for MIDI’s work encourages the initiative’s motto: “Milton can.”

The school board shouldn’t be the only responsible body for making change, Valz said, which is why she’s heavily involved in MIDI. Plus, she said, this isn’t Battle’s fight, it’s Milton’s.

Still, Battle is deeply determined to create a safer and more inclusive environment.

“This affects my day, every day,” Battle, a biracial woman, said.

Though she no longer lives in Milton, Battle has a stalwart love for the community. Leading this movement, though, has personal strain.

People are instantly drawn to Battle’s powerful speeches, which she connects to her background in youth ministry. Throughout the last few months, she said “the grace of God” has kept her persevering, even when things get unbearably exhausting.

Over and over, she’s shared her experiences with racism as a former student in Milton schools and as a person of color in Vermont, a state with lacking racial diversity. Per the last U.S. Census in 2010, 96.9 percent of Milton residents were white.

Often the only person of color present during MIDI meetings, people look to Battle for answers on race issues. Valz said this isn’t acceptable, showcasing a need for education.

Kids today shouldn’t have to endure the same tribulations as Battle, the MHS grad said.

The first step is recognizing Milton has a problem, and the next is actually doing something about it, she said.

Recently, many residents have expressed distrust in how superintendent Ann Bradshaw handles issues within the district. As the 2017-18 school year approaches, Battle said the community can provide faith if Bradshaw can’t. 

“We’re not gonna rest,” she said.

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