Daniello "Dan" Balón, a longtime educator and advocate for improving cultural awareness and racial sensitivity in the Burlington School District, died suddenly Tuesday morning from a heart attack. Balón, 42, leaves behind his wife and two daughters.
"This was completely unexpected," said Amy Mellencamp, Burlington High School principal, who has worked with Balón for the last four years. "Over the years, I have appreciated Dan's very deep commitment and passion for the opportunities each one of us should have in life... No one could ever doubt the commitment he had for young people."
Balón, a Filipino American, worked as director of diversity, education and engagmenet for the Burlington School District. His job involved recruiting and retaining people of color to city school jobs and providing diversity and equity training.
He was never shy about calling out what he saw as institutional racism and bigotry in all its forms. In a November 11, 2009 cover story, "Minority Rule: Who will lead the next generation of Vermont’s racial justice activists?"Seven Days identified Balón as an up-and-coming leader in Vermont's social justice movement. Ironically, the story was precipitated by the deaths of two longtime Burlington civil rights adocates: John Tucker and Larry McCrory.
Seven Days wrote this about Balon:
Not long after Daniello "Dan" Balón arrived in Vermont a year ago, he gave a speech to a group of Vermonters and asked them to name the most prominent Asian American in the state. Balón cast a wide net, including government officials, company CEOs, and presidents of local colleges and universities. The crowd couldn’t come up with a single name.
That’s not surprising. When Balón sits in meetings with fellow administrators in the Burlington School District, he’s typically the only person of color at the table. A Filipino American who moved to Vermont from Washington, D.C., in November 2008 — he grew up in the Bay Area and previously worked at the University of Maryland — Balón now serves as director of diversity and equity for the state’s largest and most racially diverse school district...
Balón has also learned to choose his words carefully. Echoing a common sentiment heard among people of color in Vermont, Balón says, “I have to be very calculating and thoughtful in negotiating those spaces that are predominantly white. When I’m in that space, I know that what I say, people hear for different reasons.”
Former Seven Days writer Mike Ives, who profiled Balón in a March 4, 2009 story, "Burlington School Districy Hires New Diversity Director," described him as "a mustachioed Filipino who takes pride in pushing the diversity envelope, while respecting personal and institutional boundaries. In other words, he means business."
In a written statement issued Wednesday afternoon, Burlington Schools Superintendent Jeanne Collins remembered Balón for his efforts to ""to build a cadre of champions of diversity" who would "open the hearts and minds of each of us to the differences that exist in our community."
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger issued the following statement about Balón's death:
"I am deeply saddened to hear of the sudden and untimely death of Dan Balón and offer condolences to his wife and daughters on behalf of the City of Burlington. Dan will be missed by all those he touched through his tireless efforts to make our City an even better place. Dan’s leadership on and commitment to the issues of diversity and inclusion – through his work with the Burlington School District, the ‘We All Belong program,’ and as a Fletcher Free Library Commissioner – will have a lasting impact on our community. We honor Dan’s advocacy to create a more equitable community. We will miss Dan’s conviction, sense of humor, and the kind and calm manner with which he approached his work."
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Friday in St. Catherine of Siena Church in Shelburne. Visiting hours are scheduled for Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Ready Funeral and Cremation Service South Chapel in Burlington.