The killing of George Floyd by a Minnesota cop has sparked demonstrations across the country and in our state. Seven Days news reporters have covered the repercussions as Vermonters in Burlington, Montpelier, Rutland, Bellows Falls, Manchester and other communities have taken to the streets, calling for police reform and an end to racial injustice.
Less visible are those who are quietly taking action in their own lives.
"I'm wondering if it might be a good idea for Seven Days to do an article or perhaps publish a list of black-owned businesses in Vermont," reads an email we received from Huntington resident Cassandra Wilday, who wants to support them. "I'm ready to do way more than march, yell and hold up a sign."
A similar request came from University of Vermont Foundation employee Jamie O'Donnell: "I am reaching out with an inquiry regarding the Good To-Go Vermont digital directory," she wrote in an email, referring to Seven Days' statewide directory of takeout food and drink options. "First of all, it has been an amazing resource and thank you so much for creating it. I'm wondering if there might be an appropriate contact person at Seven Days to discuss the potential of creating another kind of digital directory related to BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) businesses?"
These are just two of numerous queries that prompted a round of questions among Seven Days staff: Is anyone else already providing this information? If not, why not? How would we gather it? Do business owners want it? Would creating this list endanger the business owners on it, making it easier for bad actors to target them? And how would we verify the ownership information provided?
We posed these questions to local anti-racist groups, organizers and business owners.
Several sources pointed to a newly created directory of BIPOC-owned businesses on Google Spreadsheets. Roxanne Vought, executive director of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, linked to it in her "Call for Racial Justice" on vbsr.org, which cites six recommended actions. "Patronize BIPOC-owned Vermont businesses" is No. 4.
That directory lists BIPOC artists, hair stylists, health care providers, educators and restaurants, among others. Before viewing the lists, visitors are encouraged to read a set of "Community Agreements & Considerations." They explain the project and encourage people to seek consent from business owners before suggesting they be added to the list.
Initially created by an organizer named Dolan — a "Latinx/white queer nonbinary person who does not own a business" — the directory first featured BIPOC-owned restaurants offering takeout during the pandemic. But it has since become a crowdsourced community endeavor, as others have suggested new categories and entries.
Reached by email, Dolan said the directory has support from the communities it represents. "BIPOC people in VT have shared this widely," said Dolan.
Peace & Justice Center executive director Rachel Siegel noted that her organization has a list of BIPOC-owned restaurants it uses for internal needs, such as special events and feeding volunteers, but doesn't have the resources to create and maintain a public list. "We would have done that if we had the bandwidth," she said.
Maggie Hazard, the hair and makeup stylist Seven Days employs for photo shoots, told us that a directory could be useful — if businesses agree to be listed. A mixed-race Vermonter, she said she wants black and brown clients to know she exists for two reasons: so that they can "have hair and skin care from someone who has similar hair and skin color" and "to create a sense of community and belonging."
Ownership is all about "a sense of community and belonging" at Seven Days. Pamela Polston and I started the company. Now the owners are myself and 16 employees, all white, a mix of Vermonters and people who have put down roots here. Like local business owners everywhere, ours are personally invested in the company and in their communities. Seven Days promotes such enterprises in every way we can, most recently with the Register, a directory of local retailers. Spending money with these businesses keeps dollars circulating in our local economy. If Vermont entrepreneurs want our directories to reveal more about them, we want to help.
Starting soon, Seven Days will invite black and indigenous business owners and people of color to identify themselves — if they choose — in our online business directories. And we'll consider adding other ownership filters, as well — for example, to identify women-owned and LGBTQ-owned enterprises.
This won't end racism and discrimination, but it may help inform consumers seeking to align their spending with their values. And hopefully it's another reminder to buy local. Every Vermont business can use the help.