Social change often firms up around a table, over cups of coffee, believes Ebony Nyoni, who on Saturday opened a new Black Lives Matter community center, safe space, fair-trade emporium and cafe in Winooski, Vermont.
Until a month and a half ago, Nyoni operated a beauty supply and hair braiding service here on Main Street.
“Then I realized, hearing the stories of many, many Chittenden County residents of color, that there was definitely a need for a place they could come to, and to tell their stories in a more purposeful way,” she said.
Creating a convergence at the new Shop 4 Change center on Main Street “is here to make the lives of people of color in Vermont more tolerable,” Nyoni added.
An hour before the 5 p.m. grand opening, volunteers were hurrying to stock the wares, arrange hors d’oeuvre and crank up a fresh batch of Fair Trade coffee.
Upstairs, at the office of the Somali Bantu Community Association of Vermont, Mohamed Abdi, the organization’s director, was helping Yussuf Olow fill out some forms.
Abdi said he would be down to join in the festivities when he was less busy.
At 10 minutes before the hour, Jabari Jones, power driver in hand, attached and hoisted the colorful “open” flag at Shop 4 Change.
The shelves were stacked with t-shirts, hats and purses, as well as an array of sweet and savory. Tables and walls were decked with donated art, all of it for sale; all of which would help fund organizing and outreach, Jones said.
Jamil McMillan, a sophomore at Winooski High School, was the first visitor. Ten minutes later, he was pressed into service as the event photographer.
McMillan had just moved to the Onion City two months ago from St. Louis, Missouri _ another city marked by great ethnic diversity _ and had noticed activity in the shopfront on the way to school.
“They need help; I’m going to help them,” he said.
Feb. 12 was designated “Black Lives Matter Day” by former Gov. Peter Shumlin in 2015. Nyoni promptly began organizing a Vermont chapter — a task that is a whisker away from becoming official, she said.
Meanwhile, she intends to stay busy.
The group plans to assemble Sunday at 3 p.m. here at its Winooski center for an “Education March” through local neighborhoods, ending back at the center for refreshments and a meet-and-greet.
Black Lives Matter Vermont adheres to the national chapters creed of non-violent expression, Nyoni said.
The state group has about 500 volunteers and supporters, some of whom rallied last month in Burlington to demonstrate against racism in policing and in schools.
Expressions of support for Black Lives Matter grew during the final weeks of the presidential election. In October, students at South Burlington High School demonstrated against racism — including the racism implicit in the school’s long-held “Rebel” mascot.
The South Burlington School Board voted unanimously on Feb. 1 to drop the Rebel name.