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A celebration of Black culture is back in Burlington, Vt. this weekend for a second year.

Two people singing on stage in front of a crowd.
Rajnii Eddins
The Vermont based group A2VT performed during last summer's inaugural Black Experience Expo.

Emiliano Void was sitting in a barbershop when he overheard a conversation that really bothered him.

“I'm sitting there getting a cut, and a bunch of high school kids walk in the door,” he said. "And a ton of the common narrative is they can't wait to be 18 and graduate so they can get the hell out of this place. That's tough, man."

Void has lived in Vermont for the past six years and he’s one of the organizers for the Black Experience. This celebration of Vermont's thriving Black communities takes place Saturday, Feb. 25 in Burlington's Flynn.

He says that showing everyone, especially young kids, that they belong here was an inspiration for this celebration.

“I hope that there are folks here that get to see that kind of representation and feel themselves reflected back in the crowd,” Void said.

He built this event alongside poet Rajnii Eddins and a fleet of dedicated community members to showcase and celebrate the thriving Black communities that call Vermont home.

The inaugural Black Experience coincided with last summer’s Juneteenth celebrations.

Angela Davis was the headliner and by the end of the night, she was ready to come back to Burlington.

“I just asked her point blank, I was like, you know, this Davis, what do you think? Like, if we ran this thing back again? Would you be willing to be a part of it?” said Void. “She was like, not only would I be willing to be a part of it, but like don't go through agents don't go through that stuff. Come to me directly. Let's figure it out.”

Five black women sitting on stage having a conversation.
Rajnii Eddins
The final event on last summer's Black Experience was a Q&A featuring Angela Davis (left), Dr. Jackie Hunter, Kiah Morris, Zoraya Hightower, and Casey Ellerby.

Black Experience 2023 will be loaded with Black musicians, storytellers, poets, and communities from across the state.

The event is free to attend, and they are offering shuttles to and from locations throughout Brattleboro, Montpelier, Rutland, and Chittenden County for the day’s events.

The celebration kicks off early Saturday afternoon with free health tests, and medical resources being provided to the community in partnership with The University of Vermont Health Network. Free tests and screenings for things like diabetes and stroke — illnesses that have plagued the black community for generations.

From 5 to 9 p.m. on the Flynn's main stage, all Vermonters are invited to enjoy an evening surrounded by Black culture.

“It's called the Black Experience, in my understanding, to hold space for the brilliant multiplicity and diversity that Black people show up in the world,” Eddins said.

“It's called the black experience in my understanding to hold space for the brilliant multiplicity and diversity that black people show up in the world."
Rajnii Eddins, Organizer and Poet.

He is both an organizer and a performer in this year’s Black Experience. He said that it’s important to follow up on the strong lead set last year — and that having such a diverse array of representation of Black people sets up the next generation.

“Then the next one is like my daughter, Amina and, and brothers, children, or sisters, children, our peoples will receive that and witness that,” Eddins said. “And as a matter of course, that will put the battery in their pack. And they'll walk in that in a space where it's not leaving something to be questioned. And that's a crucial value.”

Davis will be joined by award-winning author Tricia Rose and Philadanco, The Philadelphia Dance Company as the event’s headliners.

Two men and young girl posing for a photo.
Rajnii Eddins standing in between his daughter Amina (left) and fellow organizer Emiliano Void (right).

The crowd will also get to hear from Jolivette Anderson-Douoning, an educator and poet. Jolivette carries herself with a genuine Southern vibe — greeting and saying good morning to everyone. When she performs, Jolivette transforms into what she calls “The Poet Warrior.”

“I saw a book on a shelf and asked if I could borrow it. And it was by Maulana Karenga. And as I was reading that text, it said, We must make warriors out of our poets and our writers because literature conditions the mind,” she said. "And I made up my mind after reading that, that I was going to name myself the Poet Warrior."

As a professor and mother, she both carries and teaches the history of Black Americans. Jolivette, “The Poet Warrior,” gave a little taste of what she will perform:

"Midway" by Naomi Long Madgett 1959

I've come this far to freedom and I won't turn back
I'm climbing to the highway from my old dirt track   

I'm coming and I'm going     
And I'm stretching and I'm growing

And I'll reap what I've been sowing or my skin's not black
I've prayed and slaved and waited and I've sung my song
You've bled me and you've starved me but I've still grown strong    

 You've lashed me and you've treed me     
And you've everything but freed me

But in time you'll know you need me and it won't be long.
I've seen the daylight breaking high above the bough
I've found my destination and I've made my vow;     

So whether you abhor me     
Or deride me or ignore me

Mighty mountains loom before me and I won't stop now.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Marlon Hyde was Vermont Public’s first news fellow, from 2021 to 2023.

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