Black Lives Matter Safe Space Opens in Winooski

By MARC ARNOLD

Shop 4 Change opened on Feb. 11 as a Black Lives Matter safe space in Winooski, Vt. Here, the coffee is organic and Fair Trade and, judging by the turnout on the grand opening, delicious. But there is more than meets the eye at this sweet spot. 

“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,” recounts owner Ebony Nyoni to The Burlington Free Press.

The opening of Shop 4 Change is no doubt a step in the right direction for the growing black population in the county. 

Speaking in regards to the shop, Assistant Professor of American Studies Jessyka Finley commented, “This is necessary and important work.” Finley is currently teaching a Black Lives Matter course at the College.

According to Vermont’s recently released 2010 census data, Vermont’s population overall grew to 625,741, which is a 2.8 percent growth rate. Non-white Hispanics, Blacks and Vermonters belonging to two or more minority groups each added more than 3,000 people to Vermont’s population. Asians added about 2,700. Yet, like other states in the U.S., Vermont is not free from reported incidences of discrimination against African-Americans. 

The percentage of black people imprisoned in Vermont is nearly 10 times greater than the percentage of black Vermonters free in the streets. Black Vermonters make up just 1.2 percent of the state’s general population, but 10.7 percent of its incarcerated population. 

In 2015, white nationalist fliers were left outside the homes of two Burlington women. More recently, in September 2016, a Black Lives Matter banner was stolen from a flagpole on the University of Vermont campus. 

Consequently, the new Shop 4 Change center on Main Street “is here to make the lives of people of color in Vermont more tolerable,” Nyoni told The Burlington Free Press.

In 2015, Gov. Peter Shumlin designated Feb. 12 as Black Lives Matter Day. The Vermont chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement is fast on its way to becoming official. Until then, spaces like Shop 4 Change are necessary for building a stronger Vermont community. 

Nyoni and the team of volunteers who run the shop are making a difference in a small way. Besides fair-trade coffee, the shop also sells pastries, Black Lives Matter apparel and donated artwork, all of which are for sale.  

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