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Breaking down racism in Saranac Lake

To the editor:

I am writing to speak out against acts of racism in this community. Amid a global pandemic (disproportionately impacting communities of color), police killings of Black people in this nation, Frannie Newman’s graduation speech, racist graffiti in Saranac Lake and now the departure of Nicky Hylton-Patterson from our town, it is so painfully clear that we need to confront and break down systemic racism. Nicky’s work as the director of the Adirondack Diversity Initiative is a crucial contribution to this community. Her moving out of our community because she feels unsafe is grievous. It is unacceptable that anybody should feel unsafe in this town because of the color of their skin (or any other reason).

One bright spot this week was seeing the new banners proclaiming that “Racism is a public health crisis.” Although the banners are true and it’s nice to see them, it’s not enough. I am crying out to this community to do more than banners and protests. How can we be allies and accomplices for Black and brown people in the North Country instead of driving them out of town? Let’s all try!

If you are white and haven’t watched “Anti-racism 101,” parts 1 and 2, presented in collaboration with the Adirondack North Country Association and ADI, I urge you to. They can be found on ADI’s YouTube channel. It’s a good example of the important work Nicky is doing and something that we all need to hear and consider deeply and thoughtfully. These are life-changing conversations.

I push back a bit at village Trustee Rich Shapiro’s contention that a statement against the racist graffiti in town was not called for, and that the “action” of the new banners and the erased graffiti spoke sufficiently to address the issue. The drafting and release of a formal statement or proclamation by village government and civic leadership IS an action, and one that would send an important message to people living under a constant sense of oppression and surveillance that many of us who are white cannot understand or appreciate. We need banners, we need letters, we need leadership, and we need coordinated, consistent and sustained change. You represent us.

To quote the words of Ijeoma Oluo, author of “So You Want to Talk About Race”: “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.”

Thank you,

Kim Holmlund

Saranac Lake

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