Montpelier's Race Against Racism

May 24 2024


Race Against Racism Racism Montpelier Activism Schools Youth

Almost every year for the past decade, Montpelier-area high schoolers organize a phenomenal event that supports and fosters local student activism. According to Heather McLane, Community Based Learning Advisor at Montpelier High School, what began as the humble idea of freshman Hope Petraro and adult activist Henry Harris has evolved into an annual staple for the local community and even state-wide. The goal of Race Against Racism is to strengthen and amplify the crucial conversation surrounding racial justice in Vermont, and to strengthen the idea that change is now. It strives to provide an opportunity for the community to come together to listen to the voices of people of color in our state, in order to learn, grow, and support one another.

I had the privilege of interviewing Diya Kulkarni - the Race Against Racism’s Club Action President who currently attends Montpelier High School - in order to get her perspective on what this event symbolizes, her passion pertaining to the work, and her own experience as a BIPOC individual living in Vermont.

How long have you been involved in this work?

I've been involved in the Race Against Racism (RAR) for three years now! I started when I was a sophomore in high school and am beyond grateful to be finishing high school working alongside this amazing club and organizing this important event. 

How did you get involved in this work?

I actually found out about this event through a PE class at my high school. I hadn't been at the high school the year before and wanted to get more involved with activist work, especially as a woman of color living in Vermont. Once I found out more about the event I signed up to volunteer with the intention of having a bigger part in the organization in the next year. Junior year I was the vice president and now I am honored to be the president of the club.   

Why does this issue mean so much to you?

As a person of color living in a primarily white community, I think it is crucial to firstly give other BIPOC members in our community a platform to speak their minds, showcase their art and most importantly give them the opportunity to address Vermont from a location of power such as the statehouse lawn. 

Why do you think these problems exist?

Systemic biases, history of oppression, power imbalances. 

Do you think your work addresses the cause of the problem? If so, how?

Having youth or adult speeches and sharing their experiences is so eye-opening for the attendees of the event. These stories not only are addressing and bringing awareness to the problems of racism, but share personal experiences of what BIPOC members go through which can create opportunities for the public to learn more about these individuals, connect with them and want to do more action against the problems they are facing. The event also does a great job of connecting people whether it's attendees to attendees or workshop leaders/performers to attendees. The conversations themselves are a great way of addressing and then helping educate and fight against the problem of racism.

What are some of the challenges you face in your work?

During the fundraising for this event something new we added this year was doing bake sales at local and community grocery stores. As part of these face to face interactions attempting to promote the event while also selling baked goods is interacting with all sorts of people. We have had some people come up to us commenting that they "didn't like/didn't support the cause" or say they weren't interested in supporting an event like ours. We also had other more articulate instances that I won't mention in detail of people talking down to different members of our club which didn't make us feel great. In addition to that, I had a couple instances last year when I was hanging posters for the event in store fronts where I faced some microaggressions even if they weren't intentional. Every so often I would get asked "Do you speak Indian" or "I know this Indian person who works for __, do you know them?" or comments about my culture as if they knew more than I did. Small instances like those sometimes made me upset but really reminded me of the point of hosting an event like this where we are raising awareness to racism in our community and some of the experiences that people of color had in our community and hosting workshops to promote action. 

What organizations or individuals do you interact with in the school or community?

We usually write grants to get funding so we communicate with places like the VT Humanities Council and your organization(!) Montpelier Alive along with others!

We also get donations: blue cross blue shield and other community businesses. 

We had a raffle at last year's event and plan to this year as well so local businesses will donate gift cards or small items: Coop, Positive Pie, Delish, AroMed, Onion River Sports, Splash, Capitol Grounds, etc. 

We also talk to many clubs and people in our school and other school districts: Montpelier High School (MHS) BIPOC space, MHS RJA, and similar clubs at other schools. We've also worked closely with Kimberly Pierce from the Kindness project and Shanda Williams

What are the sources of your funding to do this work?

We don't get any money from our school or anywhere else so the funding that makes this event possible is through the grants that we write and donations that we write and donations we receive (talked about above)

Do you consider yourself an activist? Why or why not?

I do consider myself an activist. I think that everyone has a different definition of an 'activist' and while I may not be at the frontlines of rallies or leading protests, I certainly do take part in them. I stand up for what I believe to be right and if I am supporting something, I make sure to research both sides and form my own opinions as well as collaborating with other interested individuals. Participating in events that are for a strong cause or standing up for something is what I consider to be activism, someone partaking in those events would be an activist. 

What is the importance of youth activism in Montpelier?

In recent news, Vermont has now surpassed Maine as the whitest state in the country. That is a big deal and definitely makes me, a person part of the BIPOC community, feel a lot smaller in the overall population of the state. Seeing as Montpeleir is the state capitol, I can't think of a better place to have events such as the RAR to help encourage youth voices who speak for the next generations in how we are going to help the BIPOC community feel less alone. In general, youth activism is so important to set an example to set up our future. It is in our youth as well as the generations alive today, where we will hopefully see change being set to motion to help our future become more accepting and inclusive towards BIPOC members and other marginalized communities. 

What are ways that young people can take effective action for change in the community?

In Montpelier - becoming involved in legislative action is fairly straightforward so joining committees such as the school board or different commissions that exist downtown are ways I would love to see people getting more involved with activist work. Youth can do all sorts of things and contacting legislators, doing walkouts and or attending rallies are great ways to get involved and feel like you're taking a stance and making a change. Small steps are also so crucial and can be as small as just keeping an open mind and having open conversations, being vulnerable with your peers.

What role do you think students can play in the type of work your organization does?

The whole event is student led! While our Club Action is made up of students from mainly Montpelier, the organizing group is open to students statewide! 

How would you like to see Race Against Racism evolve in the future?

I would love to see the crowd grow each year. This year we added some workshops held by different activists in our community hoping to educate people and propose action steps that the public can take today. While this is a new concept, I hope to see more direct action being made by the event other than donating to beneficiaries. 

This year’s Race Against Racism event will be taking place: 

Saturday, May 25th on the Vermont State House Lawn.



  • Race Registration: 11:30

  • Rally + Performances: 12:00pm

  • 5k Run/Walk: 1:30pm

  • Workshops (new this year!): 2:00 – 2:30pm

  • Closing Ceremony and Raffle 2:30 – 3:00pm


Hope to see you there!


By: Sheena Khan, Montpelier Alive Marketing & Communications Manager

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