A group of Island activists have put together a change.org petition for a transparent and participatory investigation into a strap incident that occurred at a Chilmark summer camp between two white boys and a Black boy.
The incident occured on July 29 at a summer camp at the Chilmark Community Center (CCC), and involved two white boys placing a tent strap around a Black boy’s neck. The boys were ages 8 and 9. A formal report was issued on August 25 by the Chilmark Town Affairs Council (CTAC), the nonprofit entity that runs the summer camp. Last week, the Chilmark select board met to discuss the report and raised questions, and the attorney for the family of the Black child released a statement that called for more reforms by the camp.
The petition, which has garnered 281 signatures in four days, was created by Saskia Vanderhoop and David Vanderhoop of Sassafras Earth Education, Freedom Cartwright of Freedom Rail Tours, Kyle Williams from A Long Talk, and Patrece Petersen of the Martha’s Vineyard Vegan Society. The petition’s goal is to get to 500 signatures.
“As BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) and Abolitionist community members living on Wampanoag land currently known as Martha’s Vineyard, we are going on record as stating that the investigation and communication with the Island community regarding the incident at the Chilmark Community Center, in which two white boys placed a tent strap around the neck of a Black boy, is being mishandled and is causing further harm to all community members, especially those in BIPOC communities,” the online petition titled “Racial Truth and Reconciliation” reads in part.
The group criticized the monthlong wait time for a response from the CTAC representatives, and that the report was unsigned. The petition also took issue with the report’s stated purpose to “answer the question whether race played a role in the incident that occurred at the center on July 29,” calling it “deeply troubling.”
“For a month, our Island community was asked to wait for the results of the investigation, during which we did not receive any updates regarding the investigation, how it was being conducted, or by whom,” the petition said in part.
The group stated that an unsigned report casts doubt on its integrity. “To question whether race played a role in the incident demonstrates a lack of knowledge and understanding of the history of the USA in regard to race and lynching, and a lack of input and guidance from members of the BIPOC community. In other words, only white privilege would pose the question of whether race played a role in an enactment of lynching,” the petiton adds.
The group states the focus is not to shame or punish the boys involved. Instead, it requests the Town Affairs Council, members of the Chilmark Community Center executive committee, and members of the Chilmark select board work with the Island’s BIPOC community and “engage a rigorous, reputable BIPOC organization to handle the investigation and the reporting of the investigation going forward, which includes community listening sessions, and a transparent accounting of the actions and decisions of all involved that led to a lynching enactment of a Black boy in your care.”
Additionally, the group requests a public commitment by the town organizations to take the lead in facilitating an Island-wide conversation about race, and to become models for Island organizations serving youth by making ongoing race awareness education mandatory for staff.
Saskia and David Vanderhoop told the Times the group plans to submit the petition to the town organizations and select board once it’s collected enough signatures.
“We’ve seen a lot of support. So far we have collected about 280 signatures over the weekend. That’s pretty amazing for a small Island like ours,” Saskia Vanderhoop told The Times. “What we’re really trying to do here on the Island is have transparency and accountability on what has happened. What is equally important is going forward to bring about immediate change. What’s important is our response to this incident, and we believe the response has been extremely inadequate.”
She added that A Long Talk nominated Martha’s Vineyard as a “community of change” and a place that leads on race-related issues.
A Long Talk is an “antiracism activation experience.” Participants complete work materials of multimedia content about the history of racism in the U.S. to provide a common foundation of understanding the issue, according to their website, before three days of virtual conference calls, each 90 minutes. The program holds the conferences once a month. The next Long Talk will be on Oct. 6, 13, and 20, from 8 to 9:30 pm. Signup will be available on its website.
“As a Wampanoag elder and indigenous person from this part of the world, I want to say that growing up here, I see where I was definitely discriminated against, was the brunt of racist comments and actions, and it’s time for a change,” David Vanderhoop said.
He added now was the time for action, and not sweeping issues under the rug. “I think we can all benefit from a conversation about that, so we don’t keep repeating our mistakes of this historical trauma that not only Native people and Black people have been growing through,” he said. “I think we need to set a good example for the next generation and how to deal with these situations.”
Cartwright and Williams could not immediately be reached for comment on their involvement in the petition. Petersen said he had nothing more to add at this time.
President of the CTAC Jeff Herman could not immediately be reached for comment.