This project has been sponsored by Holmes Hole Builders and South Mountain Company.
After the death of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, the United States erupted — in grief, in outrage, and in powerful calls for racial justice. Millions of Americans organized in their communities to protest centuries of institutionalized and systemic racism, and sparked a national dialogue about how race drastically shapes a person’s experience in this country.
The movement quickly spread to the Island, where we saw numerous marches, protests, and vigils throughout the summer. Hundreds of Vineyarders marched from Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs on Juneteenth; community leaders hosted biweekly salons for honest conversations about the realities of race in America; and Beetlebung Corner was, and continues to be, the home of a daily demonstration that honors a different victim of police brutality each morning.
Many Islanders met the local Black Lives Matter movement with support and solidarity. Others were confused. Why were demonstrations for racial justice necessary on the Island? Why did we need to talk about racism?
For the most part, Martha’s Vineyard is a liberal Island with a notably progressive history and a strong Black community. For some Islanders, these elements have created the perception that racism is not an issue here — or, at the very least, it is not an issue pervasive enough to warrant meaningful conversation.
Black Lives Matter has encouraged white Americans to reexamine systems they assumed to be just, beliefs they thought were unbiased, and communities they considered to be free of prejudice. Martha’s Vineyard should be no different. With that in mind, we set out to confront the notion that our community was not burdened by prejudice, bias, and systemic racism.
This collection of oral testimonies from Islanders of color grew out of our desire to hear about their experiences with racism. While you may find some patterns and similarities, there is no singular experience for people of color on the Island. Gender, class, complexion, and many other axes of identity create an important intersection with race that cannot be ignored.
To everyone who contributed their stories, we thank you. We hope Voices on Racism will continue the honest, uncomfortable, and incredibly moving conversations we have had since May 25. We know there are many more voices out there. If you’d like to share your story, please email us at email@example.com. Thank you for your support.
When Kyra Steck, an intern who attends Northwestern University, first covered the Beetlebung Corner kneel-ins, she came back to us and said that while there were great quotes for her news story, she was regretting having to leave so much out. We encouraged her to keep collecting individual stories. As her collection grew, we decided we needed a separate section to share these stories with the Island. When we first brought this project to publishers Peter and Barbara Oberfest, in the middle of a pandemic, in a year riddled with revenue challenges, they immediately gave it their full support.
We can’t stress enough how much work Kyra Steck did to produce this section — she interviewed 14 people and produced 153 pages of transcribed interviews culled from dozens of hours. She took portraits of subjects and was involved in every step of the production process.
She was helped by other interns — Isabel Gitten, David Steiner, Shelbe Regan, Erin Hill; and reporters Lucas Thors and Brian Dowd.
We also want to thank art director Kristoffer Rabasca, who designed the entire publication, with some help from Dave Plath and Nicole Jackson.
We couldn’t do these sorts of single-topic special publications without the generous support of our major sponsors — South Mountain Company, and Holmes Hole Builders, along with those who supported individual essays: John Abrams and Kim Angell, David Rintels and Victoria Riskin, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the M.V. Museum, Island Housing Trust, Island Grown Initiative. Your support enables us to continue to share the important voices of Islanders.
-George Brennan and Jamie Kageleiry