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Root Social Justice Center celebrates its first year

To donate, write The Root Social Justice Center, Ground Floor, 28 Williams St., Brattleboro, VT 05301. To contact the center or to sign up as a sustainable donor, call 802-254-3400 or write therootsjc@gmail.com.

BRATTLEBORO—Music sung by the brave karaoke few filled The Root Social Justice Center, a home away from home for many local nonprofits.

The Root celebrated its first birthday last Saturday with awards, cake, karaoke, dancing, and fundraising.

A work collective by day and a community events space by night, The Root houses four businesses while providing community meeting spaces, available by donation.

Four friends — Angela Berkfield, Alex Fischer, Shela Linton, and Mel Motel — launched the center last year to provide a physically and financially accessible space that connects people working for social justice.

During a brief awards ceremony, representatives from organizations that have used the center over the past year discussed The Root’s critical role for their organizations.

Finding an affordable, pleasant space that’s also accessible for those with mobility issues is not always easy, agreed representatives from Brattleboro Time Trade, Green Mountain Cross Roads, and The Hive Mutual Support Network.

Along with cake and songs, members of The Root Collective announced their sustainable giving program.

According to Fischer, the first $1,300 raised will help keep space rental a donation-supported program and provide items such as new furniture and community office supplies.

The next $1,000 raised will go toward hiring American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for community events.

Fischer said a lesson learned this past year was how greatly in demand a community space is in Brattleboro.

Early on, communicating The Root’s dual purpose — and boundaries — of work space and event space proved a challenge, she said. She added that the community has caught on.

Recently, a group suggested a topic for The Root’s quarterly social justice forum. Fischer said that receiving that suggestion and making a new connection is exciting.

The Root “is not about us,” said Fischer, who added that the center and its purpose in the community is bigger than the four daytime businesses it houses.

“Community is everything,” said Shela Linton. “We’re all bounded by collective liberation. We can be the community we want to be.”

When asked whether The Root had surprised her, or grown into something she hadn’t imagined in its first year, Linton reflected.

“No,” she said. Linton explained that her vision for the center was — and is — so big that everything is possible for The Root.

“Thank you to the community,” she said. “Come visit us.”

A critical lesson learned for Berkfield came through an agenda item.

According to Berkfield, the members of the collective start their joint meetings with a 30-minute to one-hour check-in, when members discuss what is happening in their lives, what is happening at The Root and in their businesses, and they set priorities.

Berkfield said the group has recognized that this time of building connections is central to its work “and changing a social system that consistently dehumanizes people.”

The center’s model works well, said Berkfield, who taught a summer high school course on building social movements.

One day she brought her class to The Root. It inspired some of her students to create a similar space in their home communities.

Working with the high school students inspired the members of the collective to start a youth leadership program.

“We all say that this is one of the best things that has happened to us,” Berkfield said of The Root.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #271 (Wednesday, September 10, 2014). This story appeared on page A4.

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