‘How to live well, to live honestly, and to live fully into the belief that a better world is possible’
Angela Berkfeld

‘How to live well, to live honestly, and to live fully into the belief that a better world is possible’

Friends and colleagues remember the life and spirit of Angela Berkfield

PUTNEY — Abi Healey: My friendship with Angela Berkfield started with new parenting (we were both pregnant for the first time) and quickly moved into common interests and a deep connection.

When my son was born, and wasn't able to nurse effectively, she became one of his milk mamas, stocking our freezer with mason jars full of breast milk. The first summer of our kids' lives, we gardened together; when our babies were just a few months old, she proposed that our families move in together at Amazing Planet Farm in Williamsville. We did so that fall, and lived together for the next 3{1/2} years.

We shared the joys and challenges of the early years of parenting; the community we created was an antidote to the commonly felt isolation that so often goes with American parenting. We were rich with the constant presence of other loving adults to help with the chores, the drudgery, the difficulties, and to help us appreciate the ever-present joy and absurdity that goes along with parenting very young children.

When my son needed multiple surgeries and many doctors' appointments in his first couple of years, Angela was there for me, a constant support and sounding board during some difficult times. Even after moving out of that living situation, our families remained close - together, we celebrated birthdays and holidays, went on vacations together, and supported each other through regular monthly sleepovers that gave the other set of parents a break.

Angela appreciated music, the beach, dancing, hiking, saunas, blueberries, attending her sons' hockey or soccer games, and conversations - boisterous ones and, in equal measure, deep, quiet ones. She loved soaking up the sun, summer vegetables, and swimming at the confluence of the Rock and West rivers.

Angela believed passionately in a better world, and her justice work could show up equally as her cleaning someone's bathroom, challenging someone (lovingly and firmly) on white supremacy culture and how it was showing up in their interactions, talking with her kids about gun play, facilitating a workshop on equity, or challenging herself to learn.

She was intentional about creating and cultivating cross-class and cross-race friendships, and she encouraged (and taught) other people how to do the same.

She talked about money, about the having and not having of it, freely and easily; she felt that was an important way for us to break the power that class has over our interactions and relationships.

She did not shy away from intense or difficult interactions or conversations, but went into them with gusto, always excited about the possibility of meeting someone in that special in-between place where both people change, learn, and grow.

I am forever changed by her, as are so many who have expressed the same feeling recently. She was my person: the one I always invited, always went to, always shared things with. But she's also a person whose example taught me, again and again, how to live well, to live honestly, and to live fully into the belief that a better world is possible.

* * *

Melissa Alvarado Lees, UN Women regional advisor on ending violence against women: The quality of Angela's friendship was exquisite and rare. Every encounter, every call, every letter was deep and often invited personal reflections on how to become a better person. How could someone so young be so rich in wisdom?

When we met in Thailand in 2005 on the Thai-Burma border, I knew that she was special and hoped we would be friends for life. I remember watching her talk with people - in refugee camps, restaurants, her kitchen in Mae Sot - and realizing that she had a gift.

The way she stood and held her body, always firmly rooted, open, and usually laughing, signaled how at ease she was and how she had an artistry for connecting deeply. She was fearless much of the time about honesty and vulnerability, about her failings and musings, and her learning.

Making people feel their worth, and feel the glow of her love, was her gift.

* * *

Naomi Doe Moody, on behalf of the SUSU Healing Collective, Brattleboro: In the past few years, there has been a call for more and more of us to remember and accept the sacred responsibility of becoming a future ancestor.

A good ancestor.

A well ancestor.

An ancestor our kin can call on when they need guidance, strength, protection, comfort.

It takes courage to walk this path, it takes commitment, and it takes faith.

It is a rare thing to witness someone boldly embrace this calling and do the dirty work of real healing so that they can step fully into their purpose and into their true selves.

And none has done it so powerfully, so joyfully, so lovingly, as Angela.

More than a leader in our community, more than a friend or colleague, Angela was and is our kin. Our kindred.

And now she is among our well ancestors, and may she rest in peace and power.

Laughing with us, guiding us, loving us from that realm as she did in this one. Teaching us how to walk as she did, into wild places, ready for the impossible.

* * *

Dana Renault, Putney: I've known Angela since we met at our first “birth circle” gathering in a little apartment way up West Hill Road in the late summer of 2008. She was newly pregnant with Birch, her first child, and I with Malo, my second.

This circle of women, now a core of six, has only deepened over the last 13 years as we've held one another through cycles of trials, celebrations, dramas, passages - each of us stronger and more alive for the bond we've formed, for the identity and safety of belonging to one another's lives.

The last 21 months of holding Angela inside this cancer journey, in the midst of a pandemic, had us gathering regularly around backyard fire pits - even in the depths of winter, wrapped in down sleeping bags, so committed we have been to our togetherness.

I've known Angela as a ruthlessly truth-telling friend. I've felt her protect me when I was vulnerable. I've watched, in awe, as she has navigated with relentless creativity, intelligence, feeling, and courage each step of this complex journey that she has named the “gift of cancer.”

I bow to Angela's commitment to tap her inner knowing and commit to its guidance, no matter how edgy. I celebrate this precious, fully embodied existence - Angela's life feels like victory.

* * *

Shela Linton, executive director of The Root Social Justice Center, Brattleboro: It was 2013 when Angela Berkfield, Mel Motel, Alex Fischer, and I had a vision to bring something to our community and, at the same time, to bring the community in with us: a safer space for people doing social justice and aligned work. We desired to create community with the deeply shared values we held for social and racial justice in creating The Root.

This work was endless. Creating the intentional space that we friends envisioned while maintaining The Root Collective as a decision-making structure was at times more challenging than rewarding.

We were tired, and we were constantly having to learn new things and figuring out systems and structures that would allow us to be the organization that we envisioned and so needed.

Angela was an integral part of this entire process. She had been fierce in her work of social and racial justice, self-reflection, exploration, and learning. She had been committed to consistent feedback, growth, and accountability. Angela was deeply dedicated and connected to her community, this place we call Earth, and her ancestors. This work kept her in the yellow zone of uncomfortability, and she felt it in her body every day.

Angela continued to volunteer her time for the next seven years, mostly behind the scenes and sometimes out in front. Like all of us on the collective, she did everything from managing social media and helping coordinate volunteers to fundraising and creating community feedback systems to watering plants.

She also took on specific work like grant writing and engaging in hard and deep conversations with community members and donors - often the work no one else wanted to do.

For better and worse, Angela did everything that she had the time for or could figure out. She was part of the team that we can attribute the preparation and foundation set for us all at The Root to thrive. Thanks to Angela's support of me and The Root community, we are able to have this space for many years to come.

We as a collective intentionally decided to have an exit plan for our two original remaining collective members, Angela and Fischer, for The Root to become an all BIPOC (Black/Indigenous/People of Color) organization.

Angela worked hard so we would be able to step into this vision, which would mean that we would be able to move forward - without her.

She would no longer be behind the scenes helping make decisions and doing so much work. The transition was hard. It was hard for all of us, but it was a needed one!

In January of 2020, the transition was sped up by the news of Angela's stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. At our final Collective meeting with Angela, we cried, hugged, and celebrated her and all the gifts she had given to us as individuals, as an organization, and as a community. We held her as she held us for so many years.

Now it's our time to walk in this vision.

We continue to step into that vision and grow our roots. Right before Angela got sick in Michigan, The Root hired three new staff members, all Black, all identifying as women. Angela was the first person I told. She was so happy, proud, and at ease that the Root would live on and that we could be in our vision that took so many years to come to fruition.

Angela left this realm knowing that she will never be forgotten and that her work is in all of us. Her spirit watches over us, and her light shines bright.

We will forever be grateful to Angela for her gifts.

May Angela rest in power and be one with the ancestors.

In honor of Angela and on behalf of The Root Social Justice Center - and your Soul Sista Shela - we will forever love you and be thankful that she was a part of our lives.

You are our Roots, Angela! We rising up!

* * *

Kendra Colburn, Equity Solutions member: What I love best about Ang is that she was not, contrary to what her work history might indicate, a saint. She was a very human being.

Ang had a gift for sharpening and acting on collective visions - and she often got it wrong, acting out of her assumptions and bias, as we all do.

Her true genius - what I hope others will remember and emulate - was for acknowledging her mistakes with care and trying again. I so admire how Ang built up her own capacity to accept feedback with gratitude and to keep listening, learning, acting, and messing up in new ways.

She and I worked together almost daily for many years, and our time was full of conflict and laughter. I was frustrated by what I saw as her Pollyanna-ish faith in our power to change the systems that were hurting me and mine. She was frustrated by what she saw as my sharp personal critique of her approach.

It took us years to build a relationship where we could talk openly, in the moment, about the frequent hard parts of our collaborations together. Ang was committed to that time and work with me, and she returned again and again to repair our trust and express her care.

She had a long vision of a different kind of world, and she embodied that vision in every way she could, every day, with every person.

Her legacy lives on in the people she loved: all of us.

* * *

EV Valentine: Angela loved me, as I was, with no desire to change me. She helped me to rise up. She was a powerful influence in how I have become who I am today: a person who cares so deeply and so powerfully about community, one who stands for what's right, and one who believes in the power of each of us to create powerful and significant change in this world.

Angela helped me to realize that in myself, and I, in turn now help others to do the same.

That is the me that Angela brought out through her love and care and compassion. She taught me through action and presence and powerful connection. She taught me how to love and how to heal.

She truly was one of the most remarkable humans I have ever known. And I know that she influenced so many just like me. Her love was and is exponential, because it lives on in me, in each of us that she has influenced.

She brought people together in such powerful ways. She embodied community, she taught for it, she stood for it, she lived for it!

I love you, Angela Berkfield. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving us all.

* * *

Kristen Elde: In 2014, a friend of Angela's, Annique, asked her if she would be willing to do trainings for parents about how to talk with their kids about topics like racial microaggressions, gender-neutral pronouns, and Black Lives Matter - topics she was discussing on the regular in adult contexts.

Her boys, River and Birch, were 3 and 6 at the time. Although the concept of translating social justice concepts into language that would work for kids their age was daunting, she saw the value, and her friend helped her to see how her years of community work naturally fed this new focus.

Thus began Angela's journey of parenting for social justice - starting in her own home.

She had some good support from truth-telling authors like Jacqueline Woodson and Kate Schatz, whose books opened up powerful conversations with her kids, and she recognized and took more opportunities for social justice chats with her family in the day to day.

Angela felt eager to connect and share ideas with other parents. In 2016, she and dear friend and parenting book co-author Abi Healey started a blog about how they were bringing social justice into their parenting, and that same year the Putney Public Library agreed to host Parenting 4 Social Justice (P4SJ) Chats for parents and caregivers looking to share and receive this support.

Angela went on to facilitate and co-facilitate many impactful P4SJ workshops in person throughout Vermont and in Northampton, Mass., as well as online. In her words, “My work on P4SJ has always been a project of mutual teaching, learning, and collaboration.”

Through the workshops and her experience writing a pilot curriculum in 2016 for Oak Meadow, Angela learned that limited material was available to support parents in this way - which set in motion the idea for a book. In May, that book came into the world, enriched by the contributions of five talented co-authors of a diversity of identities.

Parenting 4 Social Justice: Tips, Tools, and Inspiration for Conversations & Action with Kids, published by Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, goes deep with chapters on parenting for racial justice, for economic justice, for disability justice, for gender justice, and for collective liberation.

It is the culmination of years of showing up.

It is a reflection of Angela's profound commitment to living, loving, and working toward a radical vision of justice.

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