When Cherie Buckner-Webb was 5 or 6 years old, someone burned a cross in the front yard of her Boise home.

Buckner-Webb and her family had every reason to leave the neighborhood, or even Idaho, after that. Instead, her mother turned an act of bigotry into a powerful teachable moment.

"My father would've liked to taken it and hidden it away," Buckner-Webb says, "and my mom was saying 'Put it on the front porch. We've been living here a year in this neighborhood, and they are late.'"


Boise in the spring. Photo by iStock.

Buckner-Webb is a black face in a white space. And like her mother before her, she's not going anywhere.

She is a fifth-generation black Idahoan, and her family has deep roots in the state. One of her great-grandfathers even founded and built the first black church in the Boise area. Her parents were active in the community, with the NAACP chapter and other local initiatives.

But numbers don't lie: less than 1% of Idaho residents — about 13,250 people — identify as black or African-American, and Buckner-Webb recalls a childhood tinted with the hypervisibility that comes with being the only black face in the group.

"I was very well-behaved and probably because there was a small number of us," she says. "I tell the same thing to my children, 'Nobody will notice anybody that you're with, but they'll notice the one black kid in the group.'"

Image via iStock.

Buckner-Webb credits her mother for telling her the honest truth about the "the way things were."

"It was really important to her that her children had an awareness and understanding of what it is to be black and walk in the world." Buckner-Webb says. "I realized quickly that our way of being was different and unique to the kids I went to school with."

She made connections and built a lot of her community at church.

"It seemed like almost everybody black in Idaho, whether it was for the National Guard or whatever, we all met up [in church]," she says. "It had a lot to do with religion, but it had a lot to do with a place you saw people who look like you, a gathering place."

Image by iStock.

Across the country, Curtiss Reed is working on building community and gathering places for all Vermonters, but especially people of color.

Reed was living in St. Louis but working on a consulting project in Washington, D.C., when a friend invited him up to Vermont for a ski weekend in 1978.

"I found it picture postcard perfect," he says. "And six months later, I moved — relocated to Vermont."

Reed lived and worked in the Green Mountain State for five years, then spent nearly two decades traveling and working abroad. He lived and worked in France, Tunisia, Burundi, and more. But when it was time to return to the states in 2001, there was only one place Reed wanted to be: Vermont.

Vermont in the fall. Photo by iStock.

"When I was overseas, I voted absentee ballot, got the newspapers three or four weeks after the fact, paid my taxes, etc. This has always been home," he says.

But much like in Idaho, Vermont's black population is staggeringly small. There are approximately 8,100 black people (1.3% of the population) in the entire state. That's about .84 of a black person per square mile. To put it in perspective, there are approximately 52 black people per square mile in Florida. States like Vermont are blinding whiteness, and black people in these regions are truly few and far between.

Today, Reed lives in Brattleboro and is executive director of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity.

"We are the organization people turn to when they want to address issues of equity in the public sphere," he says. Recruiting employees and visitors of color is more than a "nice-to-have." For Vermont, it's now or never.

The state's low birth rate and large percentage of people over 65 (17.6%) means Vermont is in desperate need of more people. Not just skilled workers to replenish the work force, but visitors to keep the state's thriving outdoor tourism industry afloat.

"Vermont's future is inextricably tied to it's ability for the state to be an attractive destination for folks of color," Reed says.

It's a snowy day in Burlington, Vermont. Photo by Jordan Silverman/Getty Images.

To build community and foster new relationships, both Buckner-Webb and Reed have tapped into local black history.

Buckner-Webb is on the board of the Idaho Black History Museum. Housed in the church founded by her great-grandfather, the building was lifted off its foundation and moved to a local park. Since 1995, guests have enjoyed exhibits, guest lectures, musical performances, and community programs.

"It's possibly the first black history museum in the Pacific Northwest," she says.

Reed partnered with the Department of Tourism to develop the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail. The route takes visitors of all ages to 20 different museums and cultural and historic sites throughout the state. The governor of Vermont even named February 2017 Vermont African-American Heritage Trail Month. After all, "Black history is Vermont history," Reed says.

A marker outside the Old Constitution House, one of many historic sites on the Vermont African-American Heritage Trail. Photo by Doug Kerr/Flickr.

For Buckner-Webb and Reed, their love for their state is more than hometown pride — it's a calling.

In 2010, after being asked off and on for more than 25 years, Buckner-Webb decided to run for state office. She didn't know if she'd have the patience to make it happen, but a friend ultimately convinced her.

"[She told me] you have some work to do. One woman can make a difference," Buckner-Webb recalls.

She filed the next day.

Buckner-Webb was elected to the Idaho House of Representatives that year and to the State Senate in 2012, 2014, and 2016. A Democrat in a conservative stronghold, she is used to standing up to adversity. And she's had decades of practice.

The Idaho Capitol. Photo by iStock.

"I'm a super-minority in a super-minority party in Idaho, so I have a lot of experience that way," she says.

Buckner-Webb is the first and only black person to be elected to the state legislature in Idaho, and she currently serves as assistant minority leader. While Buckner-Webb is used to sticking out, she'd rather have some company in the state house.

"One of my legacies I hope to leave is that there will be many more after me — or right now would be fine. With me, with me," she says with a laugh.

Meanwhile, Reed travels almost every day across Vermont, reaching out to employers, community leaders, and more about the importance of recruiting, hiring, and building community for people of color.

From signal boosting resources and personal stories and planning an annual conference for leaders of color and executive and legislative leadership, to talking with police departments and local municipalities about implicit bias, Reed's work is never done.

"We spend a considerable amount of time building community by example," he says.

Being a black face in a white space is a universally specific experience that's neither all good nor bad.

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, a college town less than three hours from Chicago and 78% white. Since college, I've lived in Tennessee, Florida, Missouri, and now Portland, Oregon. In every stop, save for my brief stint in Jacksonville, Florida, I felt out of place as a black woman. I was both hypervisible and invisible simultaneously. I'd go from being followed around a department store to being brushed off and ignored by waitstaff at dinner.

Image by iStock.

That notion of hypervisibility and invisibility are themes I noticed in both Buckner-Webb's and Reed's experiences. But like them, I also have a sense of pride and passion for the place I grew up. Madison is, for better or worse, my hometown.

For black Americans, home is not limited to certain zip codes, cities, states, or regions of the country. Though black people in majority white spaces face the additional challenge of lacking critical mass, our lived experiences aren't any less valid or "black" than anyone else's. (Did you hear that, Donald Trump?)

In fact, both Reed and Buckner-Webb said their smaller communities have their own advantages.

"My husband is from Atlanta, Georgia, and I think the opportunities to succeed might be a little bit easier [here]," Buckner-Webb says. "Probably because there's not a critical mass here to scare people. People are not comfortable with people that don't look like them, you know what I mean? It is a relatively welcoming place. There are opportunities to make your way here."

Boise in the fall. Photo by iStock.

For Reed, Vermont's small towns foster community and collaboration in a way other regions simply can't.

"We have 251 towns in the state. They're small. On a day like today — it looks like we have about two feet of snow — you need your neighbor to help shovel, or plow, or move your car out of a ditch. I think in that case, the weather, geography, living in smaller communities really focuses people on what it means to be neighborly."

Horses dine in Putney, Vermont. Photo by iStock.

Black people helped lay the foundation for this country, and today, we are everywhere.

Whether home is Boise, Brattleboro, Portland, Chicago, or Atlanta, black people are building communities, fostering relationships, and making a difference from coast to coast. Whether invisible or hypervisible, we are here. And we will continue to live, love, and contribute to our communities for generations to come.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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It can be hard to find hope in hard times, but we have examples of humanity all around us.

I almost didn't create this post this week.

As the U.S. reels from yet another horrendous school massacre, barely on the heels of the Buffalo grocery store shooting and the Laguna Woods church shooting reminding us that gun violence follows us everywhere in this country, I find myself in a familiar state of anger and grief and frustration. One time would be too much. Every time, it's too much. And yet it keeps happening over and over and over again.

I've written article after article about gun violence. I've engaged in every debate under the sun. I've joined advocacy groups, written to lawmakers, donated to organizations trying to stop the carnage, and here we are again. Round and round we go.

It's hard not to lose hope. It would be easy to let the fuming rage consume every bit of joy and calm and light that we so desperately want and need. But we have to find a balance.

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