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Nature Center Celebrates Juneteenth, Dedicates BIPOC Affinity Space

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Man dancing on grass in front of tent
Samuel Marquaye of the Shidaa Projects dances during the Juneteenth celebration and dedication of a newly rebuilt yurt for the use of BIPOC people at the North Branch Nature Center on June 19.
Photos by John Lazenby; see photo gallery at end of story.

More than 60 people attended a Juneteenth celebration at North Branch Nature Center on Wednesday, June 19,  celebrating with drumming and dancing by Shidaa Projects and a dedication ceremony for “Dot’s Place,” a yurt donated to NBNC by Montpelier resident Dr. Opeyemi Parham. During the ceremony Dr. Parham shared photographs and stories from her family’s history; these are now on display in the yurt for public viewing.

When Dr. Parham received an inheritance from her aunt seven years ago, she wanted to use it to create something special — a place for BIPOC individuals to gather in a natural setting here in central Vermont, where Dr. Parham has lived for six years. 

Dr. Opeyemi Parham reads from the Book Sing A Song during the Juneteenth observances June 19 at the North Branch Nature Center. Photo by John Lazenby
Dr. Parham’s aunt, Dorothy Louise Parham (“Dot”), grew up in Union Point, Georgia, in the 1920s. “Being descendants of enslaved Africans, life in Georgia tilling land they owned carried the risk of death at the hands of white Klansmen,” said Dr. Parham, “so the Parham family joined the Great Migration and moved to the North.” 

Dot Parham dreamed of becoming a farmer, and it was her plan to return to that land in Georgia and farm it, but societal expectations and a full scholarship to Howard University steered her onto a different path. A post-graduation job as a switchboard operator for the Bell telephone system led to Dot becoming AT&T’s first Black manager. A marriage to a “self-made man” then followed, and eventually a move to Los Angeles. 

“When Dot died, having had no children, she gave ten loved ones access to intergenerational wealth,” said Parham. “I used my share to purchase a yurt, which I named ‘Dot’s Place.’ BIPOC Americans have often been excluded from leisure time in nature and from programs that educate us about our relationship to the natural world, so after a career in medicine, I wanted to create a place to help people gather and access a different type of healing, in nature.” 

Interior of the yurt, Dot’s Place, at the North Branch Nature Center. Photo by John Lazenby.
For the past three years “Dot’s Place” was located in Plainfield at the Onion River Campground, but the flooding of July 2023 along the Winooski River caused extensive damage and permanently changed the site’s topography, leaving no room for the yurt. “Luckily, the yurt floated, and was carried downstream a hundred yards before being gently deposited in a newly created wetland,” explained Parham. 

It was clear that the yurt needed a safe new location. Shanda Williams, a BIPOC activist and community advocate in central Vermont, introduced Parham to the leadership team at North Branch Nature Center (NBNC), where Williams has for several years led programs for the BIPOC community. After several conversations and visits, Dr. Parham donated the yurt to NBNC earlier this year, and she plans to continue to offer BIPOC gatherings in the yurt in its new location. 

Fode Daffe laughs while playing the drums with members of the Shidaa Project African drummers at the Juneteenth celebration and yurt opening at North Branch Nature Center on June 19. Photo by John Lazenby.
Seiffert is the deputy director of the North Branch Nature Center.

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