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Divided by Diversity


Letter: People heard, but no one stood up
The Manchester Journal
Posted Tuesday, May 23, 2017 11:03 am
To the Editor:

The recent string of conversation in the Journal — Bob Stannard's May 5 column and Mark Tashjian's follow up May 12 column along with former Coach Shehadi's letter — all addressed events that had transpired at a BBA boys' basketball game more than five years ago and in doing so (along with Duane Carleton's documentary "Divided by Diversity" that started the whole conversation) solved a long-standing mystery in my world.

You see, five years ago, and then occasionally in the years since, I have overheard hushed conversations around me about some unnamed and undescribed, and apparently indescribable, incidents that happened at BBA and other local basketball games when the Mount St. Joseph team, with five African-American starters, came to play. Maybe it was just a question of timing, but when I did overhear such conversations, I never once heard anything more about these instances other than "Oh, it was bad," or "So horrible."

Although I have yet to see the documentary myself (but will soon), one of the more significant issues about this incident is obvious, and although raised by somewhat by Mr. Stannard, needs to be laid out more specifically. BBA Headmaster Tashjian and Coach Shehadi say they did not hear the inappropriate remarks that were apparently directed at the opposing team's players, the black players originally from New York City. But some people heard. Some people heard, or there wouldn't be documentary video of such incidents. Some people heard, or there wouldn't have been hushed witness accounts uttered near me on more than one occasion conveying the horror of just how bad it was.

And yet no one did anything about it. No witnesses came forward to address what had happened in public at this basketball game. No one addressed a complaint to a school official about this objectionable behavior. As Mr. Stannard indicated in his column, no one "stood up."

Recently at Fenway Park in Boston, there was at least one instance of verbal, racial harassment of a black outfielder from the Baltimore Orioles by one or more fans. Racist taunts still happen at professional sporting events as well as at the high school level. Because of one or several "bad actors," the whole Red Sox organization and the City of Boston issued heartfelt apologies to the player who had been attacked and the Boston fans gave him a standing ovation the next night by way of apology and support.

All it takes is a tiny minority of racists to taint the whole world around them. It is up to all of us who witness any such incidents to, if not comfortable directly confronting the abusive people in question, bring the behavior to the attention of the proper authorities; in the case of the 2012 BBA game, obviously, the school administrators.

I am the founder of a subcommittee of the MoveOn Manchester organization known as the Northshire Diversity Alliance. We are local residents whose goal is to educate and elevate the community in any way we can as regards issues of diversity. We are always strongest as a community, as a region, as a state and a nation when we recognize the benefits of our common humanity and respect each other's differences. For more information, please write or visit MoveOnManchester on Facebook.

Jonathan Fine

Letter: BBA has long history of inclusion
Posted Tuesday, May 16, 2017 1:51 pm
The Manchester Journal
by Dave Shehadi
Editor's note: The author coached boys' varsity basketball at BBA from 2010-11 thru 2015-16.

I would like to comment to Bob Stannard's article titled "Stand up, or wish you had," concerning the movie about the MSJ basketball players by Duane Carlton. Sad stuff, indeed. I actually had the opportunity to sit down with Duane around the time the film was released and gave him my perspective on what had transpired. I believe that folks should be made aware that Burr and Burton, and our community, has a long history of diversity and inclusion. Many will remember The Ormsby Hill program from the 1970s and 80s and beyond, in which many outstanding young men from urban areas were able to attend Burr and Burton and enjoy all of the benefits that the school and this community provides. Our community embraced these young men with open arms. Many of us still have and enjoy long lasting relationships with the guys from that era.If Mr. Stannard were to ask coach Benatatos about his feelings towards the Burr and Burton basketball program, perhaps he have written his article a little bit differently, but maybe not. When our teams played against the MSJ team that the movie is about, there was a strong and mutual respect from both programs, from the players right on down to the coaching staff. Anyone who watched those games would have recognized that. Those young men who played for MSJ were better behaved than almost any other team we played. That is a testament to their individual character, and the coaching and mentoring they received. As a program, we never brought up the issue of VPA rules or recruitment. That is a different conversation and a broader issue among high schools throughout the nation. Our teams just played and competed hard. In fact, when coach Benatatos left MSJ amidst the chaos that ensued there, we wrote him a letter of recommendation for his application at Mill River.It is very sad and true that there is racial tension, and if it proves true that students from our school were chanting racial slurs, then shame on them. I was coaching the game in question, and I do not recall hearing anything at all, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen. I will say that rest assured that if I witnessed it, or any of our staff , or the athletic directors or teachers and many others, there would have been a quick stop to that nonsense.In a larger frame none of this surprises me. Men have been butchering each other since the beginning of time, and sadly a lot worse then what these young men experienced here in Vermont. India, Syria, China Africa, Turkey, Germany, etc — it just goes on and on. We need hearts to change!I too am an alumni and played on those Burr and Burton teams in the 1970s, and some of our players had to put up with the same nonsense these kids from MSJ has had to deal with, In particular when we were on the road. It wasn't pretty at times.I feel it is important, and it is my hope, that people will recognize a little history about our community, our school, and it's approach to athletics, before they rush to judgement.Dave ShehadiDorsetEditor's note: The author coached boys' varsity basketball at BBA from 2010-11 thru 2015-16.

An Apology, and a Teachable Moment for BBA
Posted Wednesday, May 10, 2017 8:45 pm
The Manchester Journal
By Mark Tashjian
In Bob Stannard's recent column, "Stand Up — Or Wish You Had" [Manchester Journal, May 5], he makes outstanding points about the importance of standing up to racism and intolerance in response to viewing a new locally produced documentary, "Divided By Diversity."
All too often, people stand by and watch rather than intervene. I was dismayed to see Burr and Burton Academy mentioned in this column. Mr. Stannard specifically cited video footage, which I had never seen before, of BBA students chanting racist remarks toward Mount St. Joseph's basketball team. In 2012, all five of their starting players were African-American.
At the time of this contest, I received one complaint from a spectator objecting to BBA students chanting, "USA!" — a chant our students had been doing all year long.
Today, I sat down with the filmmaker, Duane Carleton, to watch and discuss this documentary. Mr. Carleton identifies many instances of overtly racist behaviors endured by the young men of MSJ, including a chant of "KFC" at Burr and Burton Academy.
There is no defending these actions, which are inexcusable anywhere and an insult to the values of this school and, overwhelmingly, this community. Any student chanting such vitriol should have been ejected and held accountable for this disgraceful behavior. Instead, they graduated and moved on.
That year, I wrote a letter to the MSJ principal congratulating the school on their victory. They won the state championship, and they did so with pride and dignity. Now, I wish I had included an apology.
In no way do the students' actions represent the values of BBA, and I agree with Mr. Stannard: All too often, people stand by. We live in a state where I still see the Confederate flag on vehicles and hanging from houses. South Burlington's noble effort to abandon its mascot, The Rebels, has been met with anger by some, including threats of mayhem. As Mr. Stannard reminds us, we are a state with a proud and long history of rejecting racism and oppression in favor of freedom and tolerance.
I accept nothing less from the students at BBA.
Duane Carleton has done a great service in making "Divided by Diversity," and we will show it to the entire student body. We will take this as a teachable moment with the hope that this sort of behavior is never repeated by BBA students, nor any other students throughout the state.
But it probably will be repeated in some way, and when it is, I hope other students, parents, teachers and community leaders stand up and shut it down before it becomes an issue. I wish this had happened in 2012, and I apologize on behalf of Burr and Burton Academy.

Mark Tashjian is headmaster of Burr and Burton Academy in Manchester.

Stand Up or Wish You Had
The Manchester Journal
by Bob Stannard
Manchester VT
Posted May 4, 2017

According to the US Census Bureau in 2010 Vermont’s African American population more than doubled from the previous census.  That sounds alarming until you realize that the number grew from roughly 3,000 to 6,277.  Blacks still comprise only 1% of our population.  Interestingly, we have 50% more Hispanics in Vermont; 9,208.  Vermonters need not worry.  We still retain the crown for being the whitest state in the nation.
Article II in Vermont’s constitution abolishes slavery.  That article was written in 1777; long before the Civil War.  Vermont sent 10% of its total population (men, of course) to fight in the Civil War.  Many Vermonters, including my ancestor, Gen. George Stannard, played pivotal roles to ensure victory.  150 years ago Vermonters firmly believed that people of color should not be enslaved and be able to live life in peace; just like everyone else.
What a difference 150 years make.  My friend and fellow musician and now film maker, Duane Carleton, has recently released his second documentary: “Divided by Diversity”.  About five years ago, Mr. Carleton released “Overtaken by Darkness”; a film about the murder of Sarah Hunter.  His efforts prompted authorities to revisit this 30 year old case and identify the alleged murder (who was exonerated do to mishandling of evidence).  His first film was very powerful, but was definitely a Vermont film.
His new movie is incredible on many levels.  The story is about a Rutland Catholic high school; Mt. St. Joseph, and the school’s desire to increase its enrollment.  At one time 600 kids attended this school. By 2010 the school was down to roughly 70 kids.  They had to do something.  They hired a coach for only $2,200 and instructed him to build up the basketball program in hopes that this would have a positive impact on enrollment.  The coach responded by doing exactly what was asked of him.
The coach was contacted by a man who had a very successful youth basketball program in the Bronx.  They agreed to bring a handful of kids from the Bronx to Rutland; not just to play ball, but to get a good education.   These five young, black men came from a 5000 person housing project (that’s about as many people who live in Manchester).  They were exposed to 100 murders and 4,000 robberies/assaults in a 3-year period.  Let that sink in.
The kids came to Rutland and did what was asked of them.  They worked hard both academically and on the basketball court.  MSJ went from being the worst team to winning the Division II championship.
The joy of victory was shattered by the level of hate directed at these black kids.  Racial comments and theatrics were visible at nearly every game; including a game at my alma mater, Burr & Burton.  Watching white kids chant slurs from the audience made my stomach turn.
The movie is bigger than MSJ, basketball and race.  The movie is more about what happens to our society when xenophobic takes over.  It’s more about white privilege and entitlement.  Furthermore, it’s more about what happens when good people sit back in silence and don’t speak up when witnessing an injustice.

 Ironically, Rutland’s mayor was recently defeated partially because he stood up against our new wave of hatred.  He advocated for bringing in 100 Syrian refugees into Rutland.  After watching this film it’s clear that the mayor was doomed from the start.
When did we transition from being a state that sent its boys to fight and die so that blacks could be free and live in peace?  When did we transition from being a state of tolerance to a state of intolerance?  What do we need to do to get back to where we once were?
A good place to start would be to watch this film with some friends and start a dialog about what you see.  We have to do something, right?

Film on Vermont racism to show locally
Posted Monday, February 20, 2017 9:09 pm
By Kevin O'Connor, Special to the Brattleboro Reformer

Duane Carleton had just finished making his first movie — a documentary about the 1986 murder of Manchester golf pro Sarah Hunter titled "Overtaken by Darkness" — when a friend suggested another southern Vermont headline as fodder for a second.
In 2010, five black teenagers aiming to flee the crime-ridden Bronx transferred to Rutland's Mount St. Joseph Academy, a private, parochial high school in need of students. The boys, joining the struggling basketball team, soon helped their classmates turn the previous year's 2-18 record into a 16-7 season.
Win-win? Not for the New Yorkers, who found themselves the target of racial taunts and rumors in the stands and on social media.
"Nobody had any facts," Carleton would learn. "All I heard was speculation and hearsay and conjecture."
By the time the school principal and coach resigned after facing similar abuse, the filmmaker was splicing together 3 years of interviews and information into a new documentary.
"Divided by Diversity" premiered last August at a sold-out screening in Manchester, recently showed at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and is set to run locally on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Brattleboro's SIT Graduate Institute, with the free presentation to be followed by a question and answer period.
The movie may tell a Rutland story, but it "reveals many of the modern elements that are contributing to racial tension nationwide," its maker says — especially at a time when the country is divided over efforts to host Syrian refugees.
"The arguments against the five students and the refugees are the same: 'You're not from here, you don't belong here, you're taking away something from someone here,'" Carleton says.
The Bronx boys had cause to flee New York: Their 5,000-person housing project reported almost 100 murders and 4,000 robberies and assaults between 2009 and 2012.
"A lot of violence," one of the students confirms on camera.
"And drugs," adds a second.
"I was walking to school and I saw a dead body," says a third.
They go on a full five minutes recalling the deaths of brothers, sisters, cousins and best friends.
Enter MSJ. Back in 1882 when Rutland momentarily surpassed Burlington as Vermont's most populous city, the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph established their namesake academy, which housed as many as 600 students in the 1960s. As Rutland dropped from the state's second-largest community to third in 2000 and fifth in 2010, however, the school saw enrollment dip to 70.

MSJ teachers welcomed the New Yorkers. But when the teenagers started playing on the basketball team, some parents called for outside enrollment limits to protect opportunities for "local" students.
"My question would be why?" Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals' Association, says in the film. "If you're a private school, why would you want to reduce the number of potential students?"
Others asked the same question when a white transfer student from Georgia joined the team to cheers while his black peers drew racial epithets, their coach received death threats and a local host mother faced anonymous and unsubstantiated charges of inappropriate sexual conduct.
By the time fans of opposing teams were chanting "KFC" and cheering in gorilla and banana costumes, the New York Times was telling the nation, "In Vermont, Bronx Players Help Team, but Stir Outcry."
The team went on to win the 2012 Division II state championship. But the taunts and threats continued, spurring the coach and principal to resign and the black players to leave the state upon graduation.
The one silver lining: All five have gone on to college, the closing credits report.
"I don't think anyone truly understands what these young men went through, the type of lives that they came from," Johnson says in the film. "An environment where violence was a daily occurrence."
Carleton hopes his documentary will shed light on the situation.
"The issues aren't just happening in Rutland or Vermont," he says. "I think the film serves as a microcosm of the nativism — 'first look out for the locals' — going on everywhere right now. When you have people going to games yelling racial slurs at teenagers, we as a society have to ask, 'How do we resolve this?'"

Rutland film on racism has yet to receive local showing
VT Digger
Jan. 16, 2017, 7:33 pm by Kevin O'Connor

Duane Carleton had just finished making his first movie — a documentary about the 1986 murder of Manchester golf pro Sarah Hunter titled “Overtaken by Darkness” — when a friend suggested another southern Vermont headline as fodder for a second.

In 2010, five black teenagers aiming to flee the crime-ridden Bronx transferred to Mount St. Joseph Academy, a private, parochial Rutland high school in need of students. The boys, joining the struggling basketball team, soon helped their classmates turn the previous year’s 2-18 record into a 16-7 season.
Win-win? Not for the New Yorkers, who found themselves the target of racial taunts and rumors in the stands and on social media.
“Nobody had any facts,” Carleton would learn. “All I heard was speculation and hearsay and conjecture.”
By the time the school principal and coach resigned after facing similar abuse, the filmmaker was splicing together 3 and a half years of interviews and information into a new documentary.

The DVD cover of the new documentary “Divided by Diversity” pictures one of several Bronx students who attended Rutland’s private, parochial Mount St. Joseph Academy.
“Divided by Diversity” premiered last August at a sold-out screening in Manchester, just showed at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and is set to run Jan. 26 at St. Michael’s College in Colchester. But although the movie tells a Rutland story and “reveals many of the modern elements that are contributing to racial tension nationwide,” its maker has yet to find a hometown location willing to screen it.
“It’s a bit of a sticky wicket,” says one of several arts organizers reluctant to speak publicly about the lack of a local booking in the month of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Some worry the film is too heavy on talking heads and silent graphics. Others fear it could implicate or inflame many for the actions of a few. And all add the community is divided enough by national news-making plans to welcome 100 Syrian refugees this month.
Carleton, a local musician, says the last concern is all the more reason for people to see the film.
“The arguments against the five students and the refugees are the same: ‘You’re not from here, you don’t belong here, you’re taking away something from someone here.’”
The Bronx boys had cause to flee New York: Their 5,000-person housing project reported almost 100 murders and 4,000 robberies and assaults between 2009 and 2012.
“A lot of violence,” one of the students confirms on camera.
“And drugs,” adds a second.
“I was walking to school and I saw a dead body,” says a third.
They go on a full five minutes recalling the deaths of brothers, sisters, cousins and best friends.
Enter MSJ. Back in 1882 when Rutland momentarily surpassed Burlington as Vermont’s most populous city, the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph established their namesake academy, which housed as many as 600 students in the 1960s. As Rutland dropped from the state’s second-largest community to third in 2000 and fifth in 2010, however, the school saw enrollment dip to 70.
MSJ teachers welcomed the New Yorkers. But when the teenagers started playing on the basketball team, some parents called for outside enrollment limits to protect opportunities for “local” students.
“My question would be why?” Bob Johnson, associate executive director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, says in the film. “If you’re a private school, why would you want to reduce the number of potential students?”
Others asked the same question when a white transfer student from Georgia joined the team to cheers while his black peers drew racial epithets, their coach received death threats and a local host mother faced anonymous and unsubstantiated charges of inappropriate sexual conduct.
By the time fans of opposing teams were chanting “KFC” and cheering in gorilla and banana costumes, the New York Times was telling the nation, “In Vermont, Bronx Players Help Team, but Stir Outcry.”
The team went on to win the 2012 Division II state championship. But the taunts and threats continued, spurring the coach and principal to resign and the black players to leave the state upon graduation.
The one silver lining: All five have gone on to college, the closing credits report.
“I don’t think anyone truly understands what these young men went through, the type of lives that they came from,” Johnson says in the film. “An environment where violence was a daily occurrence.”
Carleton hopes his documentary will shed light on the situation.
“The issues aren’t just happening in Rutland or Vermont,” he says. “I think the film serves as a microcosm of the nativism — ‘first look out for the locals’ — going on everywhere right now.”
Carleton has screened his film in the nearby town of West Rutland, has been approached about showings in Brattleboro and Woodstock, and is selling DVDs on his website Although he’s not giving up on a city presentation, he isn’t pinning his hopes on one, either.
“There are definitely people who have expressed frustration that it hasn’t been shown in Rutland, but to me it’s much more important it get out to the rest of the world,” he says. “When you have people going to games yelling racial slurs at teenagers, we as a society have to ask, ‘How do we resolve this?’”

December 07, 2016
Seven Days
Super 'Second' Mom: Rutland Woman Hosts New York City Teens
By Kymelya Sari
Within the next few weeks, Rutland expects to receive its first Syrian refugees. The reaction to their imminent arrival has been mixed: Hundreds have volunteered to help them, while others say the newcomers will receive funding and attention that would be better spent on Rutland's own needy residents.
Cam Whittemore has seen a similar story play out in the Marble City before. The 57-year-old played a central role in a drama involving five young men from the Bronx, N.Y. They moved to Rutland in 2010 and 2011, fleeing violence in their urban neighborhoods.
Whittemore, a white Roman Catholic from New England, played surrogate mom to four of the teenagers, who are black. Through a program called Wiz Kids, they had enrolled at Mount St. Joseph Academy to play basketball. In two seasons, they turned the struggling parochial school's squad from a three-win team to a Division II state champion.
That didn't mean the imported talent was accepted. Local players and parents complained about losing playing time to "outsiders." Rival fans at home and away games chanted racist epithets from the stands. Anonymous accusations cast aspersions on the teens and Whittemore, who found herself under attack in a city she had called home for more than three decades.
Six years later, Whittemore still has skin in the game. She's host mother to another New York City youth — her eighth — who is now a senior at Rutland High School. And she's pitched in as a volunteer with Rutland Welcomes, helping with a clothes drive for the city's soon-to-arrive Syrians. Along with a couple dozen other community members, Whittemore is taking free Arabic classes at the Unitarian Universalist Church so she can learn key phrases to greet her new neighbors in their native tongue.
Whittemore knows firsthand how hard it can be starting anew in Rutland.
"You don't judge people by looking at them," she said. "Everybody has a story."
All in the Families
Whittemore's modest Charles Street home in downtown Rutland holds plenty of knickknacks. Black-and-white photos of her parents and grandparents and a small portrait of Pope John Paul II adorn chests of drawers. Artwork created by her now-grown biological children dots the walls of the family and dining rooms.
In the living room, sitting atop an unused pellet stove, is a large trophy from a recent basketball tournament. It belongs to Tyrell Tyrece Johnson, Whittemore's current charge. A bowl in the kitchen is filled with photos of Johnson in his football gear.
The 18-year-old has lived with Whittemore since 2014.
"She never gets mad," said Johnson of the woman he considers his "second mom."
Whittemore said it's a trait she inherited from her father, a postal worker: "He was very easygoing, never rushed to anger."
Growing up in the tiny Windsor County town of Perkinsville, she was one of seven kids, five of whom were boys. Sports played a central role in the household. Her father and brothers played baseball, and she played softball.
In 1978, Whittemore moved to Rutland to attend the College of St. Joseph — a Catholic liberal arts school down the street from MSJ. There wasn't much to do during the winter, so she volunteered to keep the clock and scoreboard for the basketball teams.
After graduating, Whittemore met and married Bob Gilligan. The couple had three children before divorcing in 1993. Whittemore became a mail carrier, like her father, raised the kids and sent them to MSJ for high school. Her two youngest played basketball, and Whittemore, by then a parent representative to the school board, kept score during games — just like she had in college.
Whittemore remained on the school board even after her children had graduated. In 2009, she helped to convince Mark Benetatos, an old friend from college, to apply for the open basketball coach position. MSJ was facing declining enrollment, and the basketball team was in "dire" straits, Benetatos said.
The first year he coached, the Mounties lost 17 of 20 games.
In the fall of 2009, a friend of a friend connected Benetatos with coach Clarence "Mugsy" Leggett, the brains behind the New York-based recreational Wiz Kids basketball program, which acts as a pipeline to get young athletes out of the inner city. Both agreed they had mutual interest in bringing a group of kids north.
"My father was born in the southern Bronx," said Benetatos. "I knew from him that's a pretty rough area."
The coach also wanted to rejuvenate his basketball team. "I was hired to build a program," said the New Jersey native. "I didn't care where [the players] came from."
Whittemore said that some of the boys are second-generation Americans whose parents were born in Honduras, Trinidad or Jamaica. Most have had close family members killed, she noted.
The Bronx teens were excited to get out of urban housing projects, including the Edenwald Houses, an area that saw 78 homicides between 2009 and 2012. Rob Cassell, who attended MSJ for two years and stayed with a different host family, described the Wiz Kids program as "a platform" that allowed him to get out of New York City and exposed him to different experiences.
"It wasn't really about basketball. It was about education," said Leggett. "I want them to see a different environment, not just the killings and shootings in New York City."
MSJ recruits families to host out-of-state and international students, who come from countries including China, Germany, Haiti and South Korea. Candidate families have to complete an application form and submit to interviews and home inspections.
When Whittemore volunteered to host one of the boys from the Bronx, she said none of that happened. She was supposed to receive a combined monthly stipend of $600 from Jaskin Melendez's family and the school for providing him room and board. Alumni and donors would pay 90 percent of his tuition bill, while his family had to fork out the rest, which came to about $500 a year.
But Whittemore soon had to adjust her plans when three other host families backed out.
The empty nester agreed to take three more young men. She had started dating Benetatos, and the couple got engaged during the spring of 2010. The coach offered to put the teens and Whittemore up for free in his parents' old home in Rutland Town. Tricia Beehler, a mother of two young children, agreed to host Cassell.
Benetatos said some in town accused Whittemore of making a profit off her arrangement. "Bullshit — it was costing her money," he said, adding that growing teens eat. "And they eat a lot." Whittemore also bought the kids sneakers and other sports equipment, Benetatos noted, even when some of the families stopped sending her stipend money.
Although she was initially anxious about taking in four teens, Whittemore said they proved more mature than her own children. The boys did chores and their own laundry. "My kids [took] clothes out of the dryer and [went] to school," she recalled. "But those guys got up early and ironed their clothes."
When four of the players arrived in Rutland in the fall of 2010, "everything was good," Cassell said. But as time went on, the new players felt resentment building among their Vermont peers. Less than two months into the school year, a student assaulted one of the Bronx teens, Jahnathan Mitchell, at a park. A couple of months later, John Dewey — who was the last to arrive in January 2011 — was involved in a verbal spat with another player. The local teen's mom complained to school officials. Benetatos punished Dewey by relegating him to the junior varsity team for the rest of the season, a decision the coach said he later regretted. The other student went unpunished.
As the team chalked up win after win, the disgruntled parents complained that their sons had lost playing time. The Bronx teens were viewed as usurpers who took the local kids' places — though not all of the newcomers were starters.
In January 2011, a parent sent an email to Benetatos: "We feel very strongly that we need to take care of the local roots and not overlook the fact that we need local kids to keep the school open," it read. Another Wiz Kid from the Bronx, who had been accepted to attend MSJ that fall, was turned away just weeks before school resumed.
During games, the boys, said they were subjected to racial taunts from rival supporters, such as "We don't know why you niggers are here," "Who let you in here?" and "This is a white man's place."
At least one "Get the Bronx out of Rutland" sign showed up in a car window in town. There was more nastiness on Facebook. Cassell said Mitchell got harassed in the hallways at school.
The teens knew that one wrong move could get them kicked off the team or sent back to New York.
"We just had to take it," said Cassell.
Home Away
At home, Whittemore provided a sanctuary for the boys. "It was like a regular family," she said. She dropped them off at school on her way to work, picked them up, made sure they carbo-loaded before games, and ferried them to practice and to medical appointments.
"I put myself in their mom's situation," said Whittemore. "If I had to send my kid away so he would be safer, I would want someone to take him in and be nice to him and treat him as their own."
Whittemore noticed that, unlike her own children, who had lots of friends, the Bronx teens kept mostly to themselves. But the boys shared stories over meals. "Dinnertime was the most fun. That was my favorite," Whittemore said, noting that they loved her meatloaf, shepherd's pie, and spaghetti and meatballs. One of the players was a Rasta, so she made sure his food never touched pork products.
But the harmonious home life took a dark turn in the fall of 2011. That's when an MSJ alumnus sent the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington an anonymous letter comparing Whittemore to Jerry Sandusky, the former Penn State football coach who was convicted of sexually abusing children. The MSJ principal ordered her to submit to a criminal background check. She was fingerprinted at the police station. No criminal history turned up.
The school principal inspected the house where Whittemore and the boys lived and, finding nothing amiss, allowed her to continue as a host.
The Rutland Police Department said it had no record of a criminal investigation into Whittemore. The Diocese confirmed that Whittemore adhered to a "policy for all adults working with youth."
"There was no claim of any kind of abuse," a diocese spokeswoman said by email.
The current MSJ principal did not respond to requests for an interview.
Back in New York, Leggett was astounded by the accusation. "That was very crazy for me," he fumed. "They wanted to get rid of the boys."
Whittemore said she was embarrassed by the investigation. "I didn't want to talk to the boys about it and have them worried," she said. "My mother was very upset. She wrote a letter to the bishop but never heard anything back."
The episode also disturbed Whittemore's younger daughter, Lacie Gilligan, now 26. "It was heartbreaking," said the nursing student at Castleton University. "That was the last thing we expected my mom to go through."
Gilligan said her mother never wavered or retaliated. "She just dealt with it," she noted. "That was the message for us, for her kids. You can't let [the negativity] stop you from doing good."
A Championship Marred
During the 2011-12 basketball season, the Bronx boys spurred their new school to a 22-2 record that culminated in a Division II state championship. In April 2012, the state legislature passed a resolution congratulating the team.
But that high was quickly followed by lows for Benetatos, Whittemore and the Wiz Kids themselves.
The phenomenal run, and the racism endured by the players, prompted local filmmaker Duane Carleton to create a documentary, Divided by Diversity, about the team.
"I made the film to tell the actual fact-based truth about what happened, in order to fight racism here in Vermont," said Carleton.
Released in August, the documentary recounts how the school community disregarded the team's accomplishment. No championship banquet was held. The team members received their letter jackets unceremoniously outside the school. The school didn't raise a banner in the gym rafters until later in the year, after most of the players had graduated.
Benetatos resigned in May 2012 and contends he was forced out. Dewey, the player relegated to the junior varsity team, transferred to a Catholic school in the Bronx.
And MSJ, according to Whittemore, told her she couldn't host the last remaining player — Mitchell — because she's a single mother. The teen lived with another host family for his senior year.
Benetatos went on to coach at Mill River Union High School in North Clarendon for the 2013-14 season. Whittemore became the legal guardian of and hosted two more Bronx boys — junior Omari Brown and senior Jonathan Brioso — who played for Benetatos.
In the summer of 2014, a group of Mill River parents complained to the principal about Benetatos after learning that two more Wiz Kids had enrolled. His coaching contract wasn't renewed.
By then, Brioso had graduated and Whittemore decided to take Brown out of Mill River. That fall, he and the two newly arrived New York teens, Johnson and Saquan Goland, transferred to Rutland High School and lived with Whittemore.
After Brown and Goland graduated in 2015, Whittemore and Johnson moved back into her smaller house in Rutland. Around that time, she and Benetatos broke off their engagement.
Although Whittemore said she doesn't play favorites, it's clear she and Johnson have a close relationship. He's the only one of her eight "adopted" boys who has lived at her own house, and Whittemore has gotten to know his family. When Johnson visited New York for Thanksgiving, Whittemore sent mac and cheese along for his sister.
Brown, the teen who spent a year each at Mill River and Rutland, said his "second mom" always made sure he had a cake for his birthday.
"She lighted candles for me," he said. "She showed 100 percent love."
During his time in Vermont, Brown focused on getting an education. And that was the advice he passed on to Johnson: "Go to class. Get your work done. Come for practice. Be ready. Work hard."
Johnson said he's taken those words of wisdom to heart. Though he misses his family, he believes it's important for him to remain in the Green Mountain State.
"You get more opportunities doing something here than down in the city," said Johnson. "You'd also be more safe here."
It wasn't always easy for Whittemore's younger daughter to share her mother. But a couple of years ago, she saw some of the Christmas cards the boys sent.
"It hit home for me," said Lacie, "how thankful they were for her."
If Johnson graduates and attends college, as he expects to, all eight of Whittemore's charges will have gone on to postsecondary schooling. One, Shannon Murray, played basketball as an undergrad and is now going for his master's degree in clinical counseling at New England College in Henniker, N.H. Cassell and Melendez played there as well. Dewey is emerging as a star guard at Sam Houston State University, an NCAA Division I school in Texas. Goland plays center for Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, N.Y. Brioso stayed in Rutland and plays basketball at the College of St. Joseph. Mitchell moved back to the Bronx to play basketball at Hostos Community College.
Whittemore helped Brown apply for federal student financial aid. Now he's a freshman playing basketball at Alamance Community College in North Carolina.
When his mother, Lisa Brown, visited him in Rutland, she was surprised to see how he had matured. She could never get him take out the garbage at home, she said. Although she initially didn't want to let her son leave New York City, she was glad she did.
"[It was] the best thing in my life I did," said the 53-year-old home health aide. "In the city, you could get involved in the wrong crowd."
Once Johnson finishes school, Whittemore is calling it quits with hosting basketball players. She wants to spend more time with her year-old baby granddaughter in Middlebury.
"She's done enough," Brown said of her son's surrogate mother. "I told her, 'You've got enough kids to come back and give you all the hugs in the world.'"
Besides, there are plenty of other volunteer opportunities in Rutland. Whittemore understands the value of a safe community and wants to pitch in to help her new Syrian neighbors. "And they are coming from a worse situation than my boys did," she said.
Her friend Benetatos feels the same.
"The five young men who were here, they are citizens. Look at what those poor souls went through," he said. "How [is Rutland] going to accept 100 people from a different country?"

The original print version of this article was headlined "Super Second Mom"

Letter to the Editor
Rutland Herald

Shining light on diversity
October 27,2016
Tonight my wife and I got to see Duane Carleton’s new film “Divided By Diversity.” We learned of its showing in the Rutland Herald’s piece from a couple of days ago. The article spoke of how the local venues had chosen not to show the film; however, I would like to let the Rutland public know that this film needs to be shown in the city limits for two reasons.

First, to be witness to the events depicted in the film that occurred recently in this small community. What the film did is shine the light on a pervasive and continuing racial and bullying problem affecting our youth and the school administrators that are entrusted to teach and guide. The film further emphasizes the parental entitlement, fostered out of fear, that we hear is affecting our coaches and the games that we love to watch and have our kids participate in.

Second, there was a discussion following the film with a small panel of the actual subjects of the documentary that was powerful and informative. This film makes the needed discussions possible.

Thank you, Duane, for your hard work creating this powerful tool to help Rutland and other areas grow from the students and adults of Mount St. Joseph’s experience.


VT Press Pass
An online news website with a focus on Rutland County.
Rutland City, Rutland County
Local filmmaker has trouble finding venue to screen MSJ documentary

Date: October 17, 2016
Author: Patricia Minichiello

Controversy over a new documentary has prompted a local filmmaker to move the screening of his latest film outside of Rutland City to West Rutland.
Filmmaker Duane Carleton, also known as a local musician, said he had trouble finding a venue in Rutland City to screen his second film, “Divided by Diversity.”
The film focuses on five black basketball players from New York City who came to Vermont in  2010 to attend Mount St. Joseph Academy and to play for the Mounties.
“When I went to talk to Bruce (Bouchard) at the Paramount … it reached the point in the conversation where I knew I would be forcing him to make a decision,” Carleton said. “And so I’m the one who said this is a bad idea to have it at the Paramount.”
Carleton said it was not Bouchard, executive director of the Paramount Theatre, who might have had an issue with the film, but others connected to the theater.
Bouchard did not return a call for comment Monday.
“It was my decision not to screen it there,” Carleton said.
Carleton also approached leaders at Grace Congregational Church about hosting a screening, but said there were too many contingencies with that venue.
He said church leaders wanted to screen the film with leaders of the MSJ community before approving of the event and that did not sit well with him.
The Rev. John Weatherhogg of Grace Congregational Church said he felt it was important to screen the movie because they were sensitive to the local issue. 
“We wanted to support our faith community. We felt it was important for our leaders to screen the movie.”
Weatherhogg said he was saddened that they didn’t get to host a dialogue about racism in the community, but he said, “we did not want to risk the dialogue becoming what happened in this one particular school.”
“I think this is a nationwide issue, it’s not just an MSJ issue. When those boys played basketball they played at all different schools and experienced this kind of discrimination. That’s not just about MSJ it’s about all of us,” he said.
In the end, although Carleton would have liked to find a venue in the city, he said he found one in West Rutland. The screening will take place at 7 p.m. Saturday at the West Rutland Town Hall Theater.
The film focuses the story of Robert Cassell, John Dewey, Jahnathan Mitchell, Jaskin Melendez and Shannon Murray — five students from the Bronx, N.Y., who spent two years at the Catholic high school in Rutland playing the sport they love, but feeling shunned by the local community.
“What happened was these five kids (was that) people felt they didn’t belong here,” Carleton said. “Kind of like what’s going on with the Syrian refugees.”
A New York Times article a few years back on the players reported: “Parents are livid about their presence on the team, saying it deprives local players of court time and is an underhanded tactic by Mount St. Joseph to improve its team.”
Carleton said he found this to be true.
“The pressure from parents to reduce the number of kids, get rid of the kids, it became a daily barrage.”
In the film, Mark Benetatos, head basketball coach at MSJ at the time, said he received disturbing emails from parents.
“We feel very strongly that we need to take care of the local roots and not overlook the fact that we need local kids to keep the school open,” an unidentified MSJ player’s mother wrote to Benetatos.
During games, the film explores the many ways that the players were harassed both on and off the court. 
“You heard it every game, ‘You don’t belong here, go play with your own kind,’” recalled Brandon Sowers, the MSJ Boys Junior Varsity Basketball Coach in the film.
There’s also a point in the film where you can hear the crowd chanting during a game, “KFC.”
“At one school … we would hear, we don’t know why you (n-words) are here. This is a white man’s place. We heard a lot of stuff at games,” said Mitchell, one of the players.
“You learn about it in school, read about it,” said another player, Cassell. “But when you really experience it, it’s eye-opening.”
Carleton said he spent three years making the film because, as he put it, “I don’t like racism.”
At the film screening Saturday, members of the NAACP will be in attendance, along with some of the players and others in the film to answer questions after the screening.

Rutland-area filmmaker explores SMALL-TOWN RACISM (RUTLAND HERALD MAGAZINE 09/01/16)

It’s easy to go about our lives in Vermont blissfully unconcerned with racism. In a state as homogeneous as ours, we’re good at distancing ourselves from that reality. We see racism on the national news or on social media, but it’s not something we frequently encounter firsthand. When incidents of racism do occur, they are typically downplayed, brushed off or addressed in a vacuum. Indeed, honest, meaningful conversations about racism in Vermont are a rarity.
Filmmaker Duane Carleton hopes to start such a conversation with his new documentary, “Divided by Diversity,” which premiered Wednesday at the Village Picture Shows Cinema in Manchester Center. The film tells the story of five black student athletes who encountered racial backlash after joining the varsity men’s basketball team at Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Rutland in 2010.
Around Vermont, Carleton is better known as a singer-songwriter. Onstage, he belts out soulful tunes and scorching guitar lines, and that passion has carried over to his filmmaking. “Divided by Diversity” is Carleton’s second documentary. His first, “Overtaken by Darkness,” about the 1986 unsolved murder of Manchester resident Sarah Hunter, premiered in 2012.
Tall, with a mane of dark curls framing a kind smile and round, wire-framed glasses, Carleton speaks with conviction about the MSJ story. He learned about it after Dave Tibbs, a Rutland radio personality who was then assistant football coach at the school, pitched it to him.
Once Carleton began researching the story, he says he was compelled to tell it.
“I can’t really tolerate that kind of behavior in my community,” he says. “If somebody doesn’t shine a light on it, then it’s allowed to perpetuate.”
At the time, the controversy garnered coverage from the Rutland Herald and even gained national attention when The New York Times published a story in February 2012 (, but Carleton’s film — the result of three and half years of work — is the most comprehensive telling yet. Having the entirety of this story laid out in detail over 142 minutes paints an unsettling picture.
In 2010, MSJ’s then-varsity men’s basketball coach Mark Benetatos set out to rebuild the private Catholic school’s anemic hoops program. He was contacted by Mugsy Leggett, director of a New York City-area AAU program, who was looking for a school to accept several young men he had been coaching. The effort was seen as a way out for these boys — an opportunity to get a solid education and improve their quality of life along the way.
The film provides an upsetting glimpse of conditions at Edenwald Houses, the Bronx housing projects where the boys lived. Between 2009 and 2012, 78 murders occurred in and around Edenwald. In one segment of the film, the boys describe life there, telling stories of muggings by machete, stumbling upon grisly crime scenes and suffering through the murders of friends and relatives.
Life in Rutland promised to be different. And while it was notably healthier and safer, the boys could not have anticipated the maelstrom of privilege, entitlement and bigotry they were stepping into.
“Every one of those players, when I interviewed them, was very clear that, for them, coming here to Vermont was not about basketball,” Carleton says. “They were coming here because Mugsy had told them, ‘This is your chance to go to college and you don’t have to live in the projects any more. You don’t have to have people shooting at you any more.’”
Carleton says that, despite the fond memories the boys shared — including winning a state title in 2012 — their time here was tarnished by the way some Vermonters treated them. He notes they were coming from a majority black community to a majority white one, and adjusting to being in the minority came with a number of firsts — such as their first time experiencing racism and their first time being called the N-word by people who meant it.
“(T)hey have negative feelings about what happened along the way,” Carleton says. “It could have been made a lot easier for them, and there could have been other kids after them that got the same opportunity. That didn’t happen.”
Initial uneasiness with the new students’ arrival was couched in concerns over what might be taken away from local students. Some parents and alumni complained about competition for playing time and scholarship money.
But as MSJ alumnus and former teammate Tyler Sanborn points out in the film, it was easy to read between the lines. “Local kid and Bronx kid; it’s just a code word for black kid and white kid.”
Sanborn’s brother, Matt, also a member of the team at the time, echoes that reading. “I grew up in Georgia. I came to Rutland, Vermont, and I played basketball. I’m doing the same exact thing they’re doing and yet they’re the ones that get the heat and I’m considered a local kid.”
Carleton is unequivocal in his position that what happened at MSJ was racially motivated.
“Maybe it started out with the sports element,” he says. “But, when all of a sudden, people start saying racist things at games. And when you start singling out a group of people and they all happen to be black kids from New York City, it does become about race.
“When you start saying things like, ‘I want to limit the number of kids, but only this group of kids,’ there’s no other way to slice-and-dice that up. It’s race.”
Almost from the moment they arrived, the new students faced hostility. In the fall of 2010, a female acquaintance lured new student Jahnathan Mitchell to a Rutland City park where several male teens assaulted him. He fled the scene to shouts of “Come back here, you n-gger!”
Tensions escalated over the next two years with overt expressions of bigotry appearing in public at basketball games as well as in emails to MSJ administrators and among students on social media. Chants of “KFC” (a reference to Kentucky Fried Chicken) erupted at away games.
During a game between MSJ and Rutland High School, two RHS students showed up in banana and gorilla costumes. They were promptly ejected.
People put signs in their car windows that read, “Get the Bronx out of Rutland.”
At the 2012 championship game against Vergennes, the opposing team chanted “Vermont strong,” co-opting the popular Tropical Storm Irene catchphrase.
Carleton says his film speaks to a “disturbing lack of empathy that just seems to be growing.”
“If you’re going to a game and you’re yelling racist chants at a 16-year-old kid … it’s not just (that) you’re being politically incorrect, you’re just not being correct.”
Resentment toward the students eventually led to a smear campaign against Benetatos and others. The coach of the junior varsity men’s team was accused of sharing inappropriate photos online. An anonymous letter sent to the Burlington Catholic Diocese alleged an MSJ parent who housed several of the young men was conducting a sexual relationship with them. None of these accusations were based on any evidence.
In addition, bad information and half-truths circulated throughout the Rutland community, which led to many people having a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation, such as the misconception that the students were actively recruited by the school and money used to subsidize their tuition was being taken from local students. Carleton says his film sets the record straight.
“It became important to me to, one-by-one, disprove every one of those rumors,” he says.
Carleton, a graduate of Mill River Union High School, acknowledges the film is likely to displease some MSJ supporters who would rather not revisit this ugly chapter in the school’s history.
“People are gonna be very heated about it,” he says. “On the good side of that, I think having something that’s controversial opens things up for discussion.”
To those who might contest the film’s claims, Carleton is resolute. “I’m fully prepared if anyone wants to dispute any of the things that are in the film.”
Carleton says he has no “ax to grind” with MSJ and is not looking to pick a fight. He says attempts to include more key school officials in the film proved unsuccessful. With the exception of former Rutland Catholic Schools’ chairman Peter Giancola, no past or present MSJ administrators were willing to go on record.
Reached for comment, current MSJ Principal Sarah Fortier, who was dean of students at the time, says, “I haven’t seen this documentary, but I can tell you that the positive impact of diversity on MSJ has been incredible. … The kids at MSJ have been nothing but enriched by the students from other countries or other faiths. I still am in communication with many of these students and feel privileged to know them.”
She also shared a personal account of her experience with Rob Cassell, one of the students featured in the film. She described how Cassell bonded with her son, Jack, who was born with bilateral atypical clubfeet and was in double-leg casts at the time.
“(Rob) met me every day to carry both Jack and his wheelchair into (Christ the King School),” she said. “I could go on and on about how special their relationship is.”
Carleton’s decision to premiere the film in Manchester wasn’t a conscious one, at least not initially. He explains that the owner of the Village Picture Shows has been “very supportive” of him in the past. His first film also premiered there. However, he does see value in getting some distance between Rutland and the film.
“I really felt like this wasn’t a story just about (MSJ), it wasn’t a story just about Rutland. It was a statewide thing,” he says. “I think, ultimately, it serves as a microcosm for the whole country. This is going on everywhere.”
Looking beyond the Aug. 31 premier, Carleton says he will be holding additional screenings in the area, including Rutland, and will be shopping the documentary to streaming services like Netflix, as well as film festivals. He hopes to see the film screened in schools where it can be used as a teaching tool to raise awareness about racism.
“I think the only way to deal with (racist behavior) is to hold the mirror up and say, ‘This is how you’re behaving,’” Carleton says. “If nobody does, that behavior is allowed to flourish and I can’t abide by that.”

SEVEN DAYS August 29, 2016
New Local Documentary Profiles Rutland Basketball Racism
by Luke Baynes

In 2010, five high school basketball players from the Bronx were accepted at Rutland’s Mount St. Joseph Academy, a small Catholic school beset by flagging attendance numbers and a sports program with a recent history of athletic futility. For the student-athletes, the move four hours north from the bleak Edenwald housing project was both a blessing and a curse.
According to an intertitle in Divided by Diversity, a new documentary from local musician and filmmaker Duane Carleton, between 2009 and 2012, the entire state of Vermont had less than half the murders, less than a quarter the robberies and only a third more assaults than Edenwald during the same period.
But what the Bronx natives, all of whom were black, hadn’t bargained for was a barrage of racism, both veiled and overt. As the Mount St. Joseph team became increasingly accomplished on the hardwood, ugly racial barbs on social media escalated to outright hostility at games. At one game, fans started a racist “KFC” chant; at another, two people showed up in gorilla and banana costumes.
The MSJ basketball team went 22-2 during the 2011-2012 season and won the Division II state championship, despite the school’s having a total enrollment of only 92 students. But, as Divided by Diversity documents, there was no celebratory banquet for the team that had rescued MSJ from the basketball cellar.
Championship jackets were distributed to the players without ceremony. It took almost two years for the title banner to be raised in the rafters. Head coach Mark Benetatos, who instilled in his team a Branch Rickey-like policy of nonconfrontational dignity, unceremoniously resigned in May 2012 following what he called a “witch hunt” for his role in bringing the out-of-state students to MSJ.
Carleton’s film consists almost entirely of sit-down interviews with players, coaches and others directly involved with the team. What’s lacking is a sense of place. We’re told about the disparities between the bucolic backdrop of Mount St. Joseph Academy and the harsher realities of the Edenwald projects, but that contrast isn’t shown visually. Without much cutaway footage, the use of elliptical quick-fades to black in individual interviews is often disconcerting.
But the singular focus on talking heads also gives ample screen time to those with direct knowledge of the events of that championship season. Former Rutland Herald sportswriter Chuck Clarino is perhaps the film’s most eloquent contextual voice. He points out that other private schools in Vermont have recruited black players over the years without drawing the vitriol that surrounded the MSJ team.

Matt Sanborn, the MSJ team captain during the championship run, more succinctly addresses the questionable distinction between parents who took exception to New Yorkers cutting into the playing time of their native Vermonter sons and those whose objections were based on the color of the players’ skin.
“These kids who happen to be African American are the ones that we’re focused on, and yet I’m not from Rutland. I didn’t grow up here, per se. I grew up in Georgia,” says Sanborn, who is white. “I came to Rutland, Vermont, and I played basketball. I’m doing the same exact thing they’re doing, and yet they’re the ones that get the heat, and I’m considered a local kid.”
Carleton will be present at the premiere of Divided by Diversity on Wednesday, August 31, at 7:30 p.m. at Village Picture Shows in Manchester Center. Tickets are $10 for all ages.
One can only hope that screenings in other parts of the state will follow — including in Rutland.

THE RUTLAND HERALD August 27, 2016
by Jim Sabataso

"Rutland-area filmmaker and musician Duane Carleton takes on homegrown intolerance in his upcoming documentary, "Divided by Diversity," which tells the story of several black student athletes from the Bronx who faced backlash from local families in 2010 when they joined the boy's varsity basketball team at Mount Saint Joseph Academy. The film paints a fair yet troubling portrait of privilege, entitlement and small town racism not just in Rutland, but around the state."

Duane Carleton to Premiere Newest Documentary Film
by Liz Schafer

Vermont native Duane Carleton is a busy man. In addition to his active schedule as a professional live musician and recording artist, Carleton has been working for the past three and a half years on 'Divided by Diversity', his second film documentary.
"This is a look at race relations and many modern day issues such as helicopter parenting, cyber bullying and how these elements contribute to racial issues," said Carleton. The film, which is underscored by a musical soundtrack written and performed by Carleton, will premier at Manchester's Village Picture Shows on Wednesday, August 31, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets $10 and may be purchased in advance.
'Divided by Diversity' explores what happened behind the scenes at a Catholic high school in Rutland, when five young men from the Bronx in New York became students and members of the school's basketball team. Mount Saint Joseph Academy was struggling with declining enrollment when it accepted the students, who were proteges of youth coach Mugsy Leggett. Leggett saw the promise in these players, who came from an unsafe housing project in the Bronx, and wanted to help them pursue their educations and be able to play their sport. the students were welcomed to MSJ, and under the leadership of coach Mark Benetatos, the school's losing basketball team was transformed, going on to win the 2012 State Championship. Unfortunately, the boys, who were black, were thought by some parents to be outsiders; they complained that they were depriving their children, the local players, of time on the basketball court, sparking a heated dissention fueled by racism and entitlement that attracted the attention of the New York Times.
Carleton, whose first foray into documentary filmmaking led to 'Overtaken by Darkness' - released in 2012 - about the 1986 murder of Manchester golf pro Sarah Hunter, was intrigued by the story.
"'Divided by Diversity' is about exposing a social injustice in our region that I believe is a microcosm of what is happening nationwide," says Carleton. "I showed my other film, 'Overtaken by Darkness' to Dave Tibbs (of 94.5 The Drive Classic Hits Radio) and he said he had another story for me. He told me the basics and made the introduction to Mark Benetatos." He added, "I actually had begun another film right before I started 'Divided by Diversity'. I was approached by a friend of mine at a showing of 'Overtaken by Darkness' in Manchester, who told me that her mother was murdered in 1971, and it is the story of how that happened, who did it and how (the murderer) was not prosecuted. The working title is 'In the Interest of the State.' To find out more about Duane Carleton and his work, visit and

THE MOUNTAIN TIMES August 24, 2016

Duane Carleton’s “Divided by Diversity” highlights strong undercurrent of racism in local communities
by Dave Hoffenberg

Many know Duane Carleton for his incredible music playing. He’s known as the “Human Jukebox.” Fans can request just about anything and good odds are that he’ll know it.
What many may not know is that Carleton is also a filmmaker with two documentaries to his credit. His first film, “Overtaken by Darkness,” is a well-researched and thoughtful documentary chronicling the tragic and mysterious homicide of local golf pro Sarah Hunter from the Manchester Country Club. This is a 30-year-old cold case. Carelton dug deep in his research for the film and many believe, after watching it, that he solved the case—unfortunately it still remains unsolved.
His second film, “Divided by Diversity,” will be screened Wednesday, Aug. 31 at 7:30 p.m. in Manchester, Vt., at the Village Picture Show Cinemas. In this film, Carlton features five students from New York City who were accepted to Mount St. Joseph Academy, a private school in Rutland. Their participation on the basketball team sparked a statewide controversy.
Carlton’s film reveals the resistance they endured, both publicly and behind the scenes. It also exposes many of the contemporary elements fueling modern day racism.
“It promises to be eye-opening,” Carleton said of his second film.
The impetus for this film started three and a half years ago. Carleton had just finished his first film and was seeking a good lead for his second. He met with radio personality “Uncle Dave,” who gave him the an idea, and put him in touch with ex-basketball coach Mark Benetatos who had already expressed interest in the saga becoming film. The three  had lunch, discussed it, and Carleton was onto his next project.
Carleton hopes to show this film in more areas soon, including in Rutland, but there is some resistance to him doing so that he’ll have to overcome first.
Everyone in the film was very willing to tell their story but others Carleton had hoped to feature were not. For example, Carleton approached the current principal at MSJ, the athletic director who had been there for 40 years and the former principal who was there when the story happened. One would only talk off the record, one ignored the request and the other person declined, Carleton said.
NYC to Rutland
Five young men from the Wiz Kids Basketball Program in New York City were brought to MSJ to play basketball, learn and enrich their lives. Clarence “Mugsy” Leggett founded Wiz Kids and is the head coach there. He and his fellow coaches develop players at a young age teaching them to compete at the highest level of basketball but also teaching them respect and the importance of education. Their goal is to help all of their athletes earn high school and college scholarships through basketball. Their motto is “Respect all, fear none.”
Coming to MSJ, might literally have saved the lives of John Dewey, Jahnathan Mitchell, Shannon Murray, Jaskin Melendez and Rob Cassell.
“Vermont was great because we got a chance to escape,” Mitchell said.
The five boys all had lived in the Edenwald housing project in the Bronx. The crime rate there was enormous so coming to Vermont was expected to be a bleesing. No one would have expect Mitchell to be jumped in Rutland or Murray to be starved by his host family but unfortunately those things did happen, according to testimony in Carleton’s documentary.
In 2009, MSJ brought in coach Mark Benetatos to help turn the basketball program around. Benetatos brought in Assistant Coach Jim Madgwick to help him coach the Varsity team. (Prior to their arrival, winning two games in a row was huge!)
On Feb. 17, 2010, Clarence “Mugsy” Leggett brought 11 kids up to visit and everyone loved it.
“They scrimmaged us and they destroyed us,” said Benetatos laughing.
With five of the talented athletes on the team the following year, they started to win, but so started the racism, too.
Mitchell was jumped in the park two months after his arrival; it was set-up by a girl’s boyfriend, he later learned. While Mitchell was the victim, he was at first treated like the assailant.
“I felt like I was in the 60s,” he said. “I thought movies exaggerated stuff but 50 years later, they’re saying the same stuff like ‘We don’t know why niggers are here’ and ‘This is a white people area’,” he recalled.
Murray and some of the other boys others lived in Mount Holly with host families. They had to walk to school and they were starved. Murray was frail and sick and nobody did anything, the documentary recounts. As a result, he was hospitalized with Bronchitis. Then, Cam Whittemore stepped up to host four of the four boys. They considered her a second mom. Then someone accused her of molesting the boys. Her home was searched and she had to be fingerprinted at the police station.
“They tried ruining her life,” Leggett recounted. “That shows how much they hate blacks.”
“That’s not a Catholic way of living,” Coach Benetatos commented. “It’s disgusting.”
Basketball and rascim
The will to win went up. In their first season, 2010-11, they went 16-7.
“Enrollment is a four letter word. You ‘earn’ your spot on the team,” said Assistant Coach Jim Madgwick.
But some parents got upset because their kids were not getting the playing time they once had. Originally Coach Benetatos was given free reign to coach as he saw fit, but by year two, most of the board was against him and he was required to tell them his entire game plan, about everything all the time. When Benetatos proposed bringing another Wiz Kid boy Nigel into the program, the board refused.
The ironic part is that most MSJ students are not from Rutland. Former Rutland Herald sports writer Chuck Clarino commented that, “Nobody is upset about the Chinese kid from Dorset because he doesn’t play basketball.”
Team member Matt Sanborn said, “White kids were considered ‘local’ even if they were not from here. I’m from Georgia and should’ve been treated like them (blacks) but was not.”
The racism got a lot worse in that second year of the program and people were blasting the Coach Benetatos every which way. And students tried antagonizing the five to get them to swing, so that they’d then be kicked out.
The five students successfully held their composure, but it was tough at times, they shared.
The fan behavior at the games got worse, too. They used to give out a fan award but stopped it because all were bad. In the MSJ vs. Burton Academy game, fans started a “KFC” chant. In one game, two students came dressed as a gorilla and a banana. In other game they brought African flags and were chanting “USA.”
A teammate challenged Mitchell to a hoops game and Mitchell jokingly said he’d ‘kill him,’ meaning on the court, of course. But the kid told his parents that Mitchell threatened to kill him, physically. The parents wanted him kicked out of school and said they didn’t feel safe. That got Mitchell suspended.
Despite the taunts and hardshops, the team improved. In their second year, they won their division championship and went 22-2 for the season.
“Everyone on that team was equal. Everyone liked everyone. It was special,” Cassell said fo his team. But they could hardly enjoy the title. Although they were given a hero’s welcome on the bus ride home, that is where the celebrations stopped.
They were denied a banquet (even though every other sport had one), and even the banner was not hung until almost two years later. They did get championship jackets but unlike other sports where teammates are honored at the banquet, they got theirs dropped in a box outside the school.
The money that was collected at games (and it was a lot of money since they were selling out games) was not distributed back to the basketball program. Coach Benetatos bought jerseys for the team out of his own pocket— $2,200 a year for the coaching job.
Under immense pressure, Coach Benetatos resigned in May 2012. The Championship was tainted. People treated the title with an asterisk because it was not a ‘Vermont team’ win. Principal Paolo Zancanaro resigned shortly after. Benetatos said he believes Zancanaro had good intentions but had a gun to his head.
“These young men were perfect examples of young men. I was so proud of them for all the crap they took,” Benetatos said. “These guys were first class and represented MSJ exceptionally.”
Coach Benetatos went on to coach at Mill River and after one season, brought the team to the semis with two Wiz Kids. He brought in two more and then was done there, too. He held open practices all summer and every kid had an equal chance of making the team. A group of parents went to the principal and accused him of being a bully and that he yelled at the kids. They had not renewed his contract for the upcoming season so they chose not to.
“They chose the path of least resistance,” Carleton explained.
Coach Mark Benetatos is no longer coaching as a result of the widespread racism he experienced in our Vermont communities.

A few corrections from Duane Carleton: Jim Madgwick said that "Entitlement is a four letter word" not enrollment. Also, John Dewey was suspended not Jahnathan Mitchell.

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