Company spotlight: The VT PoC
VT PoC empowers BIPOC communities in Vermont through networking, education, and advocacy, making a positive impact after devastating floods and beyond.
The Vermont Professionals of Color Network (VT PoC) wears many hats.
It’s hard to describe the organization’s contributions in a sentence, or even a paragraph. But understanding their most recent efforts to help flood-impacted Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) businesses and individuals is a good place to start.
In the aftermath of devastating floods that hit many Vermont towns, VT PoC has helped those negatively impacted apply for grants and seek aid; ensured that underrepresented leaders are in the room when flood recovery discussions occur; and even contributed $5,000 to their own fundraiser to support this work.
But as essential as this work is, it’s often hard to find in the state.
“You might only have one BIPOC restaurant in a community, so who are you going to be able to lean on in the community to support you? These are the solutions we’re providing,” explained VCET member Weiwei Wang, a South Burlington native and co-founder of VT PoC.
The Vermont Professionals of Color Network unofficially began in 2019, when Wang and several others were called by Burlington’s Community & Economic Development Office to address the underrepresentation of BIPOC leaders in local businesses and organizations. Wang and her team decided to organize a professionals of color networking event at a local comedy club, and the response was overwhelming.
“One hundred people came. We had stand-up and improv comedians, all of color,” Wang said. “We were sitting in that room, laughing and enjoying each other’s company, when we realized we needed this. So we decided to have more events – but then Covid-19 hit. We were like, what the f*** are we going to do?”
The event spurred the realization that there was a serious need for professional mobility, entrepreneurial support, and professional network curation for people of color in the state – especially youth. That led to the official establishment of VT PoC as a 501(c)(3) organization in 2021, with the vision of advancing the prosperity of BIPOC individuals in Vermont through networking, education, and advocacy.
Over the past two years, VT PoC has steadily grown, securing funding from a range of corporate sponsors, grants, and donations. The organization collaborates with businesses, non-profits, and other institutions to facilitate workshops –– everything from demystifying grant systems and management to teaching Excel, business basics, and financial literacy. They have also organized a BIPOC speaker series and a job fair.
The Vermont Professionals of Color Network offers free memberships, though non-members are also welcome at events. They serve youth; professionals; organizations, businesses and entrepreneurs; and other supporters. For example, their workshops introduce BIPOC youth to higher education and early career opportunities, while their speaker series creates opportunities for leaders to become advocates and ambassadors for future generations.
In June, the team expanded to three full-time employees, with VCET member Mimi Duong joining the organization after graduating from the University of Vermont in May. Duong, who grew up in St. Johnsbury, reflects the sense of belonging that VT PoC fosters among its staff and members.
“It’s a dream job,” Duong said. “I was going to leave [Vermont]. And then I was like ‘Wait, there’s opportunity here.’ Colleges need to show people of color that they can stay.”
“It feels like a bunch of friends doing an internal group project,” Duong explained.
Down the line, VT PoC looks to increase its youth empowerment, especially among young adults. Duong predicts future engagement at local colleges, from the University of Vermont to Middlebury College.
“We’re in our second year of operation, so this is the time we’re starting to build that foundation with BIPOC businesses and professionals,” Wang added. “And then bring the youth in.”
In just a few short years, the VT PoC has become a force for positive change in Vermont’s BIPOC communities. As the organization continues to expand its reach, especially among young adults, its dedication to fostering inclusivity and prosperity in the state remains steadfast.
“Tino likes to use the metaphor, ‘We don’t want to be the water, we want to be the pipe that brings water to the people,’” Wang said. “We can open these doors because we have this access already. And it’s incredible to bring people with us.”