In summer of 2021, King Street Center’s Youth Media Team conducted a few interviews of staff, alumni, former staff, volunteers, and community members. Like any good video, just snippets ended up in the final product. But, there were some historical reflections we wanted to hang on to as we think about King Street Center’s 50th anniversary.
Here’s the unedited transcript of one such interview. It is with Michael Monte. He currently works right across the street from 87 King Street where he serves as the Chief Executive Office of Champlain Housing Trust.
“So my name is Michael Monte and I was a director of the King Street Youth Center. Actually, I did some work for King Street before that, but I was director of the King Street Center from 1977 to 1982.
I remember first being hired by a group of people who worked here. They were all residents of the neighborhood, Barbara Newsome, Marie Garrison, Donna Santura (sp?) and a few others. They lived here. And they were basically hiring me because I was young and I was skilled and knew how to run things maybe, but they lived here. And they lived here not only in the neighborhood, but they lived at the youth center that was at the time. They were all part of the youth center and part of it’s how it ran. And I was the only other guy. We hired some other fellow named Terry Hotelling (sp?), who did work with kids, took kids on camping trips and other things. But for the most part, it was me and them working this… What was the King Street Youth Center at that time.
And at the very beginning, it really was in a bus and on the streets. When I first met them, it was in a small little apartment that they took over because there was a fire. And then soon after when I became the director I moved into a new building, that was at 141 Maple street. It was an old barn that got converted into… So the first floor was the center itself.
And all I had was a ping pong table and a pool table and a couch and a kitchen and a little office. And upstairs was something called the Youth Service Bureau and they were providing alternative education and these King Street and youth service group was partners. And so kids who weren’t really doing well in school went upstairs and did that schooling instead of that… So it was a little like this in some ways, but very, very small in terms of what it was doing. Center went open up, kids would come hang out, play ping pong, play pool, run out. We’d run events. We’d go off to different places like camping and we do roller skating once a week, we would do different events every once a week, but it was really a lot more informal. A lot more… Very much neighborhood based and the parents really ran the program. And I was a director, but basically they were directing how things would happen.
We would get together every Wednesday morning for coffee and invite all the people in the city who had money or had control of things. So we invite the mayor to coffee and we would sit around and talk about the issues in our neighborhood. And we said, you know what we really need is more affordable housing in this neighborhood. And before there was affordable housing in his neighborhood. King Street Youth Center was advocating for affordable housing in the neighborhood. You see all the affordable housing that’s here now, it happened because the King Street Youth Center was in the middle advocating for that. The other thing that we advocated for was more police services, but also more better police services to the people and the kids.
So we were really actually having big community meetings with the chief of police saying, you’re treating our kids differently. Youth Center at the time had one of the few black families. I know a lot of folks who are African-American now… African immigrants now, but then even then there were two or three families in the King Street neighborhood that were African-American. And our kids we felt were picked on. So each and every time we had issues with the police or issues with the schools, we’d have a community meeting. And we would talk about those issues with the people who are in power and authority. So it was always advocating then even the importance of black lives. We even had a rule at any given moment anyone in the center could hold up the hand and say, “Meeting.” And everybody had to get together and sit down and talk to each other about what was going on.
And often enough it was around racism and we would have that issue and we’d have that discussion because there were black kids and white kids, and that was not typical for Burlington at the time and it was really an issue to deal with inside the center. So it’s like those are important memories for me, the community base, the advocacy for affordable housing, the advocacy for greater other issues in terms of how people were treated, things I think that made the really kind of great, even if it was simply a thousand square feet, which is usually small.
It was nothing like this building. But it was really still a center. That’s what people called it. They still call it the center. So all of those memories still hold. So whenever I think about the other things that are going on in the city, whenever I have relationships with other people, I still come with that understanding of justice and the importance of making sure that there’s a level of fairness that exists throughout the city for everyone.
So when I do my work now is based upon knowing that the people in the neighborhood know that regular folks know what’s best, not all the time but most of the time. And so I bring that point of view to everything that I’ve done since being the director at the youth center. So the interesting thing is that since arriving in Burlington in 1976, I’ve worked in three locations, Maple street, King street, and Main street. And now I look out over the King center. So it’s a constant reminder about the importance of neighborhood and people. It’s a constant reminder of the need to make sure that people are taken care of at the basic level.