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Redmond community and others speak out against racism
Just because racism is not openly discussed in a community, does not mean it is nonexistent in that community.
This was a common sentiment among people who spoke at a demonstration at Redmond City Hall Wednesday afternoon.
The event, organized by the Eastside Race and Leadership Coalition (ERLC), was a response to a Redmond business — From Rags to Riches — being targeted on Jan. 20 when a white suspect delivered Ku Klux Klan-type items to the consignment shop. Owner Leona Coakley-Spring and her son Shane Coakley, who are black, were both in the store at the time of the incident.
Additional demonstrations are planned to be held in Bellevue, Renton, Sammamish, Cascadia College in Bothell and Lake Washington Institute of Technology in Kirkland.
DOMESTIC TERRORISM, SOLVED WITH LOVE
“My life will never be the same,” Coakley told attendees.
He said he had never experienced anything like this before and to go through it with his mother made it that much worse.
“This is domestic terrorism,” said Bobby Alexander.
Alexander, a Seattle resident who also addressed the crowd Wednesday, said Coakley-Spring and Coakley now must enter their store and wonder whether there will be a Klan member waiting for them at their place of business. He also asked the audience what people are supposed to tell their children. Alexander, who is also black, said Coakley-Spring and Coakley are educated. That didn’t save them. They pay their taxes. That didn’t save them, either.
Black people are being penalized for their success and victimized for looking different from the majority of those living in their community, Alexander said.
“We already know that we stand out,” he said, adding, “This problem is not going to be solved with education. This problem is going to be solved with love.”
ERLC member James Whitfield agreed. He noted that civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. described racists as people who are ill and need to heal.
“Love was the way to respond,” said Whitfield.
As a black man, he said he felt a “whole range of emotions” when he learned about what happened at From Rags to Riches. Among the disgust and rage over the incident as well as the compassion for Coakley-Spring and her son, Whitfield said his heart hurt for the man who chose to express himself this way — to demonstrate his hurt in this way. He said being angry at the perpetrator will not heal the hurt; it fuels it.
EQUITY ON THE EASTSIDE
Although he and his mother were deeply affected by the incident, Coakley said he does not believe last month’s events are a reflection of Redmond, a community where they have always felt a part of and welcomed.
Wednesday’s event at Redmond City Hall was an effort by ERLC to emphasize this — to create a more inclusive community where all are welcomed.
Whitfield said the mission of ERLC is to bring together stakeholders interested in diversity work to empower and support emerging and current leaders to eliminate racism and increase equity on the Eastside.
Whitfield, who currently serves as the president and CEO of Leadership Eastside, said members join ERLC as individuals, not as representatives of their respective agencies or organizations.
Part of ERLC’s work means openly discussing racism and starting a dialogue, which speakers on Wednesday acknowledged is not always easy.
“The more you have (discussions on racism), the easier it becomes,” said Redmond resident and ERLC spokesperson Mariama Suwaneh.
She said while Redmond is a great place to live, there is still racism here. Suwaneh cited her senior year of high school when she was accepted into several colleges and universities. As someone with a mixed black and Mexican American background, she said people would dismiss her achievements and insist she got into those schools for other reasons than hard work.
Redmond Mayor John Marchione, who spoke at the event, said since the incident at Coakley-Spring’s store last month, the phrase “This is not Redmond” has been repeated over and over by community members.
He said this is not correct.
Marchione — along with a number of other speakers — said racism in Redmond and the greater Pacific Northwest may manifest in smaller, subtler incidents such as what happened to Suwaneh, but they are still evidence that there is racism here. He said this actually makes it harder to address the issue because subtler occurrences are easier to dismiss and deny as racism. He said by doing this, people are patronizing those affected and perpetuating the problem.
“You can’t solve a problem unless you acknowledge it exists,” Marchione noted.
A COMMUNITY COMMITMENT
On Wednesday, he invited community members to speak up and identify actions they can take to address and end racism.
This commitment was illustrated by an art exhibition created by ERLC titled, “Rejecting the Rags of Racism and Living into the Riches of Diversity.” The exhibition’s title is an acknowledgement of what happened at Coakley-Spring’s store last month.
Attendees were invited to take part by writing specific, personal action steps they commit to taking on a piece of colored fabric and connecting that commitment to others’ on an archway — a recognized symbol of peace in the Pacific Northwest that invites all to pass through from one state of being to another.
The arch will be on display at Redmond City Hall and then moved to Bellevue City Hall and other Eastside cities throughout February, which is also Black History Month.
Coakley-Spring was at a loss of words Wednesday afternoon at seeing such a strong response to what happened to her and her business. Seeing the community come out to support her and her family and show them they want them in Redmond and love them has left her speechless.
“It’s overwhelming,” she said. “In a good way.”