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Questions about Rachel Dolezal linger as NAACP members react

From Staff Reports

Members of the Spokane NAACP chapter plan to demonstrate today over the controversy enveloping their president, Rachel Dolezal, who said Sunday she’s not ready to face them and explain claims she has lied about her race.

“This is a peaceful demonstration statement that is not about us but delivering a unified message that integrity matters,” said Kitara McClure (pictured, right), the former multicultural director at Spokane Community College and a member of the NAACP.

Demonstrators are expected at 35 W. Main St. between 5 and 6 p.m.

Dolezal, elected president of the local NAACP chapter about seven months ago, was expected at the organization’s monthly members meeting tonight to address the recent disclosure by her parents and other family members that she has falsely portrayed herself as black for years.

But Dolezal sent chapter members an email Sunday saying, “Due to the need to continue discussion with regional and national NAACP leaders, tomorrow’s meeting is postponed and will be rescheduled for a later date. We appreciate your patience and understanding at this time.”

In response, chapter member Justin Pimsanguan sent an email to members saying the chapter has business to conduct apart from Dolezal’s troubles.

Pimsanguan said Dolezal has a great record of advocacy and has brought attention to the civil rights movement, but that “it is overwhelmingly clear that the nation is laughing at us, causing great embarrassment to Spokane, our NAACP chapter and the efforts we have made for social justice.”

Lawrence Burnley, chairman of the chapter’s executive committee, emailed Dolezal and NAACP members to say he doesn’t believe Dolezal has the authority to postpone the meeting.

“I don’t see any language in the by-laws that empowers you, or any one member, to arbitrarily cancel/postpone tomorrow’s meeting,” he wrote.

Burnley also noted that the executive committee planned to meet Sunday in advance of tonight’s members meeting.

“I’m puzzled by your decision to arbitrarily cancel/postpone the meeting without input from the executive committee which is scheduled to meet today,” he wrote. “… It seems to me that it would be prudent to allow for or invite your executive committee to weigh in on a decision such as this.”

Burnley also is the assistant vice president for diversity and intercultural relations at Whitworth University.

Dolezal, who also teaches at Eastern Washington University and is chairwoman of the city of Spokane’s police ombudsman commission, had said in a statement late Friday that she would address the controversy at today’s meeting, which was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., and that both she and the executive committee would make statements.

“I have discussed the situation, including personal matters, with the Executive Committee,” she said. “I support their decision to wait until Monday to make a statement.”

It was unclear Sunday night if the members meeting would go on tonight without Dolezal.

McClure on Friday started an online petition calling for Dolezal to resign her position in the NAACP. More than 300 people had signed the petition as of Sunday night.

McClure, in organizing today’s demonstration, said, “We are all ready to forgive Rachel, so the moment she comes clean let us all surround her with love and support. … Let the healing begin!”

On Friday, the national office of the NAACP issued a statement supporting Dolezal and saying she “is enduring a legal issue with her family, and we respect her privacy in this matter.”

Freda Gandy, executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center in Spokane, said Sunday she is angry the NAACP is backing Dolezal, whose actions she said are inexcusable.

“Ethically, I don’t really know how they can say she can be an effective leader when she has lied to an entire community,” Gandy said in an interview with The Spokesman-Review.

She also said she’s angry that only dues-paying NAACP members will be allowed to ask questions about the controversy at the general members  meeting.

“The NAACP, in my opinion, feels like she only needs to answer to them,” Gandy said. “She forfeited that right when she became a community leader. That means she answers to all of us, me and you.”

Gandy said she doesn’t know Dolezal well but did book her as one of the speakers for this year’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade and service. Gandy has worked for the MLK Family Outreach Center for 16 years.

Gandy said that prior to Dolezal becoming president of the local NAACP chapter, she didn’t know Dolezal or her work.

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