There was a sense of hope, tinged with wariness, at the first Spokane NAACP community meeting since the national furor over former chapter president Rachel Dolezal’s lies about her race.
“We recognize that relationships have been disrupted. We recognize that there has been hurt and distrust,” said Naima Quarles-Burnley, the chapter’s new president. “(But) the actions of one person cannot, and should not, derail a 95-year legacy that the Spokane NAACP has had.”
The meeting drew about 100 people. For 2 1/2 hours attendees took turns speaking to the NAACP executive committee. Each had two minutes to ask questions or express their feelings.
“This has been an important conversation,” said Quarles-Burnley. “Yes, the circumstances were not ideal, but I heard a lot of energy in the room.”
Seattle NAACP chapter president Gerald Hankerson, who is also the Washington state NAACP representative, spoke about the wide-ranging impact of the allegations against Dolezal.
“It wasn’t just Spokane that was hit,” he said. “It hit all around the world.”
Hankerson defended the NAACP’s decision to cancel the originally scheduled NAACP general membership chapter meeting.
“The reason national made this decision was for one key reason,” Hankerson said. “This thing had reached beyond Spokane.”
Many speakers called for compassion and asked for the community to move forward.
“What we have done as a community is we’ve thrown her under the bus,” said the Rev. Happy Watkins, a former president of the Spokane NAACP and co-founder of Spokane’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration.
Other attendees expressed anger, hurt and betrayal. Doug Haigen talked about the excitement and hope he had when Dolezal was elected NAACP president in November. He said he felt a sense of energy that had been lacking for years.
“The last month has been a punch in the gut,” Haigen said.
Others referenced the damage Dolezal did, specifically by taking attention away from bigger issues facing Spokane’s black community.
For longtime resident Bob Lloyd the meeting seemed a bit too familiar. After the attempted bombing of the MLK Day parade in 2011, Lloyd said he saw the same kind of community engagement, connection and focus. However, that dissipated quickly.
“We need racial reconciliation and we need to forget Rachel,” Marilyn Euseary said.
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