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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Dad Daze: New sets of eyes on the color of Spokane

Milo Condran, right, with his friend Justin Muttreja in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2018.  (Courtesy of Ed Condran)
Milo Condran, right, with his friend Justin Muttreja in Cooperstown, N.Y., in 2018. (Courtesy of Ed Condran)

I’m not the leader of a bar band, but I take requests. A loyal reader, Beverly Gibb, emailed a suggestion:

“Could you write about you and your family dealing with the Black Lives Matter movement? I know it is an extremely sensitive and difficult topic. I just would like to see how families are having this discussion. I can’t imagine the questions and feelings your kids must have in our lily white city with Idaho next door!”

Thank you, Ms. Gibb, a Spokane lifer, for the note, and, yes, the BLM topic is terrific fodder for Dad Daze.

It didn’t take long for us to chat about how different Spokane is from not just where we’re from, Philadelphia, but also where we’ve been, which is fairly extensive. To put it in perspective, Milo, my 15-year-old, visited his 48th state last summer.

The difference discussion occurred after a week in Spokane. However, race didn’t come up immediately.

“There’s no humidity, which is amazing,” my son Eddie said.

We’re used to sweltering summers. The air is thick, and violent thunderstorms appear out of nowhere in the Northeastern corridor. Just before Eddie’s high school graduation last summer, a severe storm cut the humidity but also killed the power. The outage lasted through my birthday and my son Milo’s, which is the next day.

So 85 degrees with no humidity in Spokane feels like 72 to us. It was a breeze playing baseball, since my sons are used to melting.

“And there was hardly a drop of rain in July and August,” Eddie pointed out.

It certainly beats the wet summers we’ve become accustomed to over the last few years.

We talked about how there is quality skiing, more trails to cycle and the refreshingly minty, menthol fragrance, which emanates from the pine trees.

Milo commented on body art ubiquity. “I can’t believe how many people here have tattoos.”

Fewer folks back East have inked up their bodies, but there’s also more diversity in Philadelphia. Milo finally mentioned that he hasn’t seen many Black people in Spokane, and he asked why that’s so –and I told him that I didn’t know.

My children are used to life in a melting pot. My daughter Jillian, 22, is a senior at Pace University in Manhattan, which is the most diverse city in the universe. Eddie’s first girlfriend was Black.

One of Milo’s best friends is part Indian. After playing for a number of baseball tournament teams over the years, Milo became pals with a number of Latino kids, and that inspired him to learn Spanish. My daughter Jane, 11, is best friends with a girl who is part Lebanese.

My children have also lived in very white settings. Jillian and Eddie, 18, each spent a month in Scandinavia, but their summer camps were filled with folks that were from around the world.

When I was starting at The Spokesman-Review last March, my editor, Don Chareunsy, who is Asian and gay, hit me with an anecdote. After dining at a sushi restaurant with a friend, he was asked by another customer if he was the chef (BTW, Chareunsy is Thai and Laotian, not Japanese).

Just because an Asian walks out of a Japanese restaurant doesn’t mean they work there. But those kind of assumptions occur when there is a lack of diversity.

After we had our race chat, Milo started working out with Olito Thompson of MUV Fitness in north Spokane. Thompson, who is Black and one of the greatest high school running backs in Northern California history, helped Milo a great deal.

“Olito is awesome,” Milo said. “Not only does he give you a great workout, he gave me some great (running back) tips. No wonder he broke all those records in California.”

After a session with Thompson, Milo hit the internet to figure out why more Black Americans didn’t move to the Pacific Northwest. After not having much success, Milo tried me again.

“Why didn’t Black people migrate to Spokane like they did to Chicago and Minneapolis?” Milo asked.

Again, I responded with a shrug of the shoulders. Milo inspired me to do some research. I was looking for statistics, and I have yet to find any time when there was more than 2% of Black Americans in Spokane.

“That’s so strange since doesn’t the woman who was white and pretended to be Black (Rachel Dolezal, former chapter president of the NAACP) live in Spokane?” Eddie asked.

That is strange but true, but it doesn’t help our cause. I contacted actor-writer-producer Jeff Mooring, who lived in Spokane for a dozen years, for answers.

“In terms of percentage, it’s less than 2% of any color in Spokane,” Mooring said. “The only real interest in determining that number is the NAACP.”

The charismatic Mooring, who resides in Virginia Beach now, added his perspective on Black lives in Spokane. Mooring, who was part of a pair of acclaimed Aaron Sorkin TV productions, “The West Wing” and “Sports Night,” had few issues while living in Spokane from 2006-18.

“I was the Black ambassador when I moved to Spokane,” Mooring said. “It was like, ‘He’s Black, but he’s one of us. He’s probably a Republican.”

“I was invited to the galas and fundraisers. I believe the prevailing feeling is that ‘how can I be prejudiced if I’m friends with Jeff?’ I’m not saying the people of Spokane are prejudiced. It’s just that there are preconceived notions about Black people due to the lack of interaction.

“When the network news seeks out a Black person, they choose a person who looks the most Black, is less eloquent and might have gold teeth. That’s not every Black person. But it’s not just Spokane that has that impression.”

It’s also not only TV news that perpetuates a negative stereotype. Hollywood has been guilty of perpetuating an unsavory image of Blacks for many years. Mooring is well aware due to experience.

Mooring auditioned for “Street Smart,” a forgettable Christopher Reeve vehicle, a generation ago. The film is about a magazine journalist who writes a feature about prostitution. The supporting role Mooring was up for went to Morgan Freeman, who portrayed a pimp named “Fast Black.”

“I tried out for a part playing a career criminal with a heart of gold who beats a hooker over the head with a hanger,” Mooring said. “How crazy is that?”

After Mooring left Hollywood for Spokane, he was approached by local Black men. “They asked me if I could come to their meetings,” Mooring said. “I went to some of the meetings, and the subject was how we could make life less oppressive for Blacks in Spokane.”

The get-togethers sounded like something out of “Chappelle’s Show.” “The guy who set up the meeting was married to a white woman who was serving us hors d’oeuvres,” Mooring said. “You would have guys there cursing out white people, and there she was serving us. It was surreal. I left. I wasn’t OK with that. That group did a lot of talking but had no action.”

Mooring’s take on Spokane provided considerable color, and it’s a reminder that it’s time for more action and less talk.

“Something has to be done,” Mooring said. “I remember being at the MLK parade years ago (2011) when a (pipe) bomb was found (on the parade route). It’s frightening.”

Mooring’s anecdotes are edifying for a family getting to know Spokane during a pandemic. What we’ve experienced in a limited manner is encouraging. Folks seem nice. Aside from the unfortunate graffiti marring the BLM mural last June and isolated incidents, there seems to be racial tolerance in an area in which there aren’t many races.

The mix of races I’ve experienced in Philadelphia, New York and Los Angeles has not always been harmonious.

Considering the events that have transpired around the nation over the last year, we all still have a long way to go in terms of tolerance and understanding as a country.

It’s going to be fascinating what transpires in Spokane over the next few years since the city is expanding due to business and affordability. Corporations and those seeking a break from the ridiculously high cost of living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle are relocating to the Lilac City, according to my Realtor.

Since folks are arriving from those cities, expect an increase in diversity. Courtesy of what my children and I know, it will only enhance the quality of life in Spokane. Regarding the potential influx of those with different shades of skin, I’ll leave the last word to Jane.

“Who doesn’t love a rainbow?”

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