The Spokane Community Against Racism saw light in the darkness of summer 2020, where the nation witnessed demands for racial equity in the aftermath of the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
Out of that, SCAR created its local Platform for Change initiative.
“In that moment … we saw an opportunity to really put down in writing the demands we had of our community, how our police will behave, how our criminal justice systems would behave,” said Jac Archer, a founding member of SCAR. “We spent about two weeks making so many phone calls and emails, and getting collaboration with other organizations. We got 24 organizations to sign on about a real, holistic vision and what wellness and safety can look like.”
Two years later, SCAR has now revitalized Platform for Change as a way to organize the community and hear directly about their concerns. Re-imagining community in Spokane is the mission, Archer said. The four-part series centering community wellness and safety kicked off with a seminar focusing on issues within the Black community.
“We’ve learned a lot in the last two years, and one of the things we learned was that we need to expand our coalitions,” Archer said.
Michaela Brown and Alethea Dumas facilitated Saturday’s conversation. Brown has been an equity and leadership facilitator through JustLead Washington, an organization with a goal of reaching equity and justice throughout the state. She is also a recent graduate of Whitworth University’s administration and nonprofit leadership graduate program.
Dumas started facilitating Black healing spaces early in the pandemic. Dumas said the idea is authentically seeing one another and creating vulnerability. The goal of those conversations was to “open up, heal and witness humanity” during a difficult time in America.
“Being Black, as beautiful as it is, it’s very complex, very unique and there’s so many layers,” Dumas said. “Being able to hold those experiences with care and with a sense of responsibility and accountability helps us continue to grow, build together and be stronger together.”
Eleven people from Spokane’s Black community participated in the conversation in person and virtually. The diversity of Black experience ranged from lifelong Spokane residents to military brats who settled in Spokane more recently. One of the youngest people to attend was Brett Devine, a 11-year-old who attended with his mother, District 5 congressional candidate Natasha Hill.
“It may not be his choice to come hang out with me and have Mom time, but I think it’s important for him to be in the community and witness this stuff,” Hill said.
The town hall kicked off with an interactive exercise about what safety feels, smells and looks like. Comments included “cool night air without guilt or anxiety,” describing the dangers of being perceived as a threat while taking walks at night as a Black person.
Others included a warm hug or babies feeling safe enough to fall asleep in your lap. While in breakout discussions, the groups discussed what it will take for them to feel safe in Spokane.
Curtis Hampton, a member of SCAR, referenced his childhood in South Carolina and how he had to unlearn callous survival tactics he learned during the Jim Crow era to truly feel safe.
“All lot of what we’re saying is strategies for survival, like when our parents tell us certain things,” Hampton said. “They’ll give you that hug or spank your hands so you know not to do that but what that is, is developing strategies so you can survive.”
Stephaine Courtney mentioned that uncomfortable conversations surrounding abuse should take the center stage during talks of safety. Courtney is the director of the Learning Project, a business that looks to implement curricula that develop the next generation of students.
“Whenever we’re talking about safety or community, we really have to have those dark conversations such as, what does safety look like for a person who has been physically and mentally abused,” Courtney said. “What does safety look like for a person that does have a connection with the Black community but doesn’t feel part of the Black community?”
The seminar also featured questions that compared the Black experience in Spokane to other places where the Black population is larger. Those who attended agreed that Spokane’s prevalence of biracial families creates an unprecedented look of race in Spokane.
Kerra Bowers works in child care services and has two children who are half-white and half-Black. She recalled moments where, in teacher-parent conversations, her white mother-in-law, Jana Pearson, found a need to step in and help Bowers advocate for her son. Bowers appreciated Pearson’s “understanding how damaging the angry Black woman” stereotype could’ve been at that moment.
“Spokane has a very unique Black culture in the many biracial children and multiethnic families that we have here,” Bowers said. “It’s something really unique in the way that we have to partner here.”
Another exercise included participants writing down what makes them feel unsafe in community. Many of the notes commented on Spokane’s issues with racism, the political climate of the Inland Northwest and the inability to build social and economic power within communities of color. Some notes also touched on white supremacy and issues with tokenism, especially when Black people internalize anti-Blackness in positions of power.
“Yes, there are these stories of white people possibly doing something,” Courtney said. “There’s something here that we have to talk about within the Black community that we’ve got to figure out.”
SCAR’s next community conversation, co-sponsored by Pacific Islander Coalition Association – Washington, will take place on June 14 in the Northeast Community Center’s lower meeting room. This session will focus on safety and wellness in Spokane’s Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities. Archer specified that the meetings are not for allyship or “people to observe and learn, these are spaces that are held for safety and authenticity.”
“It’s really important to center the voices of the communities that these town halls are being held for and by,” Archer said. “This means that the conversation is centered on and conducted for the community.”
Editor’s Note: Natasha Hill’s son, Brett, is 11 years old, not 15.
This story also was updated on Feb. 8, 2023, to correct the spelling of Stephaine Courtney’s name.