Young and old took turns to speak out against hate, bigotry and abuse, delivering a loud and clear message heard in the backdrop of a celebration last Saturday.
Guest speakers – ranging from residents to activists – called for the end of racism and senseless violence, urging all to come together and encourage youth and each other to make for a better community and a more unified America.
Such was the tone at Our Place in the March, a tribute to the 54th anniversary of the historic march on Washington, D.C., where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The Kent Black Action Commission – a small grassroots group that is working to shape, support and advance conditions of the African-American community – presented the open program at Burlington Green Park.
Given the events in the country, most recently the violence at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., KBAC concluded its oratorical program with a “Let’s Stand in Solidarity” pledge against hate. The event included music, the replaying of King’s famous speech, as well as voter registration and voter education.
“Racism has no place in Kent,” 80-year-old Alex Jones told the small crowd. Jones, a Mississippi plantation-born man who overcame the strife of a segregated South to build a productive life, worked 31 years for the city of Kent. “If you want to get anywhere in life, you don’t hate nobody. … You give everybody a chance, regardless of color. … You respect each other.”
Like Jones, Joe Duffie came from humble beginnings and found his way. Originally from Arkansas, Duffie went far without a college education. He served 31 years in the military, toiled 22 years in the shipyards and worked 21 years as head custodian at Tukwila Elementary School before retiring five years ago. He continues to occupy a seat on the Tukwila City Council, a position he has had for 36 years.
Duffie, 73, has lived in Tukwila since 1967, when his was one of only three black families in the city, he said.
Duffie urged others to support the next generation of workers and called on educational and city leaders to train and get them where they need to go.
“We have to make sure that our kids have a high school education … for those who want to go to college, fine,” Duffie told the crowd. “But we need to train kids. We have got to look back and start helping our kids. Half the people today don’t know what their kids are doing. Why? We don’t care. We’re too busy. You can’t get too busy with kids.
“… We have too many kids today who run in the streets, doing nothing, but kids are great with their hands,” he said, “and if we can focus that our kids have a trade … you will see construction. … You don’t see a computer out there today pouring cement, or a computer driving that truck. We have to teach our kids to get interested in doing things besides being on the streets.”
Duffie called on leaders, gesturing to Kent mayoral candidates Jim Berrios and Dana Ralph, who were in attendance, to openly talk and work with the community to achieve great things.
“(The City Council) works for you … that’s what I tell everybody. We need to work together,” Duffie said. “You, the people, are the backbone of the city and the council, but you have to work together. … If you’re not together, it’s not going to work.”
KBAC’s program served as an opportunity for Savannah Gilley to stand up and speak out in memory of a lost, close friend. Gilley dated Giovonn Joseph-McDade who was killed in a Kent Police officers-involved shooting on June 24.
Gilley said there needs to be more training for police who encounter violent situations. Much more can be done to avoid the loss of young life, she said.
“… We were all robbed of seeing a tomorrow with him and nothing will ever make up for that,” Gilley told the crowd, reading from a prepared statement. “However, I refuse to let his life be reduced to another statistic or hashtag because his life, as well as the many others who have been involved in similar incidents, is worth much more than that.
“It is our responsibility as human beings to speak up and stand up against intolerance, ignorance and senseless hate because if we don’t, who will?”
To learn more, visit kentblackactioncommission.org or contact Richard Johnson, 253-631-7944, or Gwen Allen-Carston, 253-486-9029.