As a part of the Tumwater Community 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, city leaders including Mayor Pete Kmet stressed the need to discuss racial equity in an online meeting with the Tumwater School Board on Thu., Oct. 7.
The 21-Day Challenge is a joint initiative by the Tumwater City Council and the Tumwater School Board to provide a safe space for community members to share their thoughts on racial equity, and encourage them to build “effective social justice habits,” particularly on issues of race, power and privilege. Residents can also participate in the different challenges available at the city’s website.
“Racial justice is something that we can no longer ignore. Not as community leaders. It’s time for us to fully understand life experiences from others [in] our community,” the Mayor shared. During the discussion, the Mayor also openly admitted that he did not have the best social justice habits to begin with. Kmet shared that because of his background, he was unaware that some things which might have been previously considered harmless are racist.
“I grew up in a small town in New Hampshire, and there was one African-American family in my community so from my perspective, race was something that I didn’t really think much about, Kmet said. “My primary exposure to people of color was through TV and movies.” He shared that he might have done some things “without realizing it hurts someone. But we didn’t think of ourselves as racist...I guess you can say naive.”
Kmet shared that as he traveled throughout the country, he learned more about racial equity. He continued by saying that there is a need to discuss these inequities, following last year’s political demonstrations. He believed that people need to have an “understanding [of] the injustices of the past and present and work to prevent them in the future.” The mayor concluded that there is still an opportunity for growth, “I hope we can grow as individuals and in turn help our community.”
Tumwater Councilmember Angela Jefferson also recognized that having these conversations is difficult. “Talking about race and equity is hard. And it makes people feel bad,” Jefferson said. She also explained the misconceptions related to the issue, “Some people actually call this critical race theory. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want kids to feel bad about what their ancestors did.” She continued, “Some people call it left-leaning ideology. Some people call it being indoctrinated by the left.”
Jefferson added, “I call it we’re learning...we’re learning about what makes this nation great.” Jefferson said, “I want to provide information on how it is to be an immigrant, how it is to be marginalized, how it is to be a black woman in society.” While race remains a sensitive topic, Jefferson assured, “I want everyone to understand...it is safe to talk about this.”
The joint session was led by leaders from Puget Sound Educational Service District (PSESD), which consults to school districts, tribal schools and private schools. Their services are part of Educators of Color Leadership Community (ECLC), an initiative to support and empower educators of color. In the discussion, PSESD’s Director-Equity in Education, Eileen Yoshina and Family & Community Partnerships Director Matthew Gulbranson focused on the need for community leaders and educators to acknowledge and honor native tribes.
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