The first-ever quarterly public meeting held last week by Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell for African American and Black communities proved to be a starting line for the city’s partnership with communities of color.
Spiked with tense moments as community members shared their perspectives, more than 100 attendees joined the virtual meeting on July 29, including elected officials, city council members, community leaders and curious residents.
Presentations opening the meeting included speakers such as Overcomer Covenant Church Pastor Rev. Gordon Banks, Federal Way Police Chief Andy Hwang, Municipal Judge Dave Larson, Federal Way Diversity Commission Chair Julian Franco, Federal Way Black Collective Executive Director Lyn Idahosa, and Chief’s Call Chair Dr. Bob McKenzie.
When communities don’t traditionally have a voice, the greater community is unable to assess the value those voices bring to the table, Lyn Idahosa said.
The meeting was modeled after the city’s quarterly meeting with the Korean American community, which has been established for more than 25 years. The mayor asked the group for their thoughts on making the African American/Black community meeting a quarterly event, to which many responded they were already under the impression it would be going forward.
In a follow up email July 30, Ferrell wrote: “You have my commitment that these meetings with the African American/Black Community will occur on a quarterly basis moving forward.”
Presentations ran overtime, which then limited availability for public comment and created confusion over the agenda. However, more than a dozen people did speak during public comment.
During the two-hour meeting, Tirzah Idahosa expressed her frustrations.
“It’s taken 25 years for you to invite the African American community to have these meetings,” the Federal Way resident and community member said. “Our discussion was that we wanted the meetings to be for us, by us, not you taking over the meeting.”
While technical difficulties and the inconvenience of virtual gatherings hindered the conversation at times, the meeting was met with mixed emotions. Some leaders and community members said they appreciated the opportunity and this historic step to ensure a reliable platform is given to African American and Black communities in Federal Way.
Others spoke about the need for a more orderly meeting agenda, set by the community who is most affected, which would allow the appropriate amount of time for progress, public comment and change to happen.
Ferrell explained that as the inaugural meeting, there are several kinks to work out.
“Sometimes the most important thing is to take the first step,” he said. “That’s what we’re doing here.”
Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan emphasized the importance of the communities who have lived the “George Floyd life” having an opportunity to talk to city leaders about policies and priorities that may conflict with the access, equity, and inclusion barriers of communities of color.
“If it had not been for technology, we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion right now because the murder of George Floyd has led us to this point where we can now have an open dialogue,” she said.
Those subjected to racism, both extrinsic and systemic, need to have a safe and respectful place to share those experiences in order for the city to grow, attendees agreed.
“At the end of the day, the ideas that are going to come from this body of this quarterly meeting is going to support not just the African American community, it’s going to [provide] ideas that support other parts of the community,” said Jamila Taylor. “Right now, we’re trying to have perfection rather than forward movement.”
The next African American/Black community quarterly meeting will be held sometime in October.
Watch the Federal Way African American/Black community forum on the city’s YouTube channel.