With a heightened focus on honest dialogue and creation of a safe space to discuss difficult issues, change begins.
At the second quarterly meeting for local members of African American and Black communities, community leaders presented Federal Way Mayor Jim Ferrell with a list of requests on Oct. 14.
Within days, several community asks had been accomplished through the form of a city proclamation made on Oct. 20. However, other requests require more time.
The second virtual meeting, a promise fulfilled following the first meeting in July, was held on Oct. 14 and this time around, community members had control of the meeting’s structure, its agenda and the direction of conversations as opposed to the first meeting when public officials decided its fate.
“This is a great opportunity for those who have traditionally been left out and have not had access, to have access now,” said meeting moderator and Federal Way resident Cynthia Ricks-Maccotan.
In the Oct. 14 meeting, a noticeable change to the structure included dedicated, separate times for those of the African diaspora and people of non-African diaspora to speak.
Ricks-Maccotan said this was an intentional move after the first meeting’s comment exchanges weren’t friendly and violated the premise of a safe space.
“That kind of bothered me in that first meeting because that space was created for people of color to speak,” she said. “And there shouldn’t have been any negativity from anyone else who wasn’t a part of that community.”
This second meeting was equity-driven, not focused on equality, she said, because “equality says we get the same thing, equity means what we get is based on what our needs are.”
For all too long, people of color haven’t had a voice at the table, she said: “And now we do.”
“Why is it that we have to apologize for saying ‘this is our space and our time?’” Ricks-Maccotan asked. “This isn’t an anti-ally environment so much as it is a space created safely and exclusively for people of African descent to address concerns and issues on their terms with people who are in a position to make policies and develop programs that impact them.”
Difficulties arise when the needs have to be addressed, but communities of color don’t want to offend white allies, she said. The space of the meeting is precious and needs to be maximized to help African American and Black people, not used to make white people feel at ease.
“At some point, all of us need to be uncomfortable, because it’s through that discomfort that you recognize that change needs to happen — and we should be OK with that uncomfortability,” she said. “And welcome it and embrace it, because at that point, change can happen.”
In the early portion of the meeting, Mayor Ferrell provided an update on city happenings, noting the budget process was well underway.
This prompted community members to ask for additional data showing what percentage of funds are going to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) founded or led organizations and communities, noting the need for intentional investments of city money.
Ricks-Maccotan presented the list of “BIPOC City Asks,” which stem from the Federal Way Black Collective’s community meetings, COVID-19 stressors and subsequent issues, the killing of George Floyd and other acts that show the disproportionate impact on the Black community. These asks derive from community feedback and are directly related to items that could be related to the city of Federal Way budget, she said.
The asks include: a proclamation that racism is a public health crisis and that the city has no tolerance for racism; a proclamation and statement supporting Black Lives Matter and addressing peaceful protesting; an affirmation of struggles that Black and African American communities experience; a request for a full-time diversity, equity and inclusion position at the city to work with human resources, assess potential barriers, develop strategies in maintaining diverse workforce, community outreach, and grant writing responsibilities; an independent community and resident board to review the police department; and more.
Mayor Ferrell went through the list of asks and explained how the city would go about accomplishing each one. Ferrell noted the challenges that prevent others from coming to fruition.
“I truly believe, without reservation, that Black lives matter,” Ferrell said at the Oct. 14 community meeting. “I want to be intentional about our language and I’m not sure that the Black Lives Matter is a movement we do — I do support the movement and the causes for that — but I don’t think we need to necessarily put out a proclamation … My job as mayor is [to] bring people together.”
As a result of the asks, the mayor presented an inclusive city proclamation at the Oct. 20 city council meeting that welcomed immigrants and people of color, condemned institutional racism and discrimination, and acknowledged the barriers that cause injustices and inequalities for communities of color, among other declarations.
In less than seven days since the meeting, “we got some of the things we requested,” Ricks-Maccotan said.
“We didn’t get to where we are dealing with these issues overnight,” she said. “It took time. And we’re not going to solve them overnight. I’m in for the long haul and so is the rest of the community.”
She remains optimistic about the commitment shown by the mayor, the city and the community to continue working toward these asks.
Some asks may be quick, such as the proclamation. Others, such as independent police oversight boards or a diversity, equity and inclusion staffer, will take longer.
“Because of social construct, because of desire to have a hierarchy and privilege, others are subject to inequalities and other ‘isms’ and this has been around for thousands of years,” she said. “It’s going to take us time.”
Looking forward, the next quarterly meeting for African American and Black communities will be held in January.
“The commonality is that for the majority of us where we have African-like features, because of our appearance, we know that we will be subject to various institutions of racism,” Ricks-Maccotan said. “That’s what binds us together, that experience here in America.”
To watch the Oct. 14 Black and African American communities meeting, visit the City’s YouTube page.