Federal Way is a community in transition.
Seventy years ago, we were a wide spot in the road with a primarily white population. Most of the community leaders were male. Now we have over 100 different languages. In Mike Park we had a Korean-American mayor. Our current and past deputy mayors were female, three members of our City Council are people of color, and three are female. Our superintendent and three members of our school board are women of color. We have a female state representative of color, a female senator, and the president and CEO of our Chamber of Commerce is female, as is the editor and publisher of our newspaper. We have had elected officeholders at all levels that identify as gay or lesbian.
El Paso, Dayton, Charlottesville. “Send them back where they came from.” Racism and sexism should be lost to the ages, but national discourse has become so brutal and disrespectful that it is hard to recognize who we are. President Donald Trump appears to want to divide us by race, and uses words designed to incite his supporters. A new poll taken by Fox News after El Paso shows 59% believe Trump is tearing us apart; only 31% say he is bringing us together.
We have a responsibility to show that our community is stronger than politics, will not be divided, and stands for inclusion, tolerance of different views and appreciation of what is right about this country, not what is wrong.
This past week we got a look in the mirror at who we are. At a breakfast to welcome new teachers to the school district, scholar Amy Ojeaburu, principal Ra’jeanna Conerly and teacher Jordan Rawls let the newcomers know why this is a special district to be part of with an inspirational welcome.
The city’s Diversity Commission raised money to put on the Flavor of Federal Way, which brought together many of the different groups that make us special. Different food, different languages, different colors, different music, young, old, together as one.
One of the most popular booths was Indian men from Khalsa Gurmat School who showed how to wrap a turban to the delight of children and adults. Other booths included political organizations, health care, and another booth showed women how to protect themselves and brought a temporary, but needed reminder of what they face.
The children of our interacial community played together without a thought to the differences.
But what will those children learn if they only grow up with people like themselves? The Trump administration said it would deny green cards to migrants who might need assistance.
Then acting Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli suggested that the poem on the statue of liberty was really only for immigrants who didn’t need help and came from Europe, which critics say will lead to primarily white newcomers.
But the poem we grew up repeating as a mantra of what this country embodied to the rest of the world states:
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free ,the wretched refuse of your teaming shore”. “Poor,” not wealthy. “Yearning to breathe free.” That is what our ancestors wanted and is what many of the thousands held at the Mexican border want — “to breathe free,” air after escaping the dangers of their homeland.
The Diversity Commission reminded us of a sacred obligation bigger than current politics. The equality of men and women, no matter their color, or social station.
But with that responsibility comes the requirement to put action to our words. Our national, state and city leaders need to take racism and gun violence seriously. No more “thoughts and prayers.” Sixty-seven percent oppose assault rifles, that repeat hundreds of shots and are needed by no one, better background checks, no buying guns at shows or over the internet without police review. TIME magazine’s cover lists all the mass shootings and shouts: “Enough.” El Paso, Dayton and Charlottesville, should never happen again, but unless we change, it will.
And we, as a community need to say, “I am my brother’s keeper” and help our homeless become productive, rather then try to run them out of town. City government needs to follow through on providing affordable and temporary housing support.
People of color in our community have a different experience with the police than most whites. It is time to have an adult conversation about establishing an independent oversight board to review police use of force. Residents of color shouldn’t be afraid of the police, and our children should learn from other cultures just as we have.
If City Hall can put the Seahawks flag up, as it has, then next June the city needs to join other cities and fly the pride flag. Not as a political statement, but as further evidence of the inclusion our city says it supports.
Lastly, the city should increase the Diversity Commission’s $5,000 budget. We are more than getting our money’s worth.
Federal Way resident Bob Roegner is a former mayor of Auburn. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.