At a November 2016 rally in Spokane, Washington, an African American retired EWU photography professor, Robert Lloyd, waved his arm in the air and invited any of the 250 people packed in that gymnasium to come to Rocket Market every Thursday at 10 am and discuss Black Culture. I saw him wave across the room and immediately thought now THIS is something I could do - small group, informal, no agenda, long discussions, etc. I’m not so much a “big organization joining” type of person, but love face-to-face interactions. So, that very next Thursday, I sat in the parking lot at Rocket Market and thought WHAT THE HECK AM I DOING HERE? What will I say? What could I possibly offer? Do I just say, Hey, I would like some Black friends? And the doubts flooded in. But I did join the table that day with Bob and 4-5 others. I rather clumsily introduced myself as did everyone else, and the conversations began.
Fast forward 18 months and nearly a hundred coffees (and gatherings) later, Vern and I are now faithful members of the Thursday Coffee group, which averages about a half dozen people each week. Occasionally, significant leaders or politicians of the community drop in for a chat, but mostly it’s a core of about five people. We’ve seen a dozen movies – often together and with discussion, read several books, and listened to lectures on topics from Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome to our fractured prison system. I thought I was a “fairly good citizen” before, but soon realized how narrow and shallow my world had become. Now that we’ve had our new friends into our home and have been in theirs, all those honest and hard questions about racism, white privilege, politics, and priorities are so much easier to ask and discuss. And most importantly, we are beginning to understand what the “real” history of our United States is.
Thursday Coffee members have marched in support of a young black man shot in the back 30 yards away and killed by a white man who was acquitted by an all white jury on claims of “self defense.” We’ve raised money to send 52 Black women and their daughters to the fabulous movie Hidden Figures to show what very bright African American women did in the 60’s for our space program. We’ve spent hours in Bob Lloyd’s home and learned the role he played in the 60’s, often shuttling Martin Luther King back and forth to rallies; his photography displaying a remarkable and personal journey through the Civil Rights Movement. Other ideas coming from Thursday Coffee include supporting two struggling artists of by providing art supplies each month, designing Hate is NOT Welcome shirts and signs (more info below) after Mr. Norris Cooley, a 66-year-old Black man, was harassed and shot at by two White Supremacists last October. Some have become Precinct Officers to encourage voting and neighborhood discussions, and a few of us participated in Refugee training. These discussions have morphed into another group of diverse women in Spokane, and my African American friends DG and Jackie came over to meet a dozen Cheney women at my house just yesterday. Now some of us are planning “Listening Tours” and half-day retreats in the future to become better and more compassionate listeners to ALL points of view.
Remember my story about sitting in the Rocket Market parking lot, feeling ignorant, inadequate, and wondering what in the world to say? Well, the connections were practically instantaneous that morning, and making a few friends of color has made it SO much easier to make many more - and feel comfortable in diverse cultures and settings. I love the statement: It is hard to hate up close. We need to move in. It takes a little thought and time, but you can find a place to “dive in” to the circle. These future friends are awaiting our questions and welcome the chance to enlighten and be enlightened. I ask my Black friends now, “How can we white privileged folks find out more about you and your culture.” They universally reply, almost laughing and shouting, “Just ASK!!!” Begin these conversations, invite people of diversity, culture, and color to your table, ask important questions, listen carefully, and show love. Good, peaceful things follow.
Here are a few books and movies where we’ve gained great lessons. I can completely guarantee you will find enlightenment and increase your understanding of Black Culture. Just start ticking them off one by one!
BOOKS: Waking Up White, Small Great Things, Between the World and Me, Just Mercy, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, and Malcolm X
MOVIES: The Vernon Johns Story, 13th, Loving, Hidden Figures, Get Out, Where to Invade Next, Race, The Color of Fear, and Freedom Riders
Below is a statement from Randi Madison, the screen-print designer at Ammonite Ink in Spokane, who helped me design the Hate is NOT Welcome Campaign.
Hello Beautiful People!
“I just wanted to share with you an example of how one woman and a handful of concerned citizens have taken a step-in action raising awareness around the disturbing and unsettling feelings surrounding hate crimes we have all witnessed in many forms in our city, country, and world. We are entering into a time where many of our society's dark secrets are being unearthed. We are at a unique time, as this unearthing of abuses, fear-based ideologies, and blatantly damaging personas are being revealed to us, and in turn ARE a reflection of us at some level. The “Hate is NOT Welcome Here” products were inspired by the recognition that we are at a powerful point of choosing to be complacent or to take action, of choosing to see what role we play in what we attract. I hope you are inspired to learn more about your own truths and radiate out a newfound commitment to compassion in action. Just taking the time to look inward, digest, transform your own outdated beliefs and reflect back to the world a more aware and mindful version of yourself is really the most powerful thing we can do. For that no purchase necessary! However, if you feel as if the messaging does reflect you or would be a great gift for those you know, please consider supporting the cause. Every single dollar of profit will support the Center for Justice in Spokane. (The shirts are now available wholesale only for orders of 12 or more. Gather your friends together and get a few! Website is: https://www.ammoniteink.com/shop-1