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Graffiti stirs community to stand up against intolerance, hate and bias


Police came to the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center Nov. 15 and saw the “N” word scrawled in red spray paint on the side of one of the buildings.  They called it a hate crime.

Freda Gandy standing in the Martin Luther King Jr, Center playground.

“This type of hatred will not be tolerated in our community,” said Freda Gandy, director of the center for 16 years, at a gathering later that day to paint out the word.  “Children of all races come here in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.

“The hatred someone intended to unleash on this organization and this community will not be tolerated,” she said, asking the community to stand against hate and report bigotry.

Freda called people to stand against such racism now before it continues to spread.

She invited those not familiar with the center to visit on Saturday, Nov. 19, or go to to learn about the programs, learn how to be involved and support the center’s work and capital campaign for a new building on the same site at 845 S. Sherman.

The week after the incident, Freda said the center raised $20,000 for the building and also funds for security cameras. Many have volunteered.

Children who came on Nov. 15 to the before school program saw the graffiti before going to school.  Staff kept the other children inside, when they normally would have been on the playground and would have seen the graffiti.

“This is not right.  This is not okay. We will not stand by,” Freda said. “What are we teaching our children?  It’s not okay.  I shouldn’t have been calming the children before they went to school that day.  We just want to do good work and be here for families.  That’s it.  Our kids didn’t ask for this!”

Freda asked the faith community to pray for the center, for the person who did this and for the community.

Leaders in the faith community who were there Nov. 15 included Episcopal Bishop Jim Waggoner, Jr., Joe Wittwer of Life Center, and Walter Kendricks of Morning Star Baptist Church.

Joe asked people to hold hands and pray for overcoming the “us-them” mindset.

“It’s just us, and we need to stand together. We are thankful for Freda and the great work at the center.  Our hearts are broken.  We are angered by this.  We pray for a change of heart for the person who did this.  This hatred will not do any good.  Help us as a community.  There is so much anger across the community and country.  Help us stand with each other for justice.  Help us love our neighbors.”

The crowd of nearly 200, including city officials, the religious community and supporters were invited to take a paintbrush and share in painting over the words with paint that repels graffiti.

The next day Freda was inspired and heartened by the outpouring of support from city officials, the community, donations, people dropping off food and people calling to ask what they could do and how they could help.

She is preparing a list of ways to support the organization that embodies the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

“The incident provides a platform to talk about what happened and is happening, not only for African Americans, but also for Jews and Muslims,” Freda said.  “People are scared about what will happen in the next four years.”

She said one of the children asked her if the President-elect would close the center because he does not like black people.

“I shouldn’t need to answer that question or have children here see racial slurs on the building,” she said.  “I want to put together a conversation so people unite and feel safe.”

Phil Tyler, president of the Spokane NAACP, stopped the people before they painted out the words and called for people to step aside so they could see the graffiti.

“Let the community see what hate looks like before we wipe it off. We cannot wipe off the damage done to community. This is the reality of racism,” he said. “Racism did not end with the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.  It does not end with desecration of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center.”

Phil reminded that this is not new, and it’s not just because a new President was elected.

“This has been going on for years. The community and country need to wake up,” he said.  “Racism is here in Spokane.  It is not a relic of the past or the South.

“It’s not about raising paint brushes one day or for one incident.  We need to open up our minds.  When we see misbehavior, we need to speak to it.  I love freedom. This community has poured out money and time for many nonprofits,” he said, inviting people to support the center’s capital fund drive to build a new building to support local children.

“I’m mad. To the individual or individuals who did this, I want you to know you did not break us or change us. You strengthened our resolve,” Phil said.

While some people painted out the word, others sang “we shall overcome” and “we are not afraid.”

Skyler Oberst, president of Spokane’s Interfaith Council, reported the next day a swastika painted on a Logan neighborhood garage with the words, “Can’t stump the Trump, Mexicans.”

Governor Jay Inslee has invited Skyler and other faith, immigrant, refugee, LGBTQ and minority communities leaders to a breakfast to discuss how Washington can continue to be “a place that values diversity, inclusion and equality,” and a “place of hope, dignity and respect for women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, communities, people of all faiths and people of all abilities.”

“I’m so grateful my leaders are committed to making our communities better through loving their neighbors,” said Skyler, “but we need to be both proactive and reactive to address these concerns.”

The Interfaith Council is connecting with the Institute of Hate Studies at Gonzaga University, the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force and Spokane FAVS to hold an event on “How to Be a Good Neighbor” from 6 to 9 p.m., Saturday, Dec. 3, in Jepson Center at Gonzaga University.

Skyler has also connected with such advocacy groups as the Council on American Islamic Relations to lead a workshop on addressing Islamophobia and the Anti-Defamation league on addressing anti-Semitism.

Kristine Hoover, director of the Institute for Hate Studies, said she brings two concerns to the conversation:

“The institute is committed to  care for the whole person and for all people.   Higher education can offer teaching, research and service to better understand what is happening in our communities and to focus our energy on becoming our better selves,” she said.

“We are looking for our role when there are incidents such as the racial slur at the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center, the graffiti in the Logan neighborhood or anti-Semitic words written in the dust of a car windshield,” Kristine said. 

“We need to ask how we can coordinate our efforts with the good work of others to have the greatest positive impact to move forward,” she said.

Speaking on behalf of the Spokane County Human Rights Task Force, Dean Lynch, president, said that the  recent hate activities will not be ignored. The task force will coordinate efforts so all residents feel safe, honest disagreement can be shared and everyone can improve their lives physically, emotionally, intellectually and economically.

In a joint statement, State Senator Andy Billig, and Representatives Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli expressed their outrage at the slur painted on the center:

“We seek to expand tolerance and understanding. As leaders, we want everyone to feel free and safe in their community. Actions like this hateful vandalism only set us back. We cannot allow hate to spread, alienating and dividing this great nation.”

They urged citizens of the Spokane area to stand in support of the MLK Center, which “is a beacon of hope.”

“We will overcome this act of hate and prove that the foundation of love that the MLK Center has created in our city will not waver,” they said.

For information, call 455-8722.

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