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Racial Justice workshop offers open discussion

Lisa Gardner and Amy McColm


Leading a discussion at a workshop on "Racial Justice Issues" for the 2023 Eastern Washington Legislative Conference, NAACP Spokane leaders Amy McColm and Lisa Gardner said the NAACP is concerned about far more than voting rights and police violence.

"NAACP Spokane is a place where people of color and white people work together to address issues," they said.

Amy chairs the Education Committee and Lisa, who, along with being director of communications and community engagement for the Spokane City Council, serves as second vice president of the NAACP.

NAACP Spokane seeks to be at the table to discuss a broad range of social justice issues represented by its committees: economic justice, environmental justice, youth and young adult engagement, legal redress, education, civic engagement, criminal justice and health care.

On health issues, Lisa pointed out that the NAACP is working with Spokane Public Schools to invite students of color to enter the pipeline of those going to college to study for health careers, to be doctors, nurses and psychologists.

"There are few people of color in the health-care industry, so people of color see few people who look like them when they go to an emergency room or a doctor's office," she said.

When one workshop participant said she wanted to be involved but "can't join the NAACP because she is white," Amy and Lisa were quick to correct her, saying the NAACP encourages white people to join. Given that just 2 percent of Spokane's population is African American, many members are white.

"We want you to be a member and ally," Lisa said.

Another participant asked about a comment from someone in her book group that is currently studying racism. The group member suggested that "if you think you are not racist, you may be racist."

Lisa said that in the NAACP people of color and white people recognize barriers of systemic racism and "figure out together how to disrupt and dismantle the barriers."

Amy said being together in the NAACP helps people look at implicit bias and talk about civil rights.

"As white people, we need to be correctable when we say things that hurt someone. We can say we are sorry and can thank the person for having the grace to tell us," she said.

Lisa pointed out that racial justice is a process, listening to those exposed to bias and resistance, and joining them in breaking down the injustices.

Amy said the Education Committee focuses on issues such as pressure on school boards by militant, right-wing groups that want to ban books on racial history and on gender identity.

She spoke of simple educational efforts, like the power of her wearing her well-worn "Black Lives Matter" T-shirt as a means to open conversations.

A third participant did not know about environmental injustices people of color face.

"We learn as we go along," said Amy. 

Jessica Zimmerle, formerly with Earth Ministry/Washington Interfaith Power and Light, said that organization has an intentional anti-racist strategy as it challenges environmental injustices.

Post-George Floyd, Lisa noted that there has been renewed awareness of the need to be inclusive and anti-racist, and the need to promote diversity, equity and inclusion as more than "buzz words."

"Our members want to do something more than go out and march," Lisa said.

One attendee explained that an ally is someone who walks side by side.

"A justice co-conspirator is someone who stands beside us and goes all the way," she said.

For people interested in meeting informally with people of diverse races to build community, Justice Forral of Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR) said SCAR offers Burrito Sundays each week at 5:30 p.m., Sundays, at Indigenous Eats, 829 E. Boone.

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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, March 2023