‘We’re collecting all input’: Welcoming Kirkland has second town hall meeting

Like its Feb. 15 predecessor, the Feb. 20 gathering was focused on business and police protocols.

On Feb. 20, Leadership Eastside (LE) invited members of the community to the Kirkland Justice Center for a town hall-style gathering.

During the meeting, whose subject was “business and police protocols,” attendees, which included residents and city officials, shared ideas about how businesses can interact with the police and community members to foster a more welcoming feeling.

Those who participated were grouped by table and encouraged to transcribe their ideas on note cards that would be passed upward.

The town hall meeting, which was preceded by a similar event on Feb. 15 and will see its next iteration in April, falls under the Welcoming Kirkland initiative. The initiative, which is backed by the city and LE, was launched to respond to concerns that people of color — especially black people — in Kirkland feel unwelcome. Welcoming Kirkland entails a series of educational talks and meetings intending to make concrete inclusivity efforts in the city.

“We’re collecting all input,” James Whitfield, the lead facilitator of Welcoming Kirkland, said at the beginning of the meeting. “It’s not a debate. It’s quite possible that people at your table are going to have a different perspective. That is good; that is by design.”

A business/police protocols working group comprising 10-12 stakeholders will see the the feedback from Thursday evening, as well as the Feb. 15 and April gatherings, and use the information to formulate a plan to make Kirkland more welcoming.

At the Thursday gathering, attendees were asked to respond to two questions: “What would be the benefit, in your opinion, of Kirkland becoming more inclusive?” and “What is one thing, in your opinion, that would make Kirkland more welcoming, including (or specifically) for people of color?”

They were also encouraged to point out what they thought was missing from previously collected feedback from stakeholders and other community members, which had suggested changes/improvements to city hiring practices, available connecting spaces, training and monitoring. One significant early suggestion was that Welcoming Kirkland consider developing a collective leadership forum comprising residents, businesses/organizations and the city to centralize inclusivity efforts.

“This is a starting point,” Whitfield said of the meeting. “It’s a way to have a conversation start. It is by design, intended to find out the things that are missing — the things that you would like to see that aren’t there. I’m not about to pitch a thing that says, ‘Hey, see how great this is?’ It’s more of, ‘Hey, here’s a starting point for a discussion.’ We want to make sure we are hearing what your thoughts are.”

Tables typically discussed their thoughts among themselves, with those thoughts then brought out to the rest of the room for a broader discussion.

Regarding the first question posed, participants brought up improved safety and vibrancy as benefits, while also noting that inclusivity is oftentimes dependent on affordability as well and how great the wealth income gap is in a given area.

For question two, which tied into what those at the meeting felt was missing from previous feedback, attendees noted that some unmentioned areas that could help bring more change included emphasizing youth perspectives, more input from housing stakeholders and a more nuanced approach to looking at how legal barriers (e.g., noise ordinances, paid parking areas, permitting) might undermine things like community gatherings.

Further comments for consideration can be emailed to kirkland@leadershipeastside.com.

Following the discussion, attendees gathered in a circle, held hands and were tasked with sharing one word or a short phrase that would best describe participating — “think beyond” and “progress” among them.

“Community starts with building community,” Whitfield said at the end of the meeting. “We build community by building community.”

For the full Welcoming Kirkland event schedule, go to bit.ly/2umXWv8.