On the afternoon of Sept. 7, dozens of people from throughout the Eastside gathered at the International Friends School in Bellevue.
Young children could be seen enjoying themselves on the playground equipment and chasing the onsite chickens while adults formed small clumps throughout the campus and conversed with one another. Many in attendance — young and old — were also either working on or had already finished the small tray of ice cream that was being offered to each person.
As enjoyable as the ice cream was, that wasn’t the reason they were all there.
People were at a school on a weekend for the official launch of Eastside for All (EFA), a race and social justice advocacy organization based in East King County, focused entirely on advancing social justice for our local communities, according to its website.
The website states that East King County is “more diverse racially and ethnically than the city of Seattle.” However, “we lack the critical infrastructure to support our communities and hold ourselves accountable to be the safe, equitable, and welcoming region we aspire to be.”
A diverse region
Next week marks the one-year anniversary of this column.
In the last year, I’ve had the privilege of writing on a variety of topics ranging from race relations on the Eastside and the #MeToo movement, to the lack of affordable housing for seniors, and the LGBTQ+ community — just to name a few topics.
I’ve written about a variety of people and groups on the Eastside because there is a variety of people and groups on the Eastside. But if you were to ask me when I began my career on the Eastside almost nine years ago if I would end up covering these diverse populations in this region, you would’ve been met with skepticism. Back then, diversity would not have been the first thing that came to my mind about the Eastside.
But the Eastside is a diverse region of the Pacific Northwest. Despite the perception that this is an affluent area with a lot of money, EFA founder and CEO Debbie Lacy said there is also hidden poverty and racism.
Heena Khatri, a Bellevue resident who attended the EFA launch, agreed. She said since the Eastside may be doing better economically than other parts of King County, these types of issues have a tendency to be just brushed under the rug.
According to the EFA website, the total population of the cities of Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Issaquah and Sammamish is 385,000. People of color make up 40.4 percent of that and 31.6 percent of the region’s residents were born outside of the United States. That comes to 155,540 and 121,660 people, respectively. Despite those numbers, “We have no office of immigrant and refugee affairs,” the website states.
Lacy, who also started the Eastside Refugee and Immigrant Coalition (ERIC), is working to change this through EFA.
She said we don’t use the term “racial justice” on the Eastside and we cannot advance welcoming in the community if we don’t talk about racial justice.
External advocates needed
While there are definitely people here on the Eastside who are passionate about racial and social justice, the work they are doing is typically secondary to their main roles at their respective agencies, organizations or businesses.
There are a few issues with this.
Lacy said advocates are agitators and disrupters and this can become difficult to do when your paycheck relies on people liking you. And when you depend on specific individuals to do the work, that work can stall out as people come and go.
There is a difference between having an internal and external advocate. Lacy said there can be a lack of accountability in a community without an external advocate.
Also, there is the very real risk of burnout for people who are doing the work (on top of the rest of their job).
Currently, Lacy said there is a lack of leadership skills and expertise within city governments on the Eastside. She pointed out that we would not see this in any other department such as, for example, economic development.
The Eastside needs people who are competent and can do the job full time, not part time.
“We’re missing some pieces,” she said about the region’s current lack of infrastructure.
A three-pronged approach
While EFA may be just officially launching, its board of directors has already been formed. Lacy introduced them at the event. The board members are Derrick Dotson, Maha Jafarey, Tina Morales, Felix Ngoussou, Fadumo Roble, Samuel Rodriguez and Michelle Williams-Clark.
With its board formed, there are three key pieces Lacy said EFA is working to establish.
The first is the East King County Office for Equity and Advancement. According to the EFA website, the office will have two divisions. The first is the Welcoming Cities Collaborative, made up of representatives from East King County city governments. The second division will focus on social justice initiatives: inclusive economy, immigrant and refugee affairs, and race and social justice.
The second is The Welcoming Institute, which will “[support] and [equip] everyone interested in advancing their knowledge and skills to co-create an Eastside where all people belong and all voices matter,” the EFA website states.
The third is to integrate “welcoming attributes into existing spaces as well as create new ‘third place’ spaces that are imagined, planned, designed, and built to nurture connections and relationships across cultures and generations,” according to the website.
For that last one, Lacy said this includes creating and building actual physical buildings and spaces.
Teamwork makes the dream work
If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. But Lacy emphasized that this is going to be a team effort.
Khatri — who is on the board of OneAmerica Votes, an organization that promotes democracy and builds power in immigrant and refugee communities — feels it is important for us to work together and share resources.
“Because there isn’t anything like this,” she said about EFA.
One of the reasons Khatri — whose father is from India and mother is from Fiji — attended the event because she wanted to network and connect with other like-minded people and see how she could contribute to the cause and share ideas with others. And that is what happened, as she said she made some great connections.
Lacy said people are welcome to participate in any capacity they are comfortable — whether that is on the front lines or not.
“There is a place for you, no matter what level of involvement you want to have, ” she said.
EFA is currently in the middle of its seed campaign. With a goal of initially raising $20,000, the organization has received $10,088 in donations.
For more information, go online to EastsideForAll.org.
Windows and Mirrors is a bimonthly column focused on telling the stories of people whose voices are not often heard. If you have something you want to say, contact editor Samantha Pak at email@example.com.