Edmonds is known for its beautiful waterfront sunsets, but Sunday night’s sky wasn’t the main feature for the 100 people gathered at Brackett’s Landing beach. Instead, a group of 100 citizens gathered to show their solidarity against racism after an Edmonds man, Dembo Sanneh, and his family were subjected to racial slurs and a death threat along Sunset Avenue two weeks earlier.
“We want to come out as a community and document historically that…Edmonds stands against hate crimes, stands against hatred and stands for neighborly civility toward everyone,” said Edmonds resident Emily Hill, who organized the “Edmonds Embraces Diversity” event after reading about the incident in My Edmonds News.
Edmonds elected officials in attendance included City Council President Diane Buckshnis and Councilmembers Adrienne Fraley-Monillas, Thomas Mesaros and Strom Peterson. (Councilmember Lora Petso was unable to attend but sent her husband Colin Southcoate-Want to represent her.) Also there to show support were State Sen. Marko Liias (21st District) and State Reps. Cindy Ryu (32nd District) and Luis Moscoso (1st District).
Peterson said that the verbal threats to Sanneh, a native of Gambia, have prompted the city council to speed up efforts to create a diversity commission, something he hopes will happen “by the end of the year…so that we can talk about these issues more often than just one night or after such a horrible incident.”
Peterson also introduced to the crowd Babucarr Jallow, president of the Northwest Gambian Association, who participated in the event. Hill presented Jallow with a blue vase “representing the color of the waters between America and the Republic of the Gambian, and we are so grateful that you represent the Gambian community this evening.”
Featured speaker for the event was Tung Bui, a seven-year Edmonds resident and former Edmonds Chamber of Commerce Board member, who told the crowd that he and his family escaped Vietnam just before it fell to Communist rule in 1975. Bui ended up in Astoria, Ore., where he noted that he “looked much different than the Scandinavians and Fins” in town. However, “even though I looked different, people of Astoria did not make me feel different,” Bui said. “As a result of that, I got to focus my attention on education, on personal growth and not about personal safety — and it’s done a lot for me since then.”
Bui noted that his life experiences — from earning money at the age of 8 by selling gum and snacks at the local theater in Vietnam to his transition to his new life in the U.S. — may be different than those of others, but valuing those diverse backgrounds only serves to strengthen the community.
Pointing to the Sunset Avenue outlook where Sanneh was confronted, Bui said: “So today we are here because someone up there yelled at a man and his family that it was not right on our streets to be different, and that does not represent who we are as a community.
“If we fear diversity, hate will come out as a result of that – we’ve seen that,” Bui continued. “If we embrace diversity, then strength will come forth. So my friends, let’s walk today. Let’s tell everyone that the people of Edmonds welcome, we want and we embrace diversity, do we not?”
With that, the crowd walked along the path to the jetty and then circled back slowly to the beach as the sky began to glow in the dusk.
As the crowd lingered on the beach, Hill was greeted by Sanneh, who said he was “very proud of the Edmonds community who came out, not only for me, but for everybody.”
“It could happen to anybody, to any family,” Sanneh said.
Also making a statement following the walk was the Rev. Kizzie Jones, an Edmonds resident who is a United Church of Christ minister. Citing the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. — “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” — Jones said: “Today Edmonds comes together to give voice to the injustice that has been done. We stand together on the things that matter.”
— Story by Teresa Wippel