Edmonds resident Alicia Crank brought a group of Black residents together Saturday afternoon to have a frank conversation about being Black in Edmonds.
The online discussion — broadcast to hundreds via Zoom and Facebook Live — was meant to be a proactive conversation among the five, where “hopefully others will listen and have a takeaway,” Crank said. “We don’t want this to be about answering other people’s questions but talking about what it is we feel like we need to talk about.”
The participants, in addition to Crank, were Donnie Griffin, a retired telecommunications and human services executive who serves on the Edmonds Diversity Commission and Edmonds Center for the Arts Board; Tracy Cobbin, a real estate broker and long-time Edmonds Chamber of Commerce ambassador; Dar’Nesha Weary, a business owner and racial equity consultant; and Richard Taylor, a speaker, author and consultant.
Crank, a nonprofit development officer and business consultant who serves on the Edmonds Planning board and as vice chair of the Snohomish County Airport Commission, started out by asking each participant to share in one word how it has felt to be Black in Edmonds over the past six months. That time frame was chosen because it was the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, “because everything kind of changed for us.” She started the exercise, using the word “frustrated.” She described watching “the best of Edmonds come out” as the pandemic unfolded, with individuals and small businesses collaborating to help each other. “It was fun to see and it really restored my faith: This is why I live here. I see all the good things that are here. I see the good people and the good intentions.” But then, “there is the other end of the spectrum as time has passed,” she said, “to hear and see a vocal minority who have said very hurtful things and done very hurtful things towards members of our (Black) community,” with Black residents being “somehow ostracized from weighing in on how these things are affecting us.”
Summarized Crank: “I’ve seen good and I’ve seen not so good, and I’m not sure which one is going to win.”
Taylor, a Chicago native who has lived in Edmonds for a year, is an author, motivational speaker and mental health advocate. His word to describe his experience was “complicated.” During the COVID lockdown, he began running five to seven miles each day in his neighborhood to stay in shape, and he noticed “certain moments of biases, you get people that look at you funny, you get the clutching and the clenching of the body and the purse when you’re running past them.” And while “we have some great police in Edmonds,” Taylor said, he noticed that he was the only athlete that seemed to draw “a slow trek” of police attention as he was running. “It’s not that it was a surprise but it’s like wow, this is my neighborhood, this is my community, it’s supposed to be my safe haven like everybody else.”
And then there were neighbors who looked at him suspiciously, wondering if he belonged or could afford to live here. “It caused this piece of complication for me, confusion,” Taylor said. However, during recent racial tensions, he pointed out that “there have been neighbors who have stepped up and said ‘hey, I see you,’ and not allowing biases to be their leading motivation but rather to take the time to be their brother’s or their sister’s keeper.”
“I remain optimistic, cautiously optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless,” Taylor added.
Cobbin, a Los Angeles native who moved to Edmonds in 2007, is a broker with Century 21 North Homes Realty. He said a word that defines being Black in Edmonds during the past six months would be “caring,” noting that while bicycling around Edmonds to stay in shape during the pandemic, he noticed that “people were going out of their way to say hello and good morning.”
For Weary, who owns Black Coffee Northwest and is CEO of Let’s Do Work Racial Equity Consultants, the word is “disappointed.” It stems from an experience in February 2018 when her two teen children were taking pictures for a school project in the parking lot outside the Jack in the Box, located next door to Harvey’s Lounge on Highway 99 in Edmonds. When her son discovered later that his wallet was missing and returned to look for it, a woman appeared outside Harvey’s holding a baseball bat, telling Weary’s children that “we want you n-word off the property.”
In that moment people saw her 18-year-old son — a student athlete headed for college –“as a threat just because he was Black,” she said.
A 1997 Meadowdale High graduate who grew up in the area, Weary noted that she and her husband were “doing all the right things. We have a home. We’re married. We’re pastors’ kids, we work hard.” But when the incident occurred at Harveys, “the safety factor that we had was gone.”
“We know we’re Black in Edmonds,” she continued. “We’ve had the talk with our son. He is not allowed to wear a hoodie. Period. Ever.” He is also not allowed to drive down the street playing his music loud or to be out late on the Edmonds waterfront, where teens often gather. “We played the role of being the good Black people, the good Black neighbors to be safe, but none of that mattered in that moment.”
Following an investigation, Edmonds police arrested a 45-year-old female employee of Harvey’s Lounge on charges of malicious harassment in connection with the racially motivated threats. But after review, the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office declined to file charges in the case, stating there were insufficient facts.
“To this day there are people in Edmonds that still question me and discount my story and try to paint me as some crazy liar,” Weary said. “And so that’s very disappointing for me. And it’s still disappointing that every day when these stories pop up of racist incidents that when I go to Edmonds Moms (Facebook group) or My Edmonds News or Edmonds Beacon, the Black voice is still continuously being silenced and shut up. And we’re still being asked to prove it. And I’m just here to tell that I’m not proving anything to anyone else anymore. If you don’t believe me, that’s your bad. I constantly am disappointed in the city of Edmonds because of the narrative that happens in those spaces.”
Griffin, who relocated to Edmonds nearly 10 years ago to be closer to his grandchildren, said he is on a mission “to create a community free of hatred, injustice and poverty in South Snohomish County.” To advance that effort, for the past two years he has sponsored an annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the Edmonds Center for the Arts.
Griffin said he would use two words, hyphenated, to describe his experience being Black in Edmonds: “sucker-punch.” As an example, he cited the time he was dining at an Edmonds restaurant and had ordered an Italian sausage pizza. The owner brought him a chicken pizza, and when Griffin noted the error, the owner replied: “Well, all the Black guys who come in here eat chicken pizza.”
“Those kind of moments happen,” Griffin added.
Following up on Weary’s admonition that her teen son never wear a hooded sweatshirt, Griffin described getting dressed late one night so he could buy some medicine at a nearby pharmacy for his sick wife. “I wasn’t thinking,” he said. “As Black people we have to think what we wear when we go shopping.” He threw on a hoodie, old jeans and old shoes and was surprised when three store employees came out of a back room “and just decided they would have to hang around in my area” — until he realized what he was wearing.
Griffin also talked about the importance of addressing systemic racism, stating he believes it was wrong for Acting Edmonds Police Chief Jim Lawless to write a letter questioning the process the Edmonds School Board followed in deciding to remove the police officer from Edmonds-Woodway High School. “It says that he didn’t understand systemic racism,” Griffin said. “These are the things we have to watch because white people aren’t watching.”
“We have all these comments lately about wanting to support the Black community in Edmonds. They don’t know the Black community in Edmonds,” Griffin added. “They don’t know what’s hurting. They don’t know our pain.”
Crank talked about her frustration that Black residents have to regularly remind non-Black community members that Black voices need to be included in issues that directly impact them. “Why must we always be the ones that have to say, ‘Hi — can we come in, can we weigh in on this topic that has to directly deal with us?”
“Unfortunately I think that is the cross we have to bear,” Griffin replied, noting that the Black population of Edmonds and Esperance could “fit into the auditorium of the ECA and still have some seats left over.”
“We’ve got to be the ones who raise a little hell,” Griffin added. “We gotta shake it up.”
Griffin and Cobbin both stressed the importance of ensuring that diverse voices are engaged, with meetings scheduled in neighborhoods and resources being spread beyond the Bowl — instead of expecting members of the city’s most diverse communities — like those along the Highway 99 corridor — to come downtown.
Weary pointed out there’s a reason why Edmonds is mostly a white community. “There were laws and convenants in place to make sure Black people could not buy houses in these neighborhoods, that Black people could not even be in the city of Edmonds,” she said.
Taylor described the importance of developing relationships, pointing to the times on Facebook when people comment on a particular good deed and state, “This is what makes Edmonds a great place.”
“One of the things I would say to those that are listening — in this whole conversation of what we say Edmonds is, a lot of that has to be relational,” he said. “Challenging your own biases, whether you know me or not, there’s no need for you to be afraid of what you see. There’s no need to act like you don’t see me. Take the time to say hello. That’s what it’s about.It’s time to be all of those great things in action.
“For me love does three things: Love listens. Love learns and love empathizes. We need to take a greater moment to bring voices in if we are going to be truly unified and truly be a community the way we say we are,” Taylor concluded
Griffin acknowledged the importance of love, noting that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. talked the importance of establishing a Beloved Community. But, he added, “it’s like being on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Late civil rights activist and U.S. Rep.) John Lewis got the crap beat out of him, got his head cracked. Love can take your life. Love can hurt you, can give you scars. It’s a risk.”
Griffin talked about the time he sat down in front of Cafe Louvre in downtown Edmonds with Black friends and noticed people slowing down in their cars, walking slowly and staring. “But I went out and did that on purpose. Because I need to be visible. I need them to see it. I need them to know that I live here.”
“I’m noticing that people tend to think that everybody’s carrying the same lived experience that they are being in this nice space (in Edmonds), and the reality is that that’s not the case,” Taylor said. “That’s not to say that you are wrong for your experience or I want you to feel bad for it, it’s simply to say think past yourself and understand that somebody else didn’t see it or have it like this and because of that this is why we need to be able to embrace these experiences and from that learn our differences, understand our differences and prayerfully work together so that we can be a better community and make this a better place for everybody around.”
The entire discussion was recorded via Facebook Live and you can watch it here.
— By Teresa Wippel