The Center for Equity & Inclusion brings guest speakers for the Coalition Building for Racial Justice discussion to liberate those bound by systemic racism.

Last Wednesday, the Ledger had the privilege of taking part in the last of this year’s Coalition Building for Racial Justice discussion series. The series is centered around raising awareness of topics relating to racial injustice, such as police brutality and workplace discrimination. 

Three guest speakers joined to discuss their personal experiences with racial injustice and how their respective communities are organizing to liberate those who face injustice. UW Tacoma Faculty Member Tanya Velasquez began by elaborating on the purpose of the Racial Justice Discussion Series before handing the spotlight to moderator Jimmy McCarty.

“It’s the University’s response to really what’s been happening nationally for the past 400 years but in particular, the past couple years in which our collective awareness of racial injustice and police brutality that many members of our community are experiencing,” Velasquez said. “This is our way of bringing attention, raising consciousness and really calling people to action.”

Among the previous meetings, UWT invited several national speakers, such as Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Patrisse Collins. And last winter, the school listened to members of the Dope Black Women’s Collective, who talked about cultivating joy within the community. Last Wednesday’s discussion closed off the year by inviting three guest speakers to talk about previous experiences of racism and the progress being made to break down the barriers for POC equality.

“I can’t think of a better way to end our year than with the students and community and with our panelists who are going to talk about the ways we work together across differences in coalition to make positive change,” Velasquez said.

The Director of the UWT Center for Equity and Inclusion, Jimmy McCarty, kicked off the discussion by introducing the panelists and asking how they became advocates for racial justice. The founder of the Washington State Black Lives Matter Alliance Sakara Remmu was the first to explain her origin story and spoke on the importance of advocating for justice regardless of whether one has faced discrimination or not.

“I think that often there’s a misconception that you have to have a special certain experience or that you go to a certain special school to get prepared,” Remmu said. “And it’s not that most of us are either first generation or ourselves are immigrants or we are the descendants of the great migration … so when people ask me who I am it’s very difficult to answer how I got to this point.”

As the granddaughter of Francis Terry, one of the first Black women to be accepted into a nursing school in Washington, and Robert Terry, the first Black man to teach in a Seattle public school, Remmu was a first-hand witness to systemic and workplace discrimination her entire life. But it wasn’t until her son died from cancer that she realized how much control the system had over the lives of POC and the racial inequities present in the healthcare system. She said that by simply being a Black woman, she had to be more aware of discrimination and how to fight against it. 

Kamau Chege, the Director of the Washington Community Alliance also found many opportunities being thwarted based on personal factors he couldn’t control and came face to face with the realities of inequitable conditions for minorities. Although he grew up in the U.S., he was unable to have access to the resources that most take for granted. To his surprise, he found out he was an undocumented immigrant when he was nearly finished with high school. Being ineligible for financial aid or academic scholarships, he delayed his education and looked for others who struggled with the same problems.

“I met other young undocumented immigrants and their stories weren’t all that different from mine, they wanted a better life for their family,” he said. “People moving around wanting to make a better life for themselves is all of human history and essentially what people do everywhere. When you start organizing, you can start making dents against the system we have now, so that’s how I started getting involved.”

Seeing the number of people miss out on their education due to their place of birth led Chege to wonder why so many people had no opportunities for prosperity while others had a myriad of resources. Based on these experiences, Chege vowed to put his efforts towards raising awareness to help bring down some of the walls undocumented immigrants face in their journies for a better life. 

As the executive director of Hilltop Action Coalition, Brendan Nelson’s motivation to become an activist came when he was younger while listening to his parents explain that their landlord would rent homes to Black people, but refused to let them own one. Hearing this from his parents and considering the way he intimidated others due to his skin color inspired him to raise awareness and take action.

“What happened with my parents I don’t want to see happen to other folks, not just when it comes to owning a home, but employment [and] feeling safe in your own community,” Nelson explained. “I’m tired of people that look just like me being shot on TV,” he said. “I’m motivated and willing to be in a space where young black men can see people that look like them in these executive level positions in these areas where you can make an impact on your neighborhood.”

When it comes to the work they’re doing now, what issues and policies they’re addressing and what they’ve built in their respective organizations with others, Nelson explained that in order to assist the community in an efficient and resourceful way, they first worked on figuring out what exactly were the biggest issues facing minorities. And to his surprise, he found out it was housing.

“I spent about eight weeks going door to door talking to people in the community about what were those major issues and come to find out, it wasn’t drugs, crime, [or] gangs, it was housing. It was employment, it was healthcare,” Nelson said. “Our major focus right now is affordable housing so we’re definitely at the table with some of the key players who are doing developments in the Hilltop right now and making sure the process they’re going through right now is equitable.”

Remmu and the Washington State Black Lives Matter Alliance have come together to form a march with over 80,000 participants; one of the biggest BLM marches in the state’s history. She explained that the reason for the success of those marches is due to the awareness of racial injustice. She also noted how people can help join in for the cause to make the organization of events, such as protests and the passing of bills, become a more efficient and effective process.

“We got 36 bills passed, half a billion dollars reparations package representing the whole of Black life,” Remmu said. “It’s not enough, it didn’t come fast enough, it’s not saving people’s lives; it’s beginning to lay a foundation for systemic accountability for us to institutionalize our lives and institutionalize our power. It’s not enough, but it is historic.”

Wrapping things up, the panelists offered options for people who want to get involved. Nelson said Hilltop is currently hosting weekly updates with the community, reaching around 3,000 people a week to discuss the happenings in the community and how they can build a more equal community together. 

Other actions include bringing in developers and contractors to the discussion so they can talk about their work, supporting small businesses and publishing a national award winning newspaper called the Hilltop Action Journal — where they highlight what’s going on, where people can get more information and resources for support. 

“I’m always appreciative of moments like this where you can hear and learn from others … and if folks want to get involved they can, as the pandemic has actually put us in a position to do more work and more ways to engage,” he said. 

Those interested in the Hilltop Action Coalition can check out the organization by going on Facebook and searching up the Hilltop Action Coalition. They may also contact Hilltop’s primary email at hacoffice15@gmail.com, where they’ll be greeted by the program manager.

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