On Jan. 10, 2018, the city of Bellevue hosted its annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Event. This year, the city put on a panel of people of color from around Bellevue’s community. About 130 people came to the event, and the audience was so large there had to be an overflow area outside of the room. Anthony Austin, the facilitator for the event and the chairman of the Bellevue Diversity Advisory Network, opened the panel by saying, “I think it’s very important that we are assembled here. And as a city that claims to, and does, value its diversity and culture, that we take a time to elevate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. And his legacy.”
The panel consisted of five people. All the panelists came from different walks of life. The panelists were Linda Whitehead, a member of both the Bellevue Diversity Advisory Network and the Bellevue Network on Aging, Shomari Jones, the Director of Equity for the Bellevue School district, Patrice Conner, a member of the Bellevue Alumnae chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Helena Stephens, the recreation program manager for the city of Bellevue’s Parks and Recreation Department, and James Whitefield, the CEO of Leadership Eastside. In the past, city hall has had more prominent speakers come in to talk for the event, but this year they decided to change it up. “This year it was important for us because our council vision statement – Bellevue welcomes the world, or diversity is our strength – and how do we tap into the knowledge base and strength from our community rather than bringing outside folks to be able to share about MLK,” said city hall’s outreach and engagement administrator, Mark Manuel. “It was important, given our community, to be able to bring different perspectives around what blackness and African American experiences look like so that they weren’t all coming from the social service sector or the education sector, but there was a nice mix of nonprofit government.”
The panelists started by telling the audience their stories, where they came from, what they do, and then went on to talk about what it was like “being black in Bellevue.” The panelists mentioned how few African Americans there used to be in the Northwest and why that continues today. They spoke about the stereotypes they face on a regular basis, and they talked about how they feel a need to constantly prove themselves. And, of course, they talked about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“One interesting thing about the community is that as of 2015, the majority of people are color. It’s 51%. So, [Manuel’s] work is very important in terms of building that community and getting the discussion going on these types of really critical issues,” said Brad Harwood, Deputy Communications Officer for the City of Bellevue.
“When [Dr. King] talked about this notion of a beloved community, he talked about it in the frame of reference that it wasn’t necessarily just this utopian society where we all got along. There was some sense of realization that this work is challenging and hard and that it required us to be able to listen across perspective and hear across perspective. So, I really think part of that was us in our attempt to be able to contribute to building a beloved community where we don’t necessarily all agree but we were able to sit in a space and hear from each other.”