EVERETT — Six years ago, Kathy Coffey saw the need to include racial equity in the training offered by Leadership Snohomish County.
The nonprofit has been offering leadership programs for the past 20 years, and more than 900 people have attended, said Coffey, the executive director.
In 2015, Leadership Snohomish County recognized that “it’s impossible to responsibly develop leaders for today’s world without incorporating racial equity,” Coffey said.
The recognition also sparked the launch of an annual conference on racial equity.
On April 30, the organization will present its fifth annual Step Up: Moving Racial Equity Forward conference.
Step Up is virtual this year and aims to give participants a deeper understanding of racial equity and social justice, Coffey said.
The event will feature local speakers, including Janice Greene, president of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Snohomish County; Gerry Ebalaroza-Tunnell, diversity director for the Mukilteo School District; Alicia Crank, chairwoman of the Snohomish County Airport Commission; and Courtney Wooten, an Edmonds-based activist.
Wooten was a top-four finalist for The Herald Business Journal’s 2020 Emerging Leaders award, which honors people who are doing good work in Snohomish County.
“Right now, race is still one of the biggest predictors in our lives,” Wooten said.
“It’s great that people are waking up to that fact and wanting to change that outcome,” Wooten said.
“Things like the ‘American dream,’ where every person can succeed, are great societal dreams and aspirations. We just need to remove the barriers and dismantle the systems that prevent those dreams from being possible,” Wooten said. The Step Up conference “is a great way to learn how to put racial equity and social justice initiatives into practice.”
Wooten will also co-lead Leadership for Racial Equity, a five-month program that begins in May.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shined a light on racial inequity that “exists in health care, education, work opportunities and the law and justice systems,” Coffey said.
Lack of access to good health care and jobs that can’t be performed remotely are just some of the factors that have put people of color at increased risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The Urban Institute reports that students of color are more likely to face online learning challenges posed by limited internet and computer access and other disadvantages.
Coffey said more local companies are sending employees to the Step Up conference or allowing workers to attend without having to take paid time off.
The police killings of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and the nationwide protests that followed, make “this work more important than ever,” Coffey said.
And yet, “it’s work that has needed to be done for hundreds of years,” Coffey said. “Now is the time to take action to decide what our future looks like.”
The cost for the day-long Step Up conference is $80, or $40 for first responders, educators, veterans and students.
“We have tickets for free as well,” Coffey said. “If anyone isn’t financially able to attend, send us an email.”
For information go to: leadershipsc.org.
Janice Podsada; firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods