Race takes center stage during local leadership conference

“Step Up 2020” aimed to advance racial equity in the workplace and community.

EVERETT — Hundreds gathered virtually Friday for workshops and keynotes about acknowledging, facing and combating racism and discrimination, as part of an annual program called “Step Up 2020: Moving Racial Equity Forward.”

Social justice educator and activist Victor Lewis kicked off this year’s event with a keynote talk on racial inequities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic, a global history of civil rights and the failure of education to reach all children.

“All of these jobs that we consider essential (grocery clerks, food producers, delivery drivers and child or elder care workers) are also typically low-wage, low-status, low-security, with a preponderance of those jobs being occupied by Black and brown men and women,” he said. “These jobs of essential care to sustain the society as a whole are both critical and disdained by the normative culture. This, of course, has got to change.”

“We’ve got a situation where we’re all on the same boat, and it’s easy to see that, but we’re not all on the same deck,” he said.

The annual conference is hosted by Leadership Snohomish County, a nonprofit that develops leaders in local businesses, government and neighborhoods. Workshops included “The Language of Racism in the PNW,” “Leading Inclusively: Infusing Equity in the Workplace and Community” and “Centering and Investing in (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) Employees as Essential for Racial Equity Work in Government.”

In the talk on equity in government, presenters outlined resources and organizations that cities and counties can use to create spaces that center people of color in workplaces that have historically been predominantly white.

At the same time, it’s important to include cultural traditions in the workplace without making them “check-box” items that lose their meaning, said Tynishia Walker, an equity and social justice trainer for King County.

Participants ranged from elected leaders, government staff, educators, employers and activists. They were all asked to take part in interactive sessions, have difficult conversations about race and use their positions to create a more equitable workplace or community.

To end his keynote, Lewis talked about lessons from previous fights for civil rights and leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi to inform the current movement.

“They stood in their own dignity, they stood with a demand for the rights of safety and belonging for themselves and all people, but they did not threaten the humanity, the belonging needs or the dignity of the people who were socialized to abreast them,” he said. “Nonviolence, fierce, courageous and creative nonviolence, is something that both can be trained and must be trained if we are to meet the challenges of the current crisis with power and with precision.”

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