Marnie Gray, who launched a school supply effort called Color Me Important, shows some of the materials Thursday at her in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Marnie Gray, who launched a school supply effort called Color Me Important, shows some of the materials Thursday at her in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

She fosters inclusion with crayons, paper of skin-tone hues

Color Me Important, a Lake Stevens woman’s effort, gives teachers supplies that represent diversity.

Marnie Gray’s Lake Stevens home is packed with school supplies — crayons and markers, construction paper, picture books, even bandages. A close look shows something noteworthy about all those items. They represent the diversity teachers see in classrooms.

From coloring materials to paper cut-outs of little people, the supplies are in hues reflecting different skin tones. The books include titles such as “All Are Welcome.” And stuffed into canvas bags decorated with a distinct “Color Me Important” logo, it’s all meant to help children feel they are included and valued.

It was after the May 25 police killing of George Floyd, a Black man in Minneapolis, that Gray set out to foster equality in her own way.

“We’ve seen this enough. As a white person, you don’t know what to do,” said Gray, who works as a paraeducator at Highland Elementary School in Lake Stevens.

On July 21, she launched Color Me Important, a crowdfunding effort on the GoFundMe website. As of Friday, donors had contributed a total of $1,190 to help purchase supplies that are being distributed to kindergarten teachers in the Lake Stevens district. Gray said Thursday she’s met her initial goal of filling 20 bags, each with about $90 worth of supplies and books. She hopes to grow the charitable effort to reach more teachers and schools.

A handful of supplies Marnie Gray provides for her Color Me Important packages on Thursday in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A handful of supplies Marnie Gray provides for her Color Me Important packages on Thursday in Lake Stevens. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A wish list on Amazon.com shows an array of products now available. They include Crayola’s Colors of the World markers and crayons; Tru-Colour Skin Tone Bandages in four hues, with “diversity in healing” on the packages; and Shapes Etc. cut-outs of kids.

At Highland, Gray works in a resource room helping students who have special needs. Gray knows teachers often pay for supplies out of their own pockets.

“Teachers would love to offer more diverse opportunities to represent their students, especially when it comes to expressing themselves creatively,” says the mission statement on the Color Me Important fundraising page. “Our goal is to help teachers bridge that gap and provide students with supplies that more closely represent who they are. Apricot and brown shouldn’t be the only two colors to choose from.”

Her helper on the project is Chelsea Saunders, a friend and the corporate giving director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Snohomish County. It was Saunders, Gray said, who designed the unique Color Me Important logo, with crayons in skin-tone shades and old typewriter-style lettering.

Gray said she decided to focus on donating bags to kindergarten teachers because that first experience in school is a time when children talk about who they are. They draw pictures of themselves and their families.

“Community is such a huge part of these younger grades,” Gray said. “I wondered what it must be like if you are a person of color and find that so many materials don’t represent you.”

The emphasis on the youngest students acknowledges the nature of bigotry. “Racism, you’re not born with it. You’re taught it,” said Gray, a mother of three.

Hate can rear its ugly head, even in her own neighborhood, Gray learned earlier this month. On Sept. 6, a drawing of a swastika, along with a racial slur, were found on a paved path near her family’s home. Gray said she didn’t call police but informed the Lake Stevens City Council — and that council member Mary Dickinson came to see it.

On a Lake Stevens neighborhood path, a young chalk artist looks on after Marnie Gray organized an “erase the hate” event in response to a racist slur and symbol found there earlier this month. Gray, a paraeducator, is also heading up Color Me Important, a charitable effort to supply teachers with classroom materials that represent students of color. (Marnie Gray photo)

On a Lake Stevens neighborhood path, a young chalk artist looks on after Marnie Gray organized an “erase the hate” event in response to a racist slur and symbol found there earlier this month. Gray, a paraeducator, is also heading up Color Me Important, a charitable effort to supply teachers with classroom materials that represent students of color. (Marnie Gray photo)

Gray’s family took action, enlisting neighbors as chalk artists. They removed the horrible symbol and words, then decorated the path with counter messages and drawings. Pictures of hearts and rainbows shared space on the path with sentiments of inclusion: “Hate Free Zone.” “Love Wins.” “BLM We are one people.” “Liberty & Justice.” “Respect All.”

Words of the late poet Maya Angelou were chalked on the path too: “Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

A video of their artwork is on the Color Me Important Facebook page. And on Sept. 7, Gray posted: “Why is this mission important to me? Because hate still exists. Because someone wrote a hate message in our neighborhood yesterday. Instead of letting hate win we decided to erase the hate.”

Her family supplied the chalk and Popsicles.

“I think what we did is beautiful but I’m super sad that someone felt the need to leave the original message,” she wrote.

Julie Muhlstein: jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Color Me Important: how to help

Color Me Important is a charitable effort to supply kindergarten teachers with classroom materials that reflect diversity and the skin tones of all students.

Make a donation or learn more at: www.gofundme.com/f/color-me-important

Or on Facebook, search for: Color Me Important

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