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NW Racial Equity Struggle in Focus on MLK Day


Monday, January 17, 2022   

The quest for greater racial equity in the Northwest is in the spotlight today on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and it's part of the mission of one local organization.

Gordon McHenry Jr. - president and CEO of United Way of King County - said the first step to addressing inequality is understanding this struggle is going on everywhere.

"Make sure that folks are recognizing that in Seattle and King County - progressive Northwest - we have issues of racial inequity right here," said McHenry. "And it's not in other places; it's right here."

To shed more light on the issue, United Way of King County hosts an online event this Wednesday at 6 pm with Clint Smith, author of a recent a book on America's reckoning with its history of slavery.

McHenry said it's been important for United Way of King County to address racial equity, a process that began with a task force and assessment of the organization.

He said one pivotal shift they've made is to be guided by the communities they serve - especially Black, Indigenous and people of color.

"Show up more as a partner than as a grantor - 'You must apply for a grant' or, 'To work with us, you must go through these hoops,'" said McHenry. "We want to just sit with them and understand, how can we support them as a partner, and in a less structured way?"

McHenry said sadly, the issues that Martin Luther King was most concerned about - racism, poverty and violence - still are relevant in 2022.

"And those who are furthest from the resources," said McHenry, "historically marginalized, not sure they always feel like they belong, it's even more urgent and more pressing for whom that is their reality."

McHenry said he's afraid attention on racial equity might be waning, but he urges community members to keep up the pressure on issues like the role of law enforcement. He encouraged leaders to step up, too.

"Let's just be courageous and let's make some changes," said McHenry. "And what better time to do it than when you've had a racial justice reckoning, or when you have tolerated and hopefully survived a once-in-a-century pandemic?"

Disclosure: United Way of King County contributes to our fund for reporting on Community Issues and Volunteering, Education, Housing/Homelessness, Poverty Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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