Coming to Eureka from Minneapolis in 1987 was eye-opening for me. My father Nathan brought my family here after accepting a teaching position at Humboldt State University. Minneapolis was very multicultural and my father was on the board for the International Center at the University of Minnesota. The center worked with the State Department to bring leaders from around the world to the campus to promote peace, understanding and encourage opportunities for fellowship. I have very early memories of people from various countries at our home on a regular basis. I don't have recollections of feeling different, unwanted or threatening. Instead, I have fond memories of people coming together and celebrating their differences.
Transitioning to a mostly white community was challenging. I stood out at school and in our neighborhood, and was called a nigger often. I learned early on that I needed to do my best to get along and fit in, and part of that was participating in as many activities as possible. As I continued to grow and evolve, so did my peers and so did the diversification of students as I graduated from one school to another.
Going to HSU, I befriended a number of students of color, all of whom were from more urban, multicultural environments. I was known for being a bridge, helping students acclimate to our community and participate in activities in which they were otherwise unfamiliar.
I'd like to believe that I continue to serve as a bridge. Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills and I have taken numerous opportunities to discuss race relations and policing, and various ways that we can partner to facilitate conversations between people of color and law enforcement. The hope is that we prevent the polarizing, vitriolic and violent demonstrations that are taking place around the nation and promote spaces of openness, candor and healing.
We are experiencing one of the most interesting and polarizing times in our nation's history and I find myself observing and participating from various vantage points. I appreciate all of the local discussions and activities that are taking place around equity and inclusion amid the backdrop of nationwide Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter movements, acrimonious political campaign posturing, increasing acts of terrorism and now creepy clowns brandishing weapons.
Humboldt County has always been an environment known for its beauty, quirkiness and diversity of opinions. Communities living on the margins are partnering with institutions like the Humboldt Area Foundation and HSU to engage in open, facilitated dialogues around equity and inclusion. The Equity Alliance of the North Coast was created this year to encourage communitywide understanding of how to involve groups of people who have been excluded from opportunities due to their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and/or social or economic status. As described on the alliance's website, "For several years, researchers, the Humboldt Area Foundation and other partners have watched the growth in diversity of our schools, public spaces, and institutions of higher education, and have heard concerns and requests for assistance from individuals, governments, nonprofits and businesses to help these sectors adjust their understanding, attitudes, policies and practices to welcome and better support these growing populations."
The Equity Alliance has set the lofty goals of hosting events aimed to inform the public about the latest research and conceptual thinking on issues of inclusion and race: a coaching series for institutions and collaboratives and a series of trainings and workshops to allow local trainers to gain new skills to continue structured opportunities. The Black and Blue Dialogue that took place at HSU on Oct. 6 provided a good opportunity for students to interface with law enforcement and faculty of color, to discuss how our past experiences and environments color how we view ourselves and the people and systems with which we interact. At the core of the conversations was fear: students of color expressing fear of law enforcement and law enforcement officials expressing their fears around how people of color will approach and/or avoid them because of the police violence that has been taking place across the nation.
So how do we create a community in which everyone can feel accepted, included and engaged? We take opportunities to interact with people who look differently than ourselves. We acknowledge and accept that we are all biased individuals and we do our best to live our highest good. We create and/or promote systems that are fair, just and inclusive of all. We communicate openly and honestly about our experiences, our needs and our desires.
Liz Smith loves living in Humboldt County and believes community engagement is necessary for a healthy and vibrant environment. She is the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of the Redwoods, first vice president for the Eureka Chapter of the NAACP and member of the Arcata Rotary Board, the League of Women Voters of Humboldt County Board, Human Rights Commission, Eureka Police Chief's Advisory Board and College of the Redwoods' President's Equity Advisory Committee. She's also an elder at the First Presbyterian Church of Eureka and lives in the city.
For a different perspective on these issues, read Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills' views piece here.
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