Speaking out for diversity, equity and inclusion on the Island

Students, school administrators and community organizations make an impact.

Mercer Island residents stand strong during a two-day rally to stop anti-Asian hatred. Eunyoung Kim organized the rally over the weekend on the Island. Photo courtesy of Eunyoung Kim

Mercer Island residents stand strong during a two-day rally to stop anti-Asian hatred. Eunyoung Kim organized the rally over the weekend on the Island. Photo courtesy of Eunyoung Kim

Mercer Islanders are speaking out for diversity, equity and inclusion daily and through a series of virtual presentations over the last few weeks.

Mercer Island High School (MIHS) students and community groups are at the helm of these crucial, passionate and insightful events: Perpetual Foreigner, “Just Mercy,” “Curiosity & Questions: Engaging in Difficult Conversations” and more. Recently, the Reporter told the story of MIHS students who invited Holocaust survivors to speak during Islander Hour following the anti-Semitism they noticed on the Island.

Other students are building the Mercer Island School District’s relationship with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) to ensure local schools are “No Place for Hate,” wrote district Superintendent Donna Colosky in a recent message to district students, staff, families and the community.

In a letter posted on the district site, Colosky discussed the district’s concern about the rise of anti-Asian hate incidents, including the killings in Atlanta on March 16.

“Each member of our school community, staff and students, will rise up against any acts of hatred or violence, especially those targeted at others based on who they are or how they identify,” Colosky wrote, in part. “We continue to work towards the elimination of bias, particularly race, religion and national origin and cultural bias, as factors affecting student achievement and other learning experiences, and to promote learning and work environments that welcome, respect and value equity and diversity.”

Perpetual Foreigner

Perpetual Foreigner is an essential, life-saving program, said MIHS students Olivia Guo and Garrett HL Lee.

The two students serve as co-presidents of the Education Coalition for Asian American Representation (ECAAR), which presented the three-part Perpetual Foreigner seminar series in tandem with the King County Library System (KCLS). The series addresses and helps mitigate stereotypes about the Asian American community, according to Guo and Lee.

Eighteen MIHS students presented the series for the coalition, which was founded by students in partnership with the KCLS in the summer of 2020. Series topics centered on Asian American history, including the Transcontinental Railroad, Asian American Immigration Acts, the Vietnam War and more.

“In recent months, deep-rooted anti-Asian sentiments have been exposed as Asian Americans / Pacific Islanders are scapegoated for the United States’ unusually high COVID-19 case and death count. ECAAR believes that anti-Asian hate can be traced back to ignorance, so Perpetual Foreigner’s purpose is to educate,” said Guo and Lee.

Carrie Bowman, teen services librarian at the KCLS Mercer Island branch, echoed the ECAAR’s goal to “build a community that lifts others up and helps them thrive.” The series was powerful and well-researched, according to attendees, one of whom wrote that the students presented clear explanations of difficult topics.

“Just Mercy”

Do the Work MI founder Linda Floyd said the virtual discussion based on the book and movie “Just Mercy,” the true story of a man who appeals his murder conviction alongside a young defense attorney, will hopefully lead to the expansion of a series of community discussions focused on “Developing a Racial Equity Lens.”

The inaugural event was presented by Do the Work MI, the Organizing Network for Equity on Mercer Island (ONE MI), MIHS’s Student Group on Race Relations (SGORR), the Stroum Jewish Community Center and the MIHS Parent Teacher Student Association.

“It is vital that we examine our role in perpetuating racist systems and work on challenging these systems so that everyone can thrive,” said Floyd about achieving this on a national and local level. “When a Mercer Islander calls the police because they see a Black man in their neighborhood, whose safety is really threatened? When our partying teenagers avoid the legal system while young Black men are arrested for similar infractions, what are we teaching our children about equity?”

Floyd said she received an overwhelmingly positive response to the “Just Mercy” discussion and that provides hope.

SGORR adviser and English teacher Kati McConn said the “Just Mercy” event featured a formerly incarcerated activist and a lawyer who works with the Innocence Project in Sacramento, California. The two guests discussed some of the success they’ve garnered and hurdles they’ve faced in their lives and work.

“Events like the ‘Just Mercy’ discussion are vital because they allow students and community members to work together towards the goal of creating a more equitable environment for all. It also brings exposure to experiences that may be foreign to members of the community in a very real and tangible way,” she said.

“Curiosity & Questions”

Engaging in a meaningful and respectful dialogue is critical in disrupting bias and prejudice, according to the MIHS PTSA Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee.

Conversing about these difficult topics that are happening community-wide and worldwide were on the docket of the recent virtual event presented by the committee alongside Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, MI Parent Edge, the Mercer Island PTA Council and the ADL.

The presentation facilitator was Scotland Nash, who is director of education for the ADL Pacific Northwest region, guiding people in learning about identity and diversity, practicing anti-bias strategies for communication, and acting as allies for social justice.

Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee member Lauren Leahy has lived on the Island for about 22 years.

“I was raised Jewish and I am from New York originally. I realized after some issues with anti-Semitism on the Island that we needed to take a stronger position on bias,” said Leahy, whose Change.com petition garnered more than 500 signatures to stop anti-Semitism on the Island.

Leahy’s diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) team of Kelly John-Lewis, Eunyoung Kim and Sandy Sun worked with MIHS Principal Walter Kelly, school district Assistant Superintendent Fred Rundle and the DEI council’s Angela Bahng and Kimberly Frank to work on finding solutions to the Island’s issues.

“It was amazing how much community support we got. I realized we need to bring more conversation to the Island,” Leahy said about launching the workshop, which she said was about having a conversation around bias.

Mercer Island Community Fund online volunteer directory

The Mercer Island Community Fund (MICF) aims to increase diversity and inclusion in Island volunteer organizations at the board and membership levels.

“Our community is becoming more and more diverse every year. Mercer Island will be stronger when all of our community members feel that their voices are included in the organizations that work to build up the community,” reads a statement from MICF in regards to its coordination of a collaborative community initiative.

MICF is currently creating the MI Community Connection online Volunteer Opportunity Directory to serve as a resource for community members and community service nonprofit organizations to reach new audiences and promote inclusivity.

“The group’s collective goal is to help build our leadership spaces, memberships, and ultimately our organizations, as more inclusive and representative of our community’s diversity, including: race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation/identity, ability, and socio-economics,” MICF added.

MI Parent Edge leader Michelle Ritter said they hope that the directory will inform Islanders about myriad ways they can get involved and positively impact the community.

For more information, visit https://www.micommunityfund.org/

The Mercer Island High School Education Coalition for Asian American Representation holds a recent meeting. Courtesy photo

The Mercer Island High School Education Coalition for Asian American Representation holds a recent meeting. Courtesy photo

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