June 15, 2024 10:28 am

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Step Up puts racial equity on the county’s to-do list


For the third straight year, business and community leaders from throughout Snohomish County will gather in Lynnwood at the end of the month for a conference about structural racism and how to take it apart. Equity and the fight against discrimination is a hot topic in conversations around the country right now, but Step Up: Moving Racial Equity Forward goes beyond talk, to creating the toolsets for the job.

The event, April 26 at the Lynnwood Convention Center, is a day-long session of talks and training to help equip participants to discuss social justice, and the work of creating it, in their day-to-day lives and activities.

“We urge people to take this learning back to their homes, their communities and their institutions,” said Tami Farber, Senior Director Equity, Training & Development for Leadership Snohomish County, which is hosting the event. “Depending on what breakout sessions they attend, they leave with new awareness, new knowledge, or a new skill to apply.”

This conference got its start because a participant did just that. Leadership Executive Director Kathy Coffey proposed it to Lynnwood Mayor Nicola Smith, after attending a two-day Undoing Racism workshop, presented by The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond in New Orleans.

“She decided, if she’s talking about leadership, she also has to be talking about equity,” recalled Farber, who worked with Coffey on all of the Step Up events, fi rst as a volunteer and then as a Leadership staff member.

“Mayor Smith was immediately on board, she makes the opening address each year,” said Lynnwood Public Affairs Officer Julie Moore. She gave the event one of its reserved days at the Lynnwood Convention Center.

Step Up is open to everyone, but the demographics of Lynnwood made it a logical home for the annual event. With higher concentrations of Asian residents than Everett, Snohomish County, and King County, and higher or almost equal concentrations of Hispanic/Latino, and Black/African-American residents, the city has a history of honoring a mixture of cultures and heritage.

“I feel like Lynnwood has always been a welcoming community. It’s an affordable place to live…we are a transportation hub, we’ve got great neighborhood parks, great schools,” said Moore. “Our community is just so diverse, we want to do better at recognizing everyone for their unique contributions.”

Moore has participated in the conference every year and will moderate a panel of the city’s own Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Commission at this year’s event. She is looking forward to the opportunities Step Up has to offer.

“I think people are very aware, the problem is having the right tools to effect change,” she said. “We want members of our community to have access to people who can talk about race and social justice and how they might be able to implement change in their personal lives or their work lives,” Moore continued.

This year’s conference will feature educator Michael Benitez, Ph.D., and activist Chris Crass as keynote speakers. Farber, who helped select the keynote speakers, felt they would create a distinct experience for the event. “Michael Benitez is a man of color working in higher education, and a highly sought-after speaker on race relations, and Chris Crass is a white man, who’s speaking from the perspective of social justice.”

Continuing the learning of Step Up beyond the single day has been up to participants in the past, but this year, Farber is excited to report both the start of a leadership training program for organizations that want to further their work in social equity, and, for individuals, the launch of a five-month Leadership for Racial Equity offering. This class will enable people to spend one day each month throughout the session working toward a specific equity goal that they choose.

“They’ll develop knowledge skills and tools, to take action in their respective organizations or institutions, to take action for racial equity. This is exciting because now in our community, there’s an opportunity to really take it to the next level,” Farber said.

Step Up runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, April 26, at the Lynnwood Convention Center. Tickets are available for $69 and $39, but free tickets are available for interested participants who cannot afford the ticket price. For Step Up tickets, visit https://www. eventbrite.com. https://www. eventbrite.com

For information about the Leadership for Racial Equity cohort, and all Leadership Snohomish County offerings, visit https://leadershipsc.org/.

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