I want to acknowledge the recent horrific murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, and Tony McDade, and all of the others in the larger past, at the hands of police or white vigilantes. Black Lives Matter.

At Columbia Legal Services we are implementing principles we learned with the People’s Institute NW last year to move toward becoming an anti-racist organization. One of those principles is that we must acknowledge the racial hierarchy in this country which situates each of us differently based upon the color of our skin. Racial hierarchy is the basis for White Supremacy Culture. As a white person I want to acknowledge that the impact of recent events is different on me and my family than it is on people of color and in particular Black staff and community members. Honestly, I feel awkward as I struggle to find the perfect words, but that is not what it’s about. It’s about not being silent, it’s about action, it’s about accountability. Actions like those who are compelled to march and to exercise their right to protest in WA and around the country.

This is a history defining moment. We can no longer cling to the false anchor of a shared history and experience. For me, I must be willing to take the action of engaging in conversations with other white people about our country’s history that includes slavery, racial terrorism, and the ways I, and the organization I work for, can be complicit in furthering this structural racism. If we are to move forward toward change, we will inevitably encounter conflict. I must be willing to be uncomfortable and to see conflict as essential to change.

To my Black colleagues, board members, friends, and community members, I will never know personally what you are going through, and I want you to know that I am here for you as best I can be, as is Columbia Legal Services. I acknowledge your pain and I know I cannot fix it. I and CLS can witness and support and not turn away. For my white colleagues, friends, and community members, please join me in these conversations about race and be willing to engage in discomfort, conflict, and action. This is not to discount the experiences of my colleagues and friends of color or the intersection and experiences of all forms structural oppression. This message is to center anti-black racism – its history and impact. We must so that, as john a. powell says, “[w]e can build a circle of humanity where no one is outside.”

At the same time that we acknowledge our differences, we can stand together to grieve, to listen, to rage, and to act. As an organization we will continue to advocate for the end of a system of mass incarceration in all its aspects – policing, caging, deportation, and the lifetime consequences of a court record. We will support and enforce the rights of communities to exercise their collective power to protest and to build and sustain their communities based on their own values and needs. We can work with communities to dismantle our current economic system that benefits from the dehumanization of people – a system that protects property and profit over people. We can listen to and be led by the communities most impacted. Together, we can continue to “disrupt injustice.”

Merf Ehman
Executive Director

(Art by Raychelle Duazo)