An estimated 115 people packed into the Tigard Public Library's George and Yvonne Burgess Community Room Monday, Jan. 20, for an observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
"Can you love a person you never met before?" asked Chris Ragland, master of ceremonies for the event, titled "Healing the Divide." Ragland, who works as a building official in Tualatin, said he's been a big admirer of King's since he was a teen.
"He was a heroic person who performed valiant acts," Ragland said, noting he had listened to many of King's speeches over the years and found "his words are just as relevant today as they were in the past."
Among the guest speakers was Ken Gibson, who has served as King City's mayor since 2016.
Gibson was 15 years old when he first heard Martin Luther King Jr. give his "I Have a Dream" speech.
He said he often thinks about the injustices his own father, who was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1920, suffered in a segregated South where separate bathrooms, restaurants and drinking fountains were the norm.
"My father had a better plan," recalled Gibson. "He decided he was going to move his four sons out of the South ... to Seattle. And I don't know how much planning went into that, but I am so thankful he did what he did."
Living on the West Coast, Gibson said he remembers feeling sorry for those still living in the South.
After serving his country during World War II in a segregated U.S. Army, Gibson's father returned home to Mississippi.
"He came back and it was 'you still can't eat here, you still can't drink out of this fountain, you can't go to that bathroom,'" said Gibson. "That's the way he was treated as a World War II veteran."
Still, he said his father rarely talked about the injustices suffered by himself and other African Americans.
Gibson praised the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for never saying during the struggle for civil rights that African Americans should not trust white people.
Gibson's father didn't either, the mayor said.
"He allowed us to go out and venture and do everything we needed to do in order to be full of love and not full of hate," Gibson said.
Gibson, who has lived in King City since 2006, said he believes it's still possible to heal the divide among races in this country.
"But we have to be open to the conversation," he said. "We have to understand what that struggle has been … This is not an imaginary situation that black people are going through. This is real. But you have to be able to talk about it and you have to be able to pick out what you can do as individuals to make it better."
Others who spoke at Monday's gathering included:
• Tigard Police Chief Kathy McAlpine.
"Martin Luther King said 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere' and when we talk about 'healing the divide,' I think we have to acknowledge law enforcement's role in all of this," McAlpine said. "As law enforcement, we play a significant role in all this discussion in how we can further (that) and heal a community."
• Ebonee Bell, a Multnomah County Library employee, who argued that point that although it's a common perception that cultures with superior technology look down on those with inferior technology and that people are inherently violent, "I want to suggest that's not the case."
She pointed to the Seville Statement on Violence that was adopted by a group of scientists meeting in Spain in 1986 as a way to counter such thinking with one of the takeaways being: "It is scientifically incorrect to say that we have inherited a tendency to make war from our animal ancestors."
• Portland artist Leslie Lee, who said she was moved to create something visual to address the gunfire epidemic after the 2017 mass shooting along the Las Vegas Strip. What she found appalling was learning that over the course of three years, 195,000 deaths and injuries were caused by gunfire, leading her to create The Soul Box Project where folded origami boxes represent victims of gunfire with a variety of decorations, facts and statistics pasted to each box.
A total of 765 of those boxes are on display for the rest of the month in the foyer of the Tigard Library.
• Walt Williams, mayor of the tiny city of Rivergrove, who said the foundation to many of America's problems lies in racism. He said in the last 35 years, the fight against racism has stalled. "It's your fault, it's my fault," he pointed out. While older people have their biases, Williams said it's not too late for younger people to learn about loving others.
Monday's event was sponsored by the Tigard and Tualatin Bahá'is, who also hosted a similar event in Tualatin on Jan. 15.
Following the speakers, breakout sessions hosted by Compassionate Listening (part of the nationwide Compassionate Listening Project), facilitated discussions on racism as they addressed two main questions: "How is racism impacting our communities" and "What touched, challenged or inspired you to action today?"
"The group discussions were very dynamic," Jubin Dana, chairman of the local spiritual assembly for the Bahá'is of Tigard, said of the 63 people who attended the Tualatin event last week.
By Ray Pitz
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