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As groups, leaders change, human rights work continues

A Spokesman-Review article, “Human rights dialogue revs up,” pointed out that Eastern Washington has no central anti-hate alliance, such as the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations.

The former Spokane Christian Coalition had started the Interstate Task Force on Human Relations, but when the task force succeeded in forming the Spokane Human Rights Commission, it phased out.

While there is not one organization, there have been several over the years.  For a while, an ad hoc group gathered various groups to share what they were doing. 

Several organizations have come and gone as their leaders have come and gone:  Churches Against Racism, the Task Force on Race Relations led by Gonzaga and the city, its Congress on Race Relations, Camp PEACE training youth on bigotry, and the Spokane Council of Ecumenical Ministries.

There are some enduring voices: the NAACP, Gonzaga’s Institute of Hate Studies, the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane, the Martin Luther King Family Outreach Center, Unity in the Community organizers—AHANA and Community-Minded Enterprises—and The Fig Tree, which shares those voices and more.

Another dynamic is that we have just experienced a major shift in community leadership.  We have a new Catholic bishop, a new rabbi, a new PJALS director and new higher education leaders.  Other agency leadership changes regularly.  We keep up with the turnover in congregations, ministries, nonprofits, government agencies and business leaders as we prepare each new annual Resource Directory. 

There is a need for new and old leaders to gather and find their voice for these times.  There is also need for regular avenues to come together to express that common voice. 

• The Martin Luther King, Jr., Day events—reported in this issue and bypassed by other media because the content is “regular” and the bomb was “unusual”—are powerful voices and draw large crowds that include children and youth.  It’s a way to educate the next generation about the ongoing struggle for civil and human rights, justice and peace.

• Unity in the Community is a regular summer gathering to build cross-cultural understanding and awareness.

• Gonzaga’s Institute for Hate Studies is planning an international conference in April.

• The NAACP chapter in Spokane also keeps alert to injustices.

Are these and other channels for advocating human rights enough?  Not until peace, justice and equality are ingrained in our hearts, communities, laws and society.

Do we need an ecumenical organization to draw together clergy and laity to share common concerns, speak on issues and provide education and networking?

Organizers of the Martin Luther King, Jr.,Day events called for the next generation to step into leadership so that what is already happening can be built on with fresh approaches.  Younger leaders are heading more area nonprofits and institutions. 

While new leaders first focus on learning about their organizations/congregations, on strategic plans and on survival in these economic times, they need to connect with each other and with established leaders to find where they can continue collaborative action, develop new approaches and give voice on local-to-global concerns.

It’s also up to media to keep up with the changes, to know the community and keep up with the continual need for relationship building with the various voices. 

Do we need a new group to form?  Do we need new leaders to find their roles in the many organizations in place?  A mix of old and young is helpful for the next generation who might be discouraged that the task is not done and vigilance is still needed.

Mary Stamp - Editor