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Unity in the Community celebration grows as witness against intolerance

Estimating that more than 14,000 people attended the 16th Unity in the Community Aug. 21 at Riverfront Park, coordinator Ben Cabildo told media he believes the celebration is ready to be a “signature event” for Spokane—like Bloomsday, Hoopfest and Pig Out in the Park.

Unity in Community crowd
Multi-cultural Crowd

Eighteen groups—representing Middle Eastern, African American, Polynesian, Micronesian, Burmese, Hispanic, Shoshone and hip-hop cultures—provided entertainment that could have extended into the evening.

Ben, who is executive director of the African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American (AHANA) business and professional association said that the multicultural community in Spokane continues to grow.  AHANA now operates as part of Community-Minded Enterprises (CME), which dedicates two part-time staff and an intern to Unity in the Community planning.

More than 100 volunteers from CME and participating nonprofits helped with set-up.

Shoshone hoop dance

Shoshone Hoop Dance

In the 2010 cultural village, there were booths with people from Germany, India, Turkey, Iran, Micronesia, Panama, West Africa, Scandinavia, Mexico, American Indian and more.  The people introduce children and adults to resources and activities of their countries and traditions.

Other booths offer information on careers and education opportunities.  Some give away free backpacks, school supplies and bike helmets.

“It’s more than a multicultural celebration of diversity,” he said.  “It’s a statement against intolerance.

That motive keeps me going, as does embracing what we have in ethnic groups and cultures in Spokane,” said Ben, who is Filipino American and has been in Spokane since 1992.  “It makes me feel I belong in the area.  Spokane is now my home.  I want others to feel they belong, too, so they don’t feel isolated.  It empowers the multi-ethnic community.”

Burmese Dancer
Burmese Dancer

Two newer immigrant groups are the Burmese and Somali.

“Many small businesses are run by people from different cultures,” he said, telling of AHANA’s role in helping them start.

When he teaches resume writing and interview skills five days a month at Wellipinit and at the Spokane Tribal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), he is aware that many Native Americans are moving to Spokane from Seattle, Portland and Yakima.

Unity in the Community is not Ben’s first involvement in connecting people of different cultures.  In 1995, he helped found Unity in Action, a grassroots group that involved people in 200 agencies, networking and sharing concerns for common action.

That group folded into the Congress on Race Relations, which was under the institutional leadership of Gonzaga University for a while.  Ben founded AHANA in 1999.  He has also worked with the Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity Task Force: A Partnership with People of Color to increase job opportunities for minority professionals.

Before the recent economic crisis, the number of minority-owned businesses was growing.  Recently, the number has been retreating,” Ben said.

“That has affected the sustainability of minority-owned businesses,” he said.

Ben’s commitment is firm to develop the event—expanding entertainment and vendors, including more ethnic food booths.  He also plans to work with the Unity in the Community committee to draw more sponsors.

Unity in the Community began in 1995 when the Rev. Lonnie Mitchell of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and church members decided to address fragmentation from racial and cultural barriers.  They organized the first Unity in the Community in Liberty Park.  It eventually outgrew Liberty Park, and in 2007 the committee decided to hold it in Riverfront Park, which is wheelchair accessible and would accommodate growth.

The celebration recognizes that everyone in the community is “in this together,” and should share resources and strengthen collaboration among diverse communities, Ben added.

For information, call 444-3308.