This is a tale of two cities dealing with racial equity. One — Bainbridge Island — is having some success playing a role in government. The other — Bremerton — is not.
The Race Equity Advisory Committees from both cities met through Zoom Nov. 17 to discuss successes, failures and possibly ways they could work together.
But most of the time was spent with the two members of the Bremerton committee describing how badly they are treated there.
“They aren’t going to give us anything,” Darryl Riley said, adding they are tasked with advising people in power, but they don’t want to listen. “They don’t like being told what to do. That creates a dilemma.”
Airen Lydick said all their government wants is for them to hold cultural celebrations. “That’s not the same thing as advising against systemic racism,” he said.
Riley said the city has shown him no respect. “They don’t give a damn about a black man like me,” he said. “I employ fifteen people, and I still don’t feel comfortable walking into City Hall.”
He added he’s grown tired of trying to put a smile on his face when dealing with them and trying to appeal to their sensibilities thinking they will do the right thing.
“My perspective has changed,” he said. “I’m not here to ask for anything. You work for me,” and if you keep responding with inaction and silence you will face opposition at the ballot box.
Lydick said while not supported by government, the community is behind them. He said their committee has been praised for calling out city leaders when they do not adhere to racial equity.
He added that there have been some wins. He said the last six months some on city staff have been very helpful. “They see potential on how this could benefit everybody.”
Another win is two major community leaders have been added to the committee recently. They are ready to “hold our city government accountable,” Lydick said.
Riley added, “Somebody to balance out the angry black guy.”
Wins on BI
Bainbridge REAC members mentioned some of their wins, including the city preparing to hire a race equity officer. “We are involved,” committee member Francis Jacobson said.
For example, REAC was involved in picking members of the planning commission, including some of the questions used during interviews. Its also been involved in the new police-court facility process and been consulted on the climate and housing action plans.
REAC co-leader Renni Bisham said looking at government through a race-equity lens is becoming part of many processes on BI. “We’re building momentum,” he said. “We’re building relationships.”
He said they have met with each councilmember and talked about issues and processes. But everything hasn’t gone perfectly. “We’re not done. It’s not going as fast as we want it to,” he said, adding he was hoping more equity training would have been done by now.
Savanna Rovelstad, the other co-leader, said she still gets bothered when people say they have more training than she does. “I’m living my training,” she said.
“As a person of color, your degree is a Ph.D,” Riley responded. “A white person should not decide what equity looks like for people of color.”
Both Riley and Lydick encouraged Bainbridge REAC to be as involved as possible in picking the equity officer and having that person meet with them regularly. Lydick also said to make sure they are involved in race equity in all three forms of government.
He said they have run into roadblocks in Bremerton, as their city leaders say that violates separation of powers. But he said a race equity lens is needed in judicial, legislative and executive branches of government.
“They don’t understand how systematic racism works” because they continue to perpetuate it by not listening to their REAC voice. He called the mayor and City Council “brilliant” people with a lot of resources who could support racial equity if they really wanted to. “They absolutely could.”
Riley said the council seems more favorable to their REAC than the mayor, who “runs our city. It’s sad how this has transpired.” He said if the mayor doesn’t come around he’s up for reelection in 2024.
He said he was proud of the BI REAC team because when it first started it didn’t know what to do and now, “You guys have really passed us up. There seem to be a lot more people on the island who are sensible and really want to know what equity is. They’re asking for your opinion and advice now.”
As for the “phony leadership” in Bremerton, he said, “They don’t even want to talk to us. They want this committee to die.”
Riley said they have been working with legal to change some codes so they can do their job. He said he will stick around because he doesn’t want to “leave it up to a bunch of white people to figure it out.”
Riley said he looks forward to when he can be himself, speak the truth and not have to put up filters. “That’s freedom for me. I’ve been black a long time. I own three businesses. I should not have to defend myself every day.”