It’s part of the American story.
It is a story of enslavement, oppression, and discrimination that continues today.
It is also a story of freedom, struggle, advancement, triumph, celebration, heritage, and family.
As we finish Black History Month, it’s important to remember that all parts of the story – of the lives and times of enslaved people who were brought here from Africa in chains–deserve to be heard. And not just once a year. Just as important is working to ensure that more of these stories, more of this history, is told by the descendants of those slaves who fought for their freedom. The descendants who continue to work toward equity and social justice today.
For Black History Month, we asked several African American leaders at Metro if they would be willing to discuss:
- What Black History Month means to them, and why it is important to have a Black History Month
- The role transit can have in advancing equity
- How can Metro work toward its goal of being an antiracist organization and help foster and antiracist society
- And the next steps that America must take to help achieve the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Beloved Community.”
We heard several themes among the nearly dozen responses, most prominently that, “Black History is American History, and it’s about time we teach it that way.”
My role is Operations Supervisor for the Marine Division. I supervise the Water Taxis shipboard and shoreside personnel, coordinate vessel movement, ensure crew staffing and training. I am the facility security officer, conflict resolution official, customer service agent, and I work with Metro communications and marketing teams to help raise awareness about our ferry services. I contribute to advancing equity through continually keeping a conversation alive about equity challenges in our lives, our region, and our nation. I disrupt meetings to discuss injustices. I share documents, videos, thoughts, and personal experiences with my Metro family that help force a thought process of equity into our daily consciousness.
Black History Month is about taking time to honor and remember the sacrifices of those who’ve made it possible for us—people of color—to have a chance to be successful, happy, and free. It is also a time for us to remember that we are not all treated equally and that our county has deeply rooted systemic racial issues that are so ingrained in our culture that most people of color start the journey of life with more obstacles in their path than our White counterparts.
Public transit is the lifeblood of the community. People of color, indigenous persons, and people who are affiliated with other marginalized groups, often have to live long distances from where they work or receive vital services due to economic hardship and can’t afford private transportation or parking costs, which stresses affordable public transportation as an equity need. Large transit agencies like King County Metro can also advance equity by showing leadership in their hiring practices and by ensuring people of color have opportunity for career advancement.
If we are to achieve Dr. King’s “Beloved community,” when we hear of inequities in a community, we all come together and do whatever needs to be done to bring justice to our brothers and sisters who’ve been wronged, because our community is as one. When someone says “Black Lives Matter,” because there are injustices in the black community, no one says “well, all lives matter,” rather everyone says “What can we do to fix the problems that exist? Because this is our community and I am not whole unless my brothers and sisters are treated equally.”
We listen and we learn, but then most importantly we take action. When we recognize a moment of ignorance amongst our friends, colleagues, family, we call it out. We make sure people understand the subtleties of systemic racism.
The biggest challenges we face today are some of the same ones we faced decades ago: fear! Many people who’ve been in power are afraid that when people in marginalized groups make gains, that they will have to take a loss; that if one group comes up another has to come down. We overcome this fear of one another by bringing communities together, forcing interaction, and allowing people to gain perspective. Fear can be eliminated if the words “us” and “them” can become “we.”
The other big challenge we face is economics. For-profit prisons have filled a void created by the ending of slavery and the associated free labor. People of color moving in to White neighborhoods can lower property costs. I have no solution for how we begin to fix some of the economic problems that are linked to racism, because they are so deeply rooted in our way of life. Making changes to legislation with the goal of undoing much of what our country has been founded on is a journey that won’t be easy. I just hope we have strong, supportive leadership at all levels that can take on the challenge and steer us in the right direction.
I manage bus stop locations and plan stop improvements in the Central District, Mercer Island, SeaTac, Southeast Seattle, and Tukwila. This work is done with a human-centered approach that uses inputs gathered through authentic community engagement, sustainable design, policymaker discussions, and considerations of racial equity and social justice. The successful end product results in engaging public spaces that function well for customers and are reflective of the community’s values.
Black History Month brings recognition to the tireless pursuit of justice by generations of civil rights heroes. Far too often, American history taught in schools diminishes or erases the meaningful contributions made by Black Americans. In fact, many current Black Americans who excel today do not receive proper recognition for their achievements. Black History is American History, and it’s about time we teach it that way.
In a society steeped in structural inequities, the freedom to move unencumbered can open doors to opportunity and advancement. Transit provides an accessible means to mobility, while also working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Addressing the climate crisis helps advance equity because BIPOC communities experience disproportionate impacts of the crisis.
First, it involves everyone sharing common truths. Society and organizations tend to minimize or not acknowledge the intentional or unintentional harm created by past decisions and actions. We need to get everyone on the same page about our past sins and create space for those harmed to speak their truths. Harmed communities need to receive formal apologies and reparations in order to begin reconciling the past.
The biggest challenge we face today is: White fragility, empathy
In order to build an antiracist organization, one must recognize there is a lack of understanding that exists and until we deal with that, racism will continue to tear the organization apart. An organization cannot reform itself, people will have to stop minimizing the racial inequalities and have accountability regardless of an individual’s status.
Many organizations whether intentionally or unintentionally through their actions or lack of contribute to racial injustices. By acknowledging the role played by their organization in the past, they will be able to heal and move forward. It will be uncomfortable and folks may resist allowing themselves to be vulnerable but it will be necessary.
An organization must commit to educating the employees and the employees must be willing to learn as well as acknowledge their privilege. We must be willing to make equitable choices daily through ongoing self-reflection and awareness. Since being antiracist is about what you do, it will be critically important to hold each other accountable when biased decisions or choices are made. It will require individuals to become allies and not be afraid to disrupt business as usual. In addition, those who do have the courage to speak up should not be cast out by others for speaking up, they should be supported by the organization.
My work includes leading a team of HR professionals and recruiting.
Black History Month is a reminder of the power that is within me and around me. It is a reminder of the journey of my ancestors and how they relentlessly persevered with strength. It is a reminder of my Black Girl Magic and the power flowing through my veins.
My role at Metro is as a member of the Transit Advisory Commission and I believe myself and the other members contribute to advancing transportation equity by being the voice of our respective communities and helping policy makers understand what the transportation needs are and discussing ways to achieve them.
Black History Month provides an opportunity for all of us to learn about the contributions that Black people have made to our society, but to also look at how far we have come and understand how far we have to still go to achieve equity. It’s important because it helps to shine a light on systemic racism and allows us to have meaningful discussions.
Transit’s role in advancing equity is helping provide safe and reliable transportation to and from communities that are poor and underserved. In addition, for communities that have overall transportation issues, to include people with disabilities.
In regards to transit, my vision of a “Beloved Community” is all the transportation taking you all the places you want/need to go. While that may not be achievable, we can continue to focus on making it the best we can and focusing on being an all– inclusive organization.
I believe building an antiracist anything starts with communication. So many people are afraid to ask questions and have frank and open conversations. And many of us go into these conversations listening to respond rather than understand. We are more alike than we are different and accepting that will go a long way to building an antiracist society.
I think the biggest challenge we face as a society is not being able to understand that we all want the same thing: to be safe and secure in our lives. This means different things to different people, but at its core the goal remains the same. How we get there is up to all of us. Listening, understanding, and being compassionate will go a long way in helping us achieve this.
Research Project Program Manager: Ensuring that our research and engagement efforts are inclusive and voices that are often overlooked have an opportunity to shape policy, programs, products, and services.
ESJ Trainer: I provide Equity and Social training support for the agency.
Black History Month is important to me because it is a time of reflection. A time to celebrate the contributions that people of African descent have made to this country and to the world. But also, a time to acknowledge and learn about history that is not truthfully and fully told. This time of reflection and education can lead to greater curiosity and understanding about our past and current state, and what needs to be done to bring truth, economic, and social justice forward.
Historically, transit has been a center point around issues related to equity and social justice. Transit has a huge opportunity to further advance equity by providing access to jobs, food, medical care, green spaces, and all things people need to thrive. As a public service agency, we have an obligation to not only ensure our workforce reflects the community at all levels in the agency, but also ensure policies, products, programs, and services are planned, developed, and distributed in an equitable way.
Economic and social justice…a society where oppression, racism, and all forms of discrimination are not tolerated.
We build an antiracist society and organization through education and systems of accountability. Leadership sets the tone and culture of an organization – it is important that our leadership and staff reflect the community, are culturally competent and held accountable when their actions and knowledge do not meet the standards of an anti-racist organization.
Miseducation and dismantling racist systems and policies. How do we overcome them? Education, truth, accountability, and measurable results.
I am a member of the Vehicle Maintenance team where I serve as the Capital Projects Liaison. I see my contribution to advancing equity showing up through the opportunities I encounter to have one-on-one conversations with my colleagues. Fundamentally changing someone’s heart and mind is not my personal responsibility. Informing and educating however, opens us to see what was previously hidden from our view, thereby providing a possible avenue for internal reflection. That type of compassionate influence is the most effective method I’ve found, in order to have a constructive conversation while still safeguarding my own emotional state.
Black History Month has two conflicting meanings for me. On one hand, I believe it is imperative to celebrate the countless contributions and sacrifices Black Americans made to and for this country. What concerns me is, why this month is necessary when Black History is American History. The fact that Carter G. Woodson believed it was necessary to carve out a week to highlight the achievements and contributions by Black Americans speaks to a couple of pressing questions for me. Who is telling the story of America? And why aren’t Black Americans integrated into the common story of American history? To give a few examples,
- In elementary school I learned about who invented the cotton gin, but, the authors said nothing about those who picked the cotton.
- I also learned who built the Model T, but nothing about the person who invented the traffic light to regulate its movements.
James Baldwin said it best, “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
Racial segregation is the direct result of intentional government policy, not individual choice. Based on these facts, I am only left to believe the United States must face what it is so desperately trying to subdue if it is to become what it preaches in its written principles.
From a cultural perspective, transit must first confront and stay the course of not perpetuating its own traditionally systemic, inequitable practices. With the acknowledgment that public funding sources have been wholly inadequate or inconsistent at best, it’s vital that transit avoids choosing flashy over the underserved when making decisions on providing necessary services. It takes a concerted and intentional effort to combat that stigma and to embrace the challenge of re-aligning our thoughts on the way we deliver service. It’s ultimately up to each individual member to combat their own stereotypes, misbeliefs, and misunderstandings about the underserved communities we are ultimately here to serve. Our business is people and we’re only as good as those who receive the least of our service.
That’s a heavy question because I have better understanding about what a Beloved Community doesn’t look like than what it does. A Beloved Community isn’t the displacement of Indigenous people from their own land, food and housing insecurity, voter suppression, sexism, gender inequality, individualism, white privilege, for-profit prisons, for-profit healthcare, for-profit education, qualified immunity, or political finance, just to name a few things. We all want a just and equitable society where everyone is free to prosper, but none of this can happen until these inequitable truths are willfully acknowledged and addressed. I don’t want to necessarily focus on the negatives but again, “…nothing can be changed until it is faced.” One love…
Black History Month reminds us of “Black Excellence” and that the struggle continues but we can’t give up.
More focused on inclusion for a shared sense of purpose and community.
My vision is just as Dr. King preached a community based on equitable opportunities, social and racial justice, and love of fellow human beings.
Transit leadership must reflect the true diversity of King County Metro and the communities it serves to truly understand and address the real issues and concerns of all employees and residents.
“Talks of racial justice ring hollow when there is a lack of diversity from the group that espouses it.”
– Khang Kijarro Nguyen
There is a need to rebuild an environment of authentic and increased transparency, shared accountability, and real employee engagement for an enhanced inclusive and non-bias workplace.
Accept the challenge of transforming the organization to one that values and seeks input from its employees. All employees, including managers, are more productive, trusting, and loyal when they feel valued, respected, and treated equitably.
My role is Superintendent of Power Distribution. I am responsible for managing, supervising, and directing all maintenance operations that maintain over 70 miles of trolley overhead bus lines, Streetcar OCS, and facility electrical systems.
As a powerful woman of color, I have to first identify my barriers, and change my own behaviors and practices, in order to practice what I preach. It’s through my intentions and how I understand the causes of inequity that have allowed me to be empowered and embrace what I know to make a change along the lines of race, gender, class, and culture without great impacts but achievable outcomes and equitable opportunities for those who feel they don’t stand a chance. I work in a trade that has been historically White male. I now have the opportunity to break the systemic racism structure that the electrical trade was built on by Henry Miller in 1891. My father was one of the first Black persons given the opportunity in the early 70’s to join the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW). I am honored to follow his foot steps and be a part of the electrical trade where I can now change the narrative as a Black woman.
Black history Month is like the big Thanksgiving Day parade I see on TV. Instead of those blowup Snoopy balloons, you are surrounded by Black art, Black music and most important Black voices. I am not Black for just a month, this is my life. I can celebrate playing dominoes with my brother and sisters any day. I can listen to Anita Baker or Luther Vandross any day, or read about Shirley Chisholm and Madam C.J. Walker whenever. It is important to have that emphasis to go deeper than “I Have a Dream.” To introduce our children to something more than surface information on slavery and segregation but the truth of why and how we got here. We don’t exist to be a threat as we are so perceived by many, we want to co-exist to achieve the American Dream and continue to make history as a Black American.
That people will judge me for the content of my character and not the color of my skin (Dr. King quote). People will not assume that I was hired for the color of my skin but for my knowledge, experience, and my background.
One must identify what racism is and what characteristics they have as an individual that feeds into racism, and how they can change those characteristics to remove those racists ways. Understand racism is of many facets one must change their self to be whole/remove their racist bias in order to help change and build an anti-racist society.
We must all be transparent and identify our racist flaws. Be willing to change the narrative and break down historical systemic racism and structures.