4Culture participated in the first-ever Puget Sound Equity Summit, held November 8 & 9 at Highline Community College in Des Moines. The two-day summit brought together dozens of organizations to share their work in promoting equity-building efforts around Puget Sound. Arts and heritage experiences can be overlooked in the discussion about how to make King County a more equitable place to live. 4Culture and our affiliate network in South King County, SoCoCulture, want to change that by participating in the conversation as much as possible, and by encouraging other arts and heritage organizations to do the same.
The event kicked off with a Marketplace featuring 26 organizations that focus on equity issues such as Puget Sound Sage, Feet First, Forterra, Mother Africa, and Rainier Beach Moving Forward, just to name a few.
King County Executive Dow Constantine gave the opening comments, asking the 400 or so policymakers, philanthropists, and community organizers in the room to stand up for equity. Nathaniel Smith, Chief Equity Officer of Partnership for Southern Equity, in Atlanta, Georgia, delivered the evening’s keynote. Smith made the point that equity is not equality, explaining that equity addresses what people need and not what you want them to have. He quoted author Peter Block “If you want a future that’s distinct from the past, you have to be with the people who you aren’t used to being with and have conversations you’re not used to having.”
The evening ended with a lively panel by Gregory Davis, Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition; Amy Bates, Solutions for Humanity; Vue Le, Vietnamese Friendship Association; and Estela Ortega from El Centro de la Raza. The panelists gave examples of how community involvement is key to equity efforts.
On Saturday, the summit opened with a talk by Dr. Gail Christopher, vice president for Program Strategy at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Christopher spoke out forcefully against the fallacy of a hierarchy of humanity, but pointed out that because our country’s history includes extended periods of oppression, such as the enslavement of black people and the subjugation of Native Americans, there are residual effects of those actions to this day. “You cannot shape a belief for consecutive centuries and avoid being affected by unconscious bias,” Christopher said. But in addressing issues of inequity that can be found in so many areas, Christopher noted that “ultimately it has to be an ‘us’ conversation, not ‘we’ versus ‘they.’”
A booklet prepared for the Summit by Futurewise and King County staff parsed the County’s changing demographics and showed that the areas with the most diverse population, lowest income households and lowest rates of English proficiency are concentrated primarily in South Seattle and the Southwest quadrant of King County.
Workshops at the summit addressed equity of access to health care, mass transit, safe and affordable housing, education and youth services, wholesome food, civic engagement and other topics.
While the focus was primarily on social services, we were at the summit to listen to ideas for making arts and heritage organizations more responsive to issues of inequity in their own spheres, and to advance the idea that cultural institutions can be part of the solution in communicating the shared hopes and dreams of people across the demographic spectrum.
— Christina DePaolo, Deb Twersky, and SoCoCulture’s Barbara McMichael