It’s troubling — but not surprising — to note that the San Juan Islands are 93.9 percent white and only 0.8 percent black, according to an estimate United States Census for 2019. Many in our communities have long lamented over how few people of color call this county home.
Since 1976, February has been designated Black History Month, an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of black people in U.S. history. According to www.history.com, the 2020 theme, “African Americans and the Vote,” is in honor of the centennial anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment (1920) granting women’s suffrage and the sesquicentennial of the Fifteenth Amendment (1870) giving black men the right to vote.
We’d like to take this opportunity to highlight some of the work being done to increase diversity and racial awareness in our county.
Woman in the Woods Productions on Orcas was launched in 2017 to “promote an appreciation and understanding of racial and cultural differences through various forms of artistic expression.” Founder Michell Marshall has brought performance artists to the island to present incredible theatrical, musical and poetic work as well as offer community and student workshops.
Woman in the Woods Productions will hold its third annual gala and fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 22 at Orcas Center. On the main stage, you’ll see internationally renowned movement artist, choreographer and director Jon Boogz, spoken word artist Robin Sanders whose audible image-making and kinetic storytelling captivate audiences worldwide as well as the Steve Alboucq Quartet.
Boogz has choreographed for Mikhail Baryshnikov, Naomi Campbell and Gloria Estefan but he is best known for performing his own choreography. As Boogz has said, “Art speaks to us in a way that words cannot.” Inspired by his artistic depiction of invisibility and the hurt it causes, WIWP’s theme for this year’s gala is “Out of the Shadows.”
“In selecting this theme we celebrate those who, during this time of great divisiveness and turmoil, come together to welcome each other, to help break down that feeling of being unseen,” writes board member Norm Stamper. “Not all artists suffer for their work, though many do. So, we honor these courageous individuals whose suffering has inspired or otherwise contributed to their art — to the great benefit of the rest of us. Indeed, WIWP is proud to make our stage a welcoming place for artists who have survived, even flourished in the face of racism, misogyny, homophobia, family violence, or other forms of cruelty or injustice.”
Diversity Education Initiative is a group of concerned community members who are hoping to address the following: “Orcas Island may be a perfect place, but for some, there is an undercurrent of intolerance and racism. What can be done?”
A free preview of a workshop will take place from 6-7:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at the Orcas Island Library with Kevin Carter, an inclusion and diversity consultant. A discussion of what community means; interpersonal awareness; cultural competence; and a confirmation of individual and collective action to foster a diverse and inclusive community on Orcas Island, will take place. All community members are encouraged to attend and to help plan the free workshop that will take place soon.
Earlier this month, author and scholar Clyde Ford presented “Dog-Whistles and Cat-Calls: The Modern Signs, Symbols, and Signals of Hate” at the Lopez, Orcas and San Juan libraries.
Since Feb. 3, the Orcas library has had displays featuring a timeline of the Civil Rights Movement and important black individuals from current leaders like President Barack Obama to historical figures like Carter G. Woodson, the father of Black History Month. Library staff will feature books and multi-media from the collection in adult, young adult and children reading levels. Fun activities and bookmarks will also be available.