Bellingham recognizes MLK Day with service, call to continue fight for justice

Hundreds of volunteers from around Whatcom County stepped up to help stabilize a hillside in Maritime Heritage Park on a sunny Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

More than 150 people helped remove invasive ivy and hawthorn trees throughout the morning on Monday, Jan. 19, then spread mulch made from old Christmas trees. Within two hours they had planted 250 native plants to help hold everything together.

Anna Dudley, assistant volunteer coordinator for Bellingham Parks and AmeriCorps volunteer, said she was thankful the sun came out for the day of service.

“I was nervous we’d have rain and I’d have to plant all these plants for the next week,” Dudley said with a laugh.

Among the volunteers were Lynden residents Dave and Holly Timmer, and their three sons, James, 8, Conrad, 6, and Marcus, 4. James said he’d planted some Oregon grape and birch trees, and when asked how his morning had been, Conrad kept it short and sweet: “Fun!”

The event was put together by the Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association and the City of Bellingham, with help from AmeriCorps volunteers.

The groups have been working on the hillside near Dupont Street at the northern end of the park for nearly a decade, and have held work parties there on MLK Day for the last eight years, said Rae Edwards, city parks volunteer coordinator.

City Hall speakers: The fight’s not over

At noon, City Hall was packed with a standing-room-only crowd that gathered to hear speeches and songs commemorating King’s legacy.

Speakers including City Council member Roxanne Murphy, Mayor Kelli Linville, retired music teacher Edwin “Skip” Williams and Western Washington University associate professor Kristen French reminded those in attendance that the struggle for equality is not over.

Murphy, a member of the Nooksack Indian Tribe and emcee of the event, said she was thankful for all the people who had helped her become the first person of color elected to Bellingham City Council and asked everyone to recognize a moment of silence for those who had lost their lives in the struggle for justice.

She was followed by the Jefferson Sisters, Billie, 17, Danielle, 16, and Katherine, 14. The three members of Lummi Nation, who also go by Thunderbirds Raised Her, sang a heartfelt song called “What about those promises?” which speaks to the struggles indigenous people have faced for hundreds of years.

“As we know from the last singers, we still have our challenges,” Linville said, following the Jeffersons.

The mayor reminded the audience King had planned to speak in Seattle in 1961, but the event was canceled by the church he was headed to. She recalled voting in the state legislature to support civil rights for the first time in 1993, and said the U.S. Supreme Court would take up marriage equality for the first time in 2015.

“We don’t want to gradually set our goals,” Linville said. “We want freedom for all, equality for all, and opportunity for all.”

Williams held back tears as he acknowledged how far the country had come but pointed out that it still has a long way to go. He referenced last year’s high-profile police killings of young black men, including that of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Me, my children, and my grandchildren may have to continue to go the extra mile to earn the benefit of the doubt,” Williams said. “There is still work to be done. We haven’t gotten to the mountaintop.”

Williams went on to say he was saddened by the looting and hatred boiling over in Missouri, quoting the late Maya Angelou, “Hate, it has caused a lot of problems, but has not solved one yet.” He invited everyone to take their efforts from conversations at the dinner table and do something to make change in the community.

French, the director of Western’s Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, said she had learned a lot from indigenous leaders locally and around the world over the last year, especially with respect to love and hate.

“I’ve learned that anger gets in our way,” French said. “Love is an emancipatory practice. ... These issues facing us may seem overwhelming. Well, they are. Through love we are called to action.”

In closing, Murphy asked each person to reflect on the questions raised by each speaker: “If you have hate for someone, how are you going to turn around that hate you may have?” and “What are you going to do to keep the dream alive?”