Originally published in Mercer Island Reporter October 25, 2017
We recently moved to Mercer Island from outside the U.S. We love the mild weather and number of children and families here. We hope to soon have children of our own. But there seems to be very little racial diversity here and we feel this not being white. What is being done to support diversity on Mercer Island?
Thank you for this question. Although maybe not obvious, the topic of diversity is being discussed in many municipal, school district, business, and community circles. Discussions include evidence of the positive economic and social benefits of diverse communities and schools, but not a single answer to this complex issue.
Mercer Island is a majority white community of approximately 23,500: 80% Caucasian, 18% Asian (8% Chinese, 3% Japanese, 3% Korean and Filipino, Vietnamese and “other” Asian), and the remaining includes those who identify Black/African American, Native Hawaiian/ Pacific Islander, and others. About 3% of the total population identifies as racially Hispanic or Latino (2010 Census). Given this community composition I can understand your concern with Island support for diversity.
I approached the Mercer Island school district and the City officials to ask about the steps being taken to ensure racial and ethnic inclusiveness in the areas of policy, boards/ commissions, and other input mechanisms. Here is some of what is happening:
The Mercer Island School District has an Advisory Committee at each of its six schools. These discuss diversity issues on how the administration, teaching staff and parents can promote a more inclusive and equitable environment. There is also a district Diversity Action Committee focused on equity and access. Staff and administration actively look for ways to include the issue of diversity and equity into academic and social-emotional learning curriculums.
A local parent group, One MI, meets to discuss issues of race, equity and access. This group developed a pamphlet for parents on how to talk to their kids about race and formed advocacy groups to raise awareness of cultural diversity.
The City of Mercer Island prides itself on supporting diversity. The City Council’s annual work plan includes the issue of diversity and equity. Last November they unanimously passed a proclamation reaffirming their principles and values related to inclusiveness which included 10 points to guide city work. Towards this end, City Departments developed a Diversity and Inclusion committee dedicated to issues of race, diversity, and equity. Examples put into practice by the City include:
- Development Services Group uses facilitators at some meetings
- Youth and Family Services recruits diverse members to its Community Advisory Board
- Police train officers in cultural humility, prohibit biased-based policing, and officers are prohibited from asking immigration status on police contacts
- Women and minority-owned businesses are intentionally included in solicitations for City contracts
- City’s Emergency Management website links to critical information in various languages
- Police Chief Holmes chairs the Public Trust of King County and the Committee for the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs working to build trust in communities
- Youth and Family Services counselors and the Healthy Youth Initiative Board receive specific training in Cultural Humility to enhance outreach, orientation and membership
These policies and conversations are important to move us closer to full inclusion and equity. As a community that is majority white and privileged, addressing these issues head-on may not yet be the norm. Ensuring that all Islanders feel welcome and supported will take many more courageous conversations.
At Youth and Family Services, we continue to learn from the diverse families and individuals in the community. We hope to be a partner with you, LH. We have a lot to learn, along with the schools, government, faith, service and sports organizations about embracing diversity and the strengths is lends to any community.
Less than advice this week, I instead offer information, an open hand and my commitment to humbly engaging in further conversation.
Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for information purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email firstname.lastname@example.org.