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MLK tribute: Kent group carries a bigger voice | SLIDESHOW
What began as a small grassroots group with a clear mission has become something bigger in the local community.
The Kent Black Action Commission (KBAC) – established on the foundation of kindling opportunities and advancing conditions of the African-American community – took a significant step Sunday when Gov. Jay Inslee recognized the nonprofit organization for its efforts.
Such an honor – in the official form of a governor's proclamation – was announced in concert with the KBAC's Our Place in the March, a celebration commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic "Great March on Washington", D.C., where the civil rights leader delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech.
While KBAC's voice is small, it is getting louder.
Members accepted the official proclamation on behalf of Gov. Inslee and the State of Washington.
Bailey Stober, an executive assistant to the Washington State Commission on African American Affairs and a Kent City Council candidate, read Inslee's message to the audience.
"Your energy and dedication are tremendous assets and will help us build a stronger and more equitable community for everybody ...," Stober read.
Gwen Allen-Carston, KBAC executive director and East Hill business owner, was ecstatic. The honor reflects progress for the two-year-old organization, with the understanding that more work needs to be done in black communities throughout South King County.
"We're on our way. We're now a real organization. We're being heard. We're taking gradual steps," she said. "I remember going down to Olympia for Legislative Day(s) ... and placing our card in (Gov. Inslee's) hand. I told him, 'You're going to hear more from us.' "
City and community leaders, supporters and guests assembled at Burlington Green Park in the drizzle Sunday to recognize KBAC's efforts and the work of volunteers from contributing agencies and partners who are trying to make a difference in Kent's black neighborhoods. The tribute included impassioned speeches, a powerful message from the Rev. Jimmie James and inspirational music.
Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke read a proclamation, declaring Aug. 25, 2013 as March on Washington Day in the City of Kent.
"This is a great, great beginning for recognition in Kent," Cooke told the crowd. "Mark this day, because you are local leaders (who) make things happen ..."
But as KBAC leaders will tell you, the work is only beginning. Progress has been slow in improving the social, political, economic, educational and spiritual climate of Kent's black community.
Much in the spirit of MLK, communities like Kent pledge and work for better equality and justice for minorities. That progress is encouraging but incomplete, local leaders say. Kent is just a microcosm of what is happening nationally, they say.
"Even 50 years after his historic march ... (there) seems to be a lack of urgency of what's going on in our communities," James said in his keynote speech. " ... People say some things have changed, but deep down in my soul, something just tells me, the right things have not changed."
While some doors have opened for African-American society, others remain closed, James said.
"I'm hear to tell you that Marin Luther King would not be satisfied on this day," James told the crowd. "I believe what Martin would say is, 'I don't want just another commemoration, I want continuation.' He would say, 'I'm not happy to be memorialized. I need my people to wake up and stand up and mobilize on this day.'"
James urges America and communities like Kent to move "beyond the Band-Aids" of political, educational and social policies and work for genuine equality. He hopes others will vow to finish what King started 50 years ago.
"Words are not enough," he said. "The march continues. It does not stop here today."