July 7, 2022
‘Be the Bridge’: RUN-Lynden marks 2nd anniversary of March for Black Lives
Vernon Damani Johnson

Nooksack elder George Adams, whose ancestral village was near present-day Lynden, welcomed those attending a Racial Unity Now-Lynden sponsored second anniversary observance of the March for Black Lives on July 5. (Courtesy photo G. Todd Williams)

July 7, 2022
‘Be the Bridge’: RUN-Lynden marks 2nd anniversary of March for Black Lives
Vernon Damani Johnson

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The essays, analyses and opinions presented as Community Voices express the perspectives of their authors on topics of interest and importance to the community, and are not intended to reflect perspectives on behalf of the Salish Current.

Racial Unity Now (RUN) was established in response to the counter protesters, some of whom were armed, that hit the streets to intimidate those attending the Lynden March for Black Lives in 2020.  

Emerging as it has in a city that is noted for its Christian and very white conservatism, RUN exemplifies the cultural and political divisions that bedevil this country today. Many commentators have observed that polarization in America has become so deep-seated that the country may be becoming two nations, not one. 

Although attitudes about abortion and gun control are part of this polarization, my work places racial cleavage at the center of this national divide. Traditional American nationalism is white assimilationist, because it assumes that the values and norms that operate our institutions should remain as they have been since the founding of the nation. I call that “white assimilationism,” because the founders were all white, and assimilated European immigrants (not without strife) into that whiteness in the 19th and 20th centuries. People of color (former slaves and non-European immigrants) were first denied inclusion, and then asked to conform to white American values, or assimilate to whiteness.  

Progressive American nationalism sees the country as multiracial, accepts the presence of people who don’t identify as white and seeks to incorporate their perspectives into a multiracial democracy. 

University of Washington political scientist Jake Grumbach has pointed out that communities holding opposing political values often live adjacent to one another; but it’s more complicated than that. It’s not uncommon for people with different political beliefs to be neighbors. This is especially true where populations are very geographically mobile. That mobility can cause the demographic and ideological makeup of communities to shift over time. 

Lynden is just such a community. Still overwhelmingly white, the city’s Latino population was 4.73% in 2000, but had grown to an estimated 11.9% by this year. Moreover, 35% of the public school students are listed as minority. While there was no time to run down the minority race breakdown, the district itself denotes that the majority of them are “Hispanic.” This disparity between the town and the school district racial makeup is due to the fact that the public schools serve the surrounding rural areas with their farm-working populations. 

Suffice to say that it is not “your grandmother’s Lynden” anymore. I participated in the march in 2020 and was struck by the numbers of brown folks on porches and lawns waving in encouragement. The lead organizer of the march was an African adoptee, Amsa Burke. Those who have a vision for community that may not be based upon a white assimilationist model live amongst those who continue to embrace the more traditional perspective. Two nations, intertwined, but at odds with one another. Can there be a middle ground, a set of broad principles that can bind them culturally in these tumultuous times?

The founders of RUN think so! As the Heberden article [“Faith-based Lynden group works for racial unity,” Salish Current, July 1, 2020], pointed out, RUN was established to “find understanding and engage in conversations to build bridges between communities and cultures.”  In Lynden potential common space for those conversations is under the umbrella of Christian faith. All of the founding board members belong to local churches. Four of the 14 are young dynamic men of color. 

The theme of the anniversary celebration was “Lynden United: Building Bridges.” The emcee for the event was board member Saji Oommen, a South Asian man. A sterling welcome was offered by Nooksack elder George Adams, whose ancestral village was near Lynden. The keynote speaker was Natasha Likkel Tripplett. A biracial adoptee of a Lynden family, Natasha holds a master’s degree in social work and specializes in cross racial adoption. She began her talk by shouting out to all of her extended family and friends in the audience. She then launched into a very compelling talk in which she teased out the difference between being loved and belonging. She talked about the Lynden of her childhood as a place where that very Christian community loved her, but as a child of color, she never felt she belonged. Then she shared some very easy to digest “Tools for Cross-Cultural Communication.”

To wind up the evening board member Roger Burke, the father of the 2000 march organizer, gave an overview of the board’s study of the curriculum of Be the Bridge, a Christian-based racial reconciliation organization. He invited attendees to join a Be the Bridge study circle in the fall. In an eloquent turn of the phrase Roger closed by saying “the church is culpable for many aspects of racial injustice, but the church is also capable of helping to reconcile for those injustices.” 

Racial Unity Now is embarking on the path of building an anti-racist organization. This is a place where a multiracial group of people engage to address racism in their community.  This involves challenging white people around issues of racism, learning to take leadership from people of color and prioritizing the issues concerning communities of color (and much more). 

Embracing this kind of project with the Christian underpinning so central to a community like Lynden may be the way to indeed “be the bridge” that renews the political and cultural center of gravity there. The Christian framework may not be the one that works in communities everywhere, but the work of anti-racism must be integral to any efforts to make America one nation again. Because our democracy must be multiracial given the demographic changes the country has experienced.

We welcome letters to the editor responding to or amplifying subjects addressed in Community Voices. If you wish to contribute to Community Voices, please send an email with a subject proposal to Managing Editor Mike Sato (msato@rockisland.com) and he will respond with guidelines.

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