The story of Racial Unity Now (RUN) - Salish Current
July 2, 2024
The story of Racial Unity Now (RUN)
Ron Polinder

Dressed in traditional Dutch costume, a woman offers samples of stroopwafels — a Dutch pastry — at Lynden’s potluck-style “Flavors of Community” multicultural celebration  in 2023. This year’s event, featuring cuisine and performances from a variety of racial and cultural groups within the community, will be held on July 6. (Courtesy)

July 2, 2024
The story of Racial Unity Now (RUN)
Ron Polinder

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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.

Commentary: A four-year journey addressing racial prejudice and discrimination

This story unfolded in North Whatcom County, specifically in Lynden, four years ago. It is not always a happy story, but it is developing into an important one. It reminds us that our county has plenty of work to do in addressing our share of racial prejudice, particularly in light of the recent hate crimes in Bellingham.

There is considerable denial that we have a race problem. If there is such an acknowledgment, it would be assigned to other communities, likely Seattle or other big or small cities. Many think that racial discrimination has mostly disappeared — we’ve overcome. Or “they” have? 

Not so, which is why we cannot hide the painful truth about what happened on July 5, 2020. Some will have forgotten, others want to forget. Still, more refuse to believe it, or their guilt in it. So the facts need to be recounted 

In the spring of 2020, some students of color at Lynden High School began to consider bringing to light some of the discrimination they were experiencing in their school and community. They decided to stage a march, somewhat in the spirit of Black Lives Matter, walking from their school to City Hall to go public with their remarks and opinions. 

Word spread and, to the surprise of the students and the community, an estimated 600 citizens joined in. However, the word also spread to a substantial number of community members who deeply resented being called out for their prejudice and any suggestion of bigotry in our town. How dare they march for Black lives, don’t all lives matter? In truth, often Black lives haven’t mattered, nor have the lives of new immigrants, Mexicans nor Sikhs.

A counter-protest soon developed. On the day of the march, loud pick-ups showed up burning rubber and boosting flags. Speakers blared, drowning out the student speeches at City Hall, some playing religious music insulting the faith they represented. Most outrageously, some adults came “packing heat,” — rifles, that is — guarding a couple of churches, believing Antifa was coming. Such was the shame that occupied our town!

Ron Polinder of RUN Lynden
Board member Ron Polinder leads discussion after a showing of  “Smoke Signals,” during the RUN Film Series. (Courtesy)

To my satisfaction, both my adult son and daughter marched with the students. They witnessed the ugly affair and the embarrassment this brought upon our community. My son promptly called me to report, saying, “Dad, this was horrible, we need to do something.” I responded, “We need to write to the Lynden Tribune — I’ll take a swing at it and run it past you.”

That indeed came to pass, with six of us, diverse in age and gender, signing a statement calling for racial and social justice. Subsequently, we became the steering committee that formed Racial Unity Now, adding another six members. Together we crafted a mission statement:

Racial Unity Now (RUN) strives to create racial understanding both now and in the future. With a focus on North Whatcom County, we are listening and learning about systemic racial injustice and will propose actions to overcome such patterns and behavior. This begins with searching our personal prejudices, and leads to “acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly with our God.” While rooted in Christian beliefs, we will include voices from other faith traditions, given our shared values. Together we will resolve to advance racial equality, respect, and love in our diverse community.

After adopting six value statements, we got to work. We have initiated numerous events, training, and collaborative civic engagement projects over the past four years. Highlights include:

  • Promptly meeting with Whatcom Racial Equity Commission (WREC) pledging mutual cooperation. 
  • Celebrated culinary and cultural differences at the 2023 Flavors of Community Event, attracting 250 community members.
  • Started a film series using six educational screenings featuring experiences of different ethnic/cultural/racial groups, followed by a Q&A with a group member.
  • Raised awareness about the contributions of Hispanic farm workers at the 2023 Raspberry Festival with the “Fields of Gratitude” display, attended by several hundred locals over two days.
  • Conducted four church-based “Be the Bridge” 10-part adult Sunday School classes using Latisha Morrison’s book to educate about racial understanding.
  • Launched an interorganizational immigration meeting series involving civic, faith, and nonprofit leaders, helped start a welcome kit program for migrants in need, and provided emergency housing for asylee families.
  • Racial Unity is deeply indebted to Mount Baker Foundation for a generous three-year grant enabling us to work toward our mission and hire a part-time director.

Well, that’s a story out of Lynden and our call for Racial Unity. 

We’ve had wholesome experiences and expect another on July 6 at 5 p.m., as we again gather behind Lynden City Hall for “Flavors of Community.” This multicultural event will feature food from different local cultures, a short inspirational message, and the beautiful color of our community.  

Explore our community’s culinary heritage with free appetizer, dessert samples, and cultural presentations. Drop by this potluck event, bring your family, and enjoy while supplies last! • Mexican • Venezualan • Indian • Dutch • Plus More!

— Ron Polinder, Board Member, RUN

Also read in Salish Current:Faith-based Lynden group works for racial equity,” July 1, 2022

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