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Black History Month event brings organizers together, calls to action

'Our History Collectively' aims for equality in the community

Dwynne Blackwell Furberg, left, and Michelle Harmeier, of Bellingham Queer Collective, discuss their mission Saturday, Feb. 24 on stage of the "Our History Collectively" event to celebrate Black History Month at Hotel Leo. The event emphasized bringing groups together that have a similar goal. (Jack Warren/Cascadia Daily News)
By Jemma Alexander News Intern

“Together, we can,” was the theme of the Black History Month event “Our History Collectively,” which drew about 40 community members to Hotel Leo on Saturday, Feb. 24.

Local community leaders, organizers and artists gathered to discuss the history of Bellingham, their experiences and how Black history and activism can be celebrated and performed year-round. 

More than 80% of Bellingham’s population identifies as white as of 2023, and the history books reflect it. In the early 1900s, the Ku Klux Klan had a prominent position in the public eye, the same time that “The Birth of a Nation,” was playing in Bellingham theaters.  

Celebration attendees stand for a Black National Anthem performance. (Jack Warren/Cascadia Daily News)

By the 1930s, a “hidden bureaucratic form of racism” had been cemented in Bellingham with policies such as redlining, said Dave Curley of Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship. Curley hoped to leave the audience with an understanding of Bellingham’s racist history.  

The outlawing of discrimination in the ’60s and ’70s was a big step forward but “many things in a complex, interacting system have to change to make progress happen,” Curley said.  

Brian Womack, owner of Headquarters Barbershop, organized Saturday’s event, which also featured a speech by Whatcom County’s first Black sheriff, Donnell “Tank” Tanksley.  

Tanksley spoke about the history of Black policemen and the path that led to a man like him being named sheriff. Tanksley hopes to diversify law enforcement, emphasizing that the demographics should not just reflect the Bellingham community, but must also go past that. 

Whatcom County Sheriff Donnell Tanksley gives a speech to the audience. (Jack Warren/Cascadia Daily News)

Events like this “bring awareness to Black and brown communities, to show that we are part of the community … we are doing good things for the community,” Tanksley said.  

Rea Rodriguez, another organizer of “Our History Collectively,” wanted the event to bring together groups that have similar goals.  

“How can we create synergy together; become one voice?” she asked.  

Members of the Bellingham Queer Collective spoke about the importance of queer spaces. In partnership with Western Washington University’s psychology department and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), they have begun Generations of Pride, a coalition that connects LGBTQ+ elders with younger queer people.  

Queer elders can give support and advice to youth, and in return, younger queer people can help elders be more culturally proficient, said Michelle Harmeier, founder and board president of Bellingham Queer Collective.   

While the collective may not seem to have a lot to do with Black History Month, “oppression is oppression is oppression,” said Kaleb Starling of Bellingham Queer Collective. Coming together with strength, “will get us all further,” Starling said.  

Lance Jones, a resident of Bellingham, posed a simple question to the audience: “How do we do better?”

“What are we going to do in March, April, May … and every single day,” echoed Rodriguez, in a call to action.  

“Show up and keep showing up together,” Jones said.  

A photo caption previously misspelled Dwynne Blackwell Furberg’s last name. The story was updated to reflect this change on Feb. 27, 2024, at 1:47 p.m. Cascadia Daily News regrets this error.

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