Living Treasures Celebration - May 20, 2005
"The story of America is the story of race."
We started our Living Treasures Celebration last year because we knew that the college needed a time every year for healing and renewal. We planned to hold our second LT Celebration towards the end of this academic year to honor Jack Surendranath and Rossie Norris, two Living Treasures who are retiring from the college. Jack was always an advocate for pluralism on President's staff and an excellent strategist. His caring and excellence as an instructor and administrator meant that any time he spoke in support of us we had an amazing amount of credibility. And Rossie--I remember a meeting with Jean Floten where Rossie (against all rules of chain of command) spoke the truth about the college being a long way from antiracist and demand in a voice that shook with fury that we need to do more. I realized that Rossie was in many ways a complement to Jean. As Jean challenged us to do more to grow and to be efficient and effective. Rossie challenged us to be more antiracist. Even though we are ahead of Harvard, we are a long way from getting it. There are more faculty of color being hired but the enrollment of students of color is flat. This is all the more lamentable when students of color are the largest growth population for our college. What will we do when Rossie leaves? Who will stand up and demand and continue to demand with the same heart?
I think that everyone will agree that there have been pluralism initiatives at this college that have started and stalled. As the Diversity Caucus goes into its third year, we are mindful that we cannot be one of those. So far, it hasn't happened. We've had several major events this year including Connect to Your Future, Courageous Conversations, and the Multicultural Community Fair that brought many young people to the campus. The American Indian Film Festival integrated our scholar in residence and environmental issues. Johnella Butler was the keynote at one of our professional development days. The amazing thing about any Diversity Caucus event is that people keep stepping up to help. Although our community must be going through event fatigue, Ed Biggers puts out a call and there is immediate response to organize the LT Celebration. Sharon Felton, Carol McKee, Nora Lance, Akemi Matsumoto, Cora Nixon, Judy Woo, and Asha Nelson (who managed to miss this photo op) took three one-hour meetings to put the whole event together. That's incredible efficiency. It helps that we trust each other, would never under any circumstances let each other down, and have tremendous faith in the rest of our community to come through.
Ed Biggers is our fearless leader this year serving as Chair of the Diversity Caucus. He works in campus operations and is known for his prowess with fixing things on campus. If it weren't for Courageous Conversations, I would never have spoken to Ed---or others from Campus Operations like Thurman or Mitchell, for that matter. When I went through the first Courageous Conversations training with him, I was amazed at how articulate he was and how quickly and easily he moved into a facilitator's role. He's been to a facilitator at both our Courageous Conversation two-day trainings since then, even though they involved coming on a Saturday without pay. When we asked him to become the Diversity Caucus Chair, there was a lot of concern that Campus Ops couldn't spare him. It was a case study in the campus pecking order. Administrators and faculty have the privilege of participating and taking leadership positions should they choose, but with others, even though they have obvious leadership abilities, it is a stretch for our college culture. Ed gave up many lunch hours to carry out most of his Diversity Caucus Chair responsibilities. Ed's been a great leader for us this year. He asks straight-forward questions which make us readdress why we do things (most of the time it's because we fell into it or because it's the way we've always done it). I've noticed how his lack of ego has made things go all the more smoothly. The Diversity Caucus gave him a warrior necklace made by Zandra Apple for his service. When he put it on, it was incredible how powerful he looked. He's got the cutest son who hugs whoever his dad hugs. I swear he'll come back one day just like Evan Flory-Barnes, on the verge of his breakout. Ed's also taught me a lot about what African-American students are up against when they pursue their education. Ed was a talented college student in a historically-black college before he decided to transfer to Kent State in Ohio. He found that Kent State was a difficult environment that didn't give him the support to succeed. He ended up dropping out. Ed, Thurman Young, Mitchell Bland, (all in Campus Operations) Benayah Israel (in the Library), and Elman McClain (Public Safety) are all men of color who actively support our students of color in many ways, whether it is to encourage them to stay in school, resolving situations that might involve a racial component (which is everything that involves a person of color) or just modeling behavior.
Cora Nixon (pictured here with Janice Grayson, another Courageous Conversation participant) is our incoming Diversity Caucus Chair and co-MC for the LT Celebration along with Ed. I can't say that Courageous Conversations was the reason I met Cora. I've had occasion to ask her for information in her role as in Institutional Research analyst. But Courageous Conversations allowed me to know Cora better. She's from Alaska, has exquisite taste in jewelry and makes incredible desserts. She's been employing her great organizational skills in getting a lot of research out and I'm especially appreciative of getting information broken down by ethnicity. She's also been demonstrating her skills on the Employee Pluralism Committee. She managed the program for this year's LT Celebration and did a fabulous job of taking care of all the big program items like a moment of remembrance for Norm Choo, Isbel Trejo and Terry Weston and small details like the ordering of the honorees and their introductions. I'm looking forward to Cora's leadership and she's already told the planning committee that she wants us to get off the mark more quickly next year. She wants next year to top this one and I'm sure that, with her leadership, we'll do it.
It would be impossible for us to start any LT Celebration without the blessing and smudging by Phil Lucas. Jesse Lucas (Phil's son and drum bearer for the Snoqualmie) was here to sing a song and play the flute. The smudging is a ceremony to cleanse and heal using sage, one of the four sacred herbs to American Indians. Last year Kiku Hayashi (our very brilliant LT invitation designer) came to the LT Celebration feeling miserable and sporting a migraine. After the smudging she didn't just feel better, she felt great. The two weeks prior to the LT Celebration had been difficult (which is a considerable understatement for publication purposes) for anyone involved in the budget deliberations. Suffice it to say, we needed the smudging and I felt the healing. I'm hoping the others felt it as well. As we continue to press for more antiracism in our curriculum and processes, we will ruffle more feathers and most likely need more smudging. Thank goodness we have this LT Celebration for healing and renewal.
Akemi Matsumoto designed the table settings (theme of purple, orange and yellow) and trained Sharon Felton and Jeannette Higgins to fold those great looking fan napkins. Akemi also arranged for the liquor license and the rental of the tablecloths and dishes from Steve McClaine. She set up the tables and made the atmosphere perfect. There is no match for Carol McKee when it comes to getting together the food for an event. She put out the call for food and coordinated all the "gifts of the heart" from over 20 people. She worked with Steve McClaine to get refrigerator space, to use the ovens, and get ice. She bought the drinks and coordinated the wine. She cooked all Friday morning. I don't think Nora Lance (who has the same duties on International Night) had a chance to sit down and eat. She helped with set-up, cooking the food that still needed cooking, and did the lion's share of clean-up. If you have these three involved in an event, it will be first class. Thanks to Steve McClaine, Bob Stoll and Phu Moan for their incredible cooperation in making it all run smoothly. The food was sumptuous. Thanks also to Steve Wiseman, Diane Douglas, Sayumi Irey, Scott Irey, Jeannette Higgins, Alan Yabui, Asha Nelson and Stephanie Sloan for helping with setup and cleanup. We started setup at 3 pm and we were out of the place by 9 pm. What a team!
Sharon Felton is a genius for thinking of Evan Flory-Barnes as our entertainment for the night. We wanted something very special for Jack and Rossie. Before Sharon got into the act, none of us could think of anything that would express the deep feelings of appreciation, of sadness, and, at the same time, happiness for them. Evan was a perfect choice because he's incredibly talented, he's handsome, and he is, of course, Linda Flory-Barnes' son. He embodies our aspirations for the future and why we all work so hard--it's for our children and their children. There is an incredible amount of world-class potential that is there to unleash. Only by fighting racism can we give them a chance to shine. Evan's band "The Threat of Beauty" performs exciting and innovative acoustic jazz. Only twenty-six, Evan has been acclaimed as a true rising star and has performed with some of the best of the new jazz world, including piano phenomenon Aaron Parks, with whom he recorded two CDs. He's a graduate of the University of Washington. Evan's band played great background music as we ate and then they performed two of his compositions to express the place on the verge of a new world. His description and the incredible songs were just right to express the complex mix of feelings we have for Jack and Rossie.
It was appropriate to have a Living Treasure induct the new Living Treasures and they all did an excellent job because they spoke from the heart. Akemi Matsumoto spoke of how ironic it was that she was Phil Lucas' faculty mentor (all new faculty of color have faculty mentors) when he knew so much more than she did about even the Japanese Internment. Phil expressed how appreciative he was of the honor (Living Treasure as opposed to otherwise) and I can tell you that even with his Emmy and Sundance awards, he was thrilled with being named a Living Treasure. Sharon Felton listed all the firsts that Helen Taylor had accomplished on behalf of pluralism including being the first Chair of the Pluralism Committee way back in 1991. Helen has done some major work with pluralism in curriculum development including the always fully-subscribed IDS course "Skin Deep." Helen talked about how her son remarked that she was reading Brown (by Richard Rodriguez) this year, and Yellow (by Frank Wu) last, and when was she going to be finished. She replied that she would never be finished, that this was a life's work. Alan Yabui spoke of Tom Nielsen's work behind the scenes to make pluralism happen. Tom brings such grace to everything he does including his acceptance speech. Those of us steeped in the tactics of civil disobedience really appreciate that Tom has the steely resolve to deliver the same message with such style. There were standing ovations for all our new Living Treasures. It was great to see them acknowledged.
The finale for the evening was the tribute to our retiring Living Treasures Jack and Rossie. Diane Harrison (also a Living Treasure) was gorgeous that night as she gave her hilarious tribute to Jack. She talked about how funny she thought Jack was the first night she met him and how he had a joke a minute. She learned after 23 years that it was the same eight jokes told many times. She talked about her family's skepticism about their interracial relationship and of how she had gone to places all over the world that she would never have gone to had it not been for Jack. And, she noted that in many of these places, they had met former students of Jack who had become doctors or other professionals. They all remembered Jack. It was great to get her loving and humorous perspective on Jack. Jack received his gift of a French oven from the Diversity Caucus and quipped that he'll cook something in it for the next LT Celebration. (Believe me, we would love to Jack's gourmet cooking at the next LT Celebration.) Jack reminisced about how he had arrived in the US for two years of graduate study and stayed a bit longer. He graciously thanked many people and introduced us to his two (very handsome) sons.
Last but not least, was Rossie's tribute. Students from the Black Student Union did it in fine form with balloons and flowers. One of the students talked about Rossie as his second mother and immediately you get an idea of Rossie's importance to their lives. He said that as long as he had Rossie's telephone number, she would be going to Africa with them every year. Then it was time for Rossie to speak and speak she did in her own inimitable style. She talked about growing up in the segregated "Jim Crow" south and moving to Seattle, originally thinking that she would work at Seattle Central. But as fate would have it, her neighbor, Sharon Felton, told her about an opening at Bellevue Community College. Rossie applied as was interviewed by Linda Flory-Barnes, who asked if she could live with "ambiguity." Rossie talked about how she came to know that it was her destiny to work at BCC that she had a mission here to fulfill. And she counseled us that when we face similar forks in the road, where one seems easy and the other hard, taking the hard road may lead to greater rewards. She thanked the groundskeepers, the maintenance people, people in campus operations like Mitchell Bland, Benayah Israel for supporting the BSU, and she spoke in strong support of the counselors whose ranks are been depleted with budget cuts. She introduced her (another handsome) son and goddaughter. Let's all support Rossie's dream of going to Africa (it'll be her first time) with the students by sending donations to the BCC Foundation. It would be such a fabulous sendoff.
We had 120 people at the event and it was a success by any measure we can think of. Thank you to Adam Burke for doing the sound setup and Terri Halsey for helping us book the cafeteria and resources. Thank you all for helping us honor the people who do the hard work of fight against racism for us.