The Black Alliance of Thurston County was formed in the aftermath of an Olympia police shooting involving two young black men and a white officer.
Organizers say the group can be a catalyst for change by leading local discussions about race and racism in the community, in the police department and beyond.
The alliance will hold a “founding celebration” from 1-4 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 21) at Risen Faith Fellowship, 2129 Fourth Ave., Olympia. The public is invited to attend. The event will include food, music and fellowship.
“I received many emails from white people asking if it was OK to attend,” said Dr. Karen Johnson, co-founder of the alliance. “The answer of course is, absolutely. All people of good will are welcome to attend.”
Another primary goal is to push for legislation related to police body cameras and excessive use of force by police. Johnson said the alliance has already drafted a bill for the 2016 legislative session to address these issues.
“We will create safe place and space for black people, and white people in particular, to have those caring, courageous conversations around race, racial bias and institutional racism,” said Johnson, who works as a strategic planner for the Department of Social and Health Services and holds a doctorate in urban studies. “I would love for us to come together as a community to have those conversations.”
Johnson and alliance co-founder Thelma Jackson recently met with The Olympian’s editorial board to discuss the group’s role in the community, especially when it comes to engaging black residents, who comprise about 3.3 percent of the population in Thurston County.
Jackson, a 44-year resident of the county, said black residents are scattered throughout the county and are no longer concentrated in the Lacey area. She noted that many black residents move here because of their service in the military.
The alliance wants to connect with as many black residents as possible and encourage them to get involved.
“We want blacks to be vital participants in this community,” said Jackson, who earned a doctorate in educational leadership and served 20 years on the North Thurston School Board. “We want black youth to see this as a place to grow up, come back and serve.”
The group formed last summer after a meeting between local black leaders and Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts, who is exploring training options for his officers about implicit bias — a term that describes a person’s subconscious reactions to other races.
The Olympia Police Department also has been under intense scrutiny since the May 21 shooting of shoplifting suspects Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin, who are now fighting assault charges in court. Officer Ryan Donald was not charged in the incident.