An Eastside group asks residents to make public pledges to fight racism, after a man dropped a KKK robe off at a Redmond consignment shop owned by a black business owner.
Last month, Redmond police say the man stopped by From Rags to Riches and included the KKK robe and a hood with a few dresses that he sold to the store. The Redmond Police Department is investigating the incident.
In response, the Eastside Race and Leadership Coalition has organized a tour of Eastside cities, including Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue to condemn the incident and to ask community members to publicly state their commitment to fight racism.
Store owner Leona Coakley-Spring didn’t realize what the robe was at first, though her adult son quickly recognized it, said James Whitfield, the CEO of Leadership Eastside and the emcee of Wednesday’s event at Kirkland City Hall.
“It was a KKK robe, which in and of itself is a hate crime and an act of intimidation and domestic terrorism that black people in the United States are incredibly familiar with,” Whitfield said.
Whitfield said Eastside residents need to speak out publicly when they see incidents of racism.
“Kirkland is pretty good. But pretty good is probably not good enough,” he said.
Whitfield invited the crowd to write commitment statements on fighting racism onto flags that will be displayed on an arch in Kirkland City Hall for the next week. The display has also made stops at Redmond and Bellevue city halls, and will continue to tour the Eastside, including at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
Willie Miranda, a sophomore at Woodinville High School, added a flag to the arch. Miranda, who came to the event at Kirkland City Hall with several friends and one of their parents, said he and his friends felt they needed to add their words to the arch.
“It’s important to stand against racism and stand with those who oppose it,” Miranda said.
Yinglin Perera brought her six-year-old son, Ishan, after he asked to come after his teacher told his class the incident at From Rags to Riches.
Perera said she was supportive when her son asked to come to the event in Kirkland and said it was a lesson for her son to learn to take a stance against racism.
“I would like him to have respect for other people, and also to respect himself,” Perera said.
Coakley-Spring opened From Rags to Riches consignment shop late last year in downtown Redmond. A quarter of her proceeds benefits an AIDS shelter in the Bahamas that she has been supporting since the late 1990s.
Coakley-Spring, 66, immigrated to the United States more than 40 years ago to pursue her dream of becoming a performer. In recent years, she has run a salon and makes Bahamian baked goods which she sells at the Kirkland Wednesday Market in the spring and summer.
“No one can say I didn’t come here to work,” she said. “I work really hard.”
“I thought I’m free enough to do all of this, and then something happens where someone tells me, ‘No, you can’t,'” she said. “I feel like all the good I do, it’s all been taken away.”
Though several weeks have passed since the experience, it has still left her shaken. She says she has received supportive messages and calls from all over the world, but she also has received harassing phone calls since the incident.
“This is always going to follow our people?” she asked. “We sing the song, ‘We shall overcome.’ We shouldn’t be singing that anymore. We should have overcame.”
Despite her grief and pain over the incident, Coakley-Spring says she won’t hide. It’s important that to continue to make a public stand against what happened to her, Coakley-Spring says, and she puts her faith in God.
“I really believe that he has a purpose and he used me as his instrument to handle this,” Coakley-Spring said. “Even though sometimes I think, ‘I can’t do this, Lord, give this to someone else.’ He knows I can handle this. But sometimes I don’t know.”