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Friday, May 29, 2020

Black Lives Matter Bellingham fosters a sense of community, calls for open dialogue

by Nicole Martinson

Black Lives Matter Bellingham organizer Jazzmyn Hannah opened July’s meeting on Wednesday, July 18 with a moment of silence in respect for Harith Augustus, who was shot and killed by police in Chicago on Saturday, July 14.

Augustus was a cousin of Terrance Morris, BLM Bellingham’s co-leader. Morris spoke about the fear among the black community in America when confronted by police. He described his experiences with racism vividly yet tenderly, coaxing tears from some attendees.

Black Lives Matter Bellingham holds meetings on the third Wednesday of every month in the basement of First Congregational Church on Cornwall Avenue. Morris said the goal of BLM meetings is to build a community that holds empathy for one another.

He said listening to each other is the only way to do that. He found comfort in a place where one can talk freely without worrying about stereotypes and expectations for black men.

Since late 2017, both Morris and Hannah have been the only two organizers involved in leading BLM Bellingham. Hannah said it originally started in 2014, as they felt there was a presence of subdued racism in Bellingham that still needs to be dealt with and talked about.

“That was the initial hope; to discuss black experiences and what our lives are like here in Whatcom County,” Hannah said. “We wanted to have a positive community of people who look like us.”

Hannah said there were hardly any organizers left by 2017 because of the lack of a community for black people in Bellingham. She said there wasn’t enough of a community for them to feel welcome with their culture.

“We believe that everyone has an element of blackness in them and our movement is about liberation,” Hannah said. “We want to free everybody, even the blackness in white people that gets subdued with our culture [in Bellingham].”

She said white people should feel welcomed and comfortable enough to express themselves freely at the meetings. The gatherings aren’t meant to solely educate, they are aimed at inviting the community to an open and ongoing conversation, Hannah said.

In addition, she said having individuals such as council members, legislatures and teachers at the meetings can be a direct way to impact our society. Drawing all the dots between racial issues within the community will help connect a big picture for everyone involved, she said.

Bellingham resident Diane Groody appreciates the chance to see this big picture formed at the BLM meetings. She enjoys the connection created when experiences are shared and sensitive topics are talked about.

“I come here because I’m concerned about the issues brought up,” Groody said. After attending her first meeting, she has since returned every month.

This month’s discussion was focused on domestic abuse and sexism the black community.

“We’re hopeful,” Hannah said. “We are actively recruiting people to become organizers with us. We have a lot of work to do and it’s hard to sum it up.”

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