Bright colors, upbeat music and plenty of smiles fueled a positive environment Thursday night at Selah Middle School.
More than 100 people of all ages, including plenty of small children, put chalk to pavement to create messages promoting diversity and equality. Selah School District Superintendent Shane Backlund approved the use of the school’s parking lot for artwork similar to that from Gabriel Fabian that was washed away by city workers on the street outside his house.
Fabian said he wasn’t surprised the city decided to erase his artwork promoting Black Lives Matter. He appreciated the extra attention to the cause and said ending racism shouldn’t be a debate.
“For them to do that, I was like, ‘It’s OK, we’ll just do it again and we’ll do it even better,’” Fabian said. “They try to shut us up and we’ll just get louder and louder and louder.”
Large letters that spelled out “Racial equality” and “We care about black lives” formed the artwork’s main message. As others began writing their own messages, someone tacked on “matter” in slightly smaller letters.
Fabian attended Selah Middle School and graduated from Selah High School in 2018, six years after moving with his family from Southern California. He’s been pleasantly surprised by the willingness of many in the community to speak out against racism in recent weeks and said it meant a lot to see some school officials on Thursday, especially high school Principal Colton Monti.
The former Central Washington basketball standout who went to high school in Lacey always felt embraced by the black community. He’s deeply passionate about spreading the message of racial equity in Selah and said recent demonstrations, along with Thursday’s event, are critical to addressing the city’s issues.
“I think there’s a lot of people that are misinformed and they don’t understand that this is beautiful,” Monti said. “This is amazing. The fact that our top city officials haven’t embraced this is extremely disappointing.”
School board member Kelliann Ergeson also said she was saddened by the city’s attempts to limit free expression. She’s proud of the work done by the board in recent years to promote diversity while also acknowledging there’s more to be done.
Monti credited Backlund for strong leadership to work toward equal opportunities for everyone, regardless of race, income or anything else. Dan Peters, another attendee at Thursday’s event, said it’s been clear equity and diversity are top priorities ever since he joined the school board last November.
“It’s a constant discussion we’re having,” Peters said. “The school district is better overall at having a diverse school staff.”
One change is a new bilingual program for kindergarten through second graders at John Campbell Primary School. Peters said the district plans to expand the program to at least fourth and fifth graders at the Intermediate School.
Fabian’s mother works with many of those students and his older brother, A.J., agreed it’s a great way to promote diversity and acceptance. The 25-year-old moved to Selah just in time for his senior year in high school and said it’s proved to be quite different from the much more diverse culture of southern California.
“We didn’t think about color until we got here, then we were forced to realize ‘OK, color kind of matters now,’ A.J. Fabian said. “It wasn’t necessarily so blatant, it was just more we were treated slightly differently than what we were used to.”
He’s hopeful events like the one Thursday will help the community continue an important conversation on race. Monti said it’s much needed to give people a chance to grow, listen, learn and get better.