Photo: Participants, trainers, and Inatai Foundation team members gather at Wenatchee Valley College during the Shaping the Future: North Central Washington meeting in September. Photography by Kariba Jack.
On a crisp and clear morning in late September, the walkway traffic and search for an open parking spot was particularly busy at Wenatchee Valley College. As students across campus moved between classes and acclimated to the start of their academic year, another group made their way to the school’s Mish ee twie building to meet with like-minded folks and talk about building community power to advance racial justice and equity in the region.
About 35 community leaders, showed up for Inatai Foundation’s Shaping the Future: North Central Washington earlier this fall. In response to feedback from grantee organizations, Inatai is hosting regional gatherings as a way to offer more opportunities for leaders to connect in person. Launched in 2020, Shaping the Future was originally developed as virtual gatherings with the purpose of bringing together organizations from across the state to build relationships, share aspirations, and understand the concerns shared among many communities across Washington’s 39 counties. Now, the foundation is planning a series of in-person regional events between 2023 and 2025 to strengthen those connections and to identify shared values and priorities that will help make meaningful progress toward changing the balance of power in our state.
During the Wenatchee event, leaders from more than 20 organizations based in North Central Washington forged and deepened relationships with fellow leaders and funders in the area and learned about ways to increase their power. Shaping the Future saw representation from Okanogan, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Kittitas counties with organizations working in various focus areas to address their communities’ core concerns.
This gathering emphasized the importance of building power collectively, recognizing that true systemic change requires collaborative and unified work. An overarching and recurring theme across many discussions was reflective leadership. Mayra Colazo, executive director of Central Washington Disability Resources based in Ellensburg, shared that decisionmakers have historically left out the people most impacted by newly implemented policies.
“In disability justice, we have the saying: ‘Nothing about us without us,” shared Mayra. Central Washington Disability Resources has been serving their community since 1981 and continues to advocate for meaningful representation of people with disabilities at critical decision-making tables as more than witnesses, but as change agents driving policies.
Shaping the Future: North Central Washington was also a continuation point for the region’s organizations to learn from each other and imagine the future of Washington that their communities deserve. Kelsey Riggs from Wenatchee Pride, a completely volunteer-run organization for and by queer people said, “The power that we have is the ability to make safe places for LGBTQ+ people in the area.”
Two years ago, Wenatchee Pride ran operations with a collective effort of roughly 300 volunteers. These days, they have a stronger presence in with 1,400 members and counting and the organization’s leaders have curiosity around where they might be able to use their power in numbers to ensure LGBTQ+ youth in North Central Washington feel safe in being openly and fearlessly true to themselves.
Another common theme: connection is key. Many attendees expressed a desire to stay in touch with their peers and neighbors and to maintain the relationships they built prior to the event, established during the gathering, and will continue beyond the convening. This is an area that Inatai hopes to replicate in other places across Washington by hosting these region-specific meetings, which will ultimately lead to a statewide gathering of grant recipients and allied funders in the future.
It is our hope that we can find ways to support organizations across Washington to synthesize ideas, and then actions, that lead to communities attaining their highest aspirations in the best way possible. It is the people at the heart of their communities who hold the wisdom and power to unlock the best solutions. As Joy Abrahamson of Aboriginal Outfitters offered, “We honor our past and fight for our future.”
Inatai Foundation extends thanks and gratitude to Co-Trainers Keron Blair of the New Georgia Project, Gregory Cendana of Can’t Stop Won’t Stop Consulting and Education Fund, and Kariba Jack Photography for their support at Shaping the Future: North Central Washington.