Lori Taylor, her husband Jim Colton (right) and her stepson Ben Colton (left) show signs to passing cars during an assembly against racism Friday outside of Big 5 in Oak Harbor. Taylor organized the event in response to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s lawsuit against the company. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Islanders hold rally denouncing racism

Last Friday afternoon members of the group Indivisible Whidbey and others gathered at an assembly against racism in Oak Harbor. The group of about 12 people gathered in front of Big 5 Sports as a response to an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lawsuit against the store.

Lori Taylor of Coupeville said she organized the event because she was dismayed at the lack of response from the community. The EEOC suit was filed after a former African American employee claimed that, starting in 2014, he was repeatedly harassed at the Oak Harbor store. The events at the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., also impacted Taylor’s decision to organize an event.

“I can’t be silent anymore,” she said. “Silence is like saying it’s okay.”

The gathering was organized on Facebook the day before it happened. Several of the participants shared the feeling that something needed to be done because they felt race relations in the country aren’t improving, They all agreed that racism is not welcomed in the Whidbey Island community.

“You get to feeling frustrated because there’s so little we can do in our little community,” said Bob Wallin of Oak Harbor. “But we each have to do our small part.”

The assembly received lots of waves and honks in encouragement, but some drivers gave a thumbs down or gunned their engine as they passed by.

The issue was even more personal for the lone person of color present, Sandra Samaras of Oak Harbor. Just recently, she said someone at Deception Pass told her to go back to where she came from. She was born in Ecuador, but has lived in Oak Harbor since 2007.

She said there have been many similar experiences, but the worst occurred while she was protesting for farmers’ rights. People driving by made violent threats to the group and they were told their “kind” didn’t belong, she said.

Although she has had more direct experiences with racism, she said she felt it should be an important issue to everyone, regardless of color.

“Be kind to each other, all of us are humans,” she said. “It’s all about who you are on the inside.”