Submitted by Jason Whalen, Lakewood Deputy Mayor
Council Member Mary Moss and I were recently invited to participate in a ribbon cutting ceremony. As you might imagine, we get invited to any number of ribbon cuttings for local businesses in our community. This one, however, was different.
This ribbon cutting was about celebrating new life with a community of neighbors. At the Four Fountains Apartments in Lakewood, an old dusty circle of dirt, surrounded by a worn concrete patio, gave birth to new life this past Saturday in the form of 8 raised planter beds, ready for dirt, plants, and some neighborly love. Surrounded by residents of this apartment community, Mary and I witnessed the best of humanity–neighbors helping neighbors in need–planting seeds of hope.
Why were Council Members showing up to a “garden project”? Well, for starters, we were invited to attend–by a new community friend who reached out to make a connection with us.
Candace Wesley is a resident of the Four Fountains Apartments here in Lakewood. Candace is also the founder of Tacoma Cease Fire, a grass roots initiative to save our youth, our community, and our streets from senseless violence.
I first met Candace at a Council Meeting last year in which we presented her organization with a proclamation for the good work she and members of her organization have done and are doing in our community.
We made a connection. I’m proud to count Candace among my friends.
Candace next invited me, Mary, and Council Member Linda Farmer to attend a peaceful march from the Lakewood City Hall to the Lakewood Police Station, in the aftermath of the nationwide outcry over the police-involved deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Mannie Ellis, and Said Joquin, here in Lakewood. I accepted the invitation, marched, listened–and received an earful. It challenged me for sure–but being present was the right thing to do. It was important to be present–for me, but also for Candace and her organization. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
So, when Candace called me to attend her community garden ribbon cutting, I said “yes” without hesitation, not knowing who would be there or really what it was about. I was pleasantly surprised to see and meet a number of her neighbors and some new friends, including Aleta Haskins, Director of Circle of Life Gardens and Farms. There are amazing people doing amazing things in our community–quietly and without much fanfare.
While we hear about the challenges and racial strife in those “other” cities, I also know we have our own issues and work to do in our own backyard–to heal many institutional wounds. How we work through them together is what will define us as a community. Let’s all just start the work. I’ll do a ribbon cutting every week for gatherings of neighbors helping neighbors, where new friendships are made, connections are strengthened, and barriers are broken.
Planting seeds of hope through connection, like Candace and her neighbors are doing, will ultimately bear great fruit for all of us.