More than 100 people attended a Spokane NAACP meeting on June 29/Tracy Simmons - SpokaneFAVS

Spokane NAACP ready to move forward

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By Tracy Simmons

How can the Spokane NAACP move past the Rachel Dolezal story?

After a community meeting Monday night, the answer, it seems is by becoming a larger, more unified organization.

Approximately 150 people packed into the basement of Holy Temple Church of God in Christ to dialogue about the trust that’s been broken and how it can be healed.

The meeting was sparked by the actions of former president, Rachel Dolezal, who resigned earlier this month after allegations she lied about her racial identity. The story drew national attention to Spokane and impacted all 2,000 NAACP branches, said Gerald Hankerson, president of the Alaska Oregon Washington State Area Conference (AOWSAC) of the NAACP.

He said other events have happened since the Dolezal story broke that need attention, mainly the shooting in Charleston and the burning of seven black churches in the past week.

“What you’re doing on the ground here makes an impact,” he said. “We need to turn our focus back and champion for causes here.”

Naima Quarles-Burnley, Spokane NAACP president, speaks at a meeting at Holy Temple Church of God in Christ/Tracy Simmons – SpokaneFAVS

Naima Quarles-Burnley, the new Spokane NAACP president, said the large turnout at the meeting showed that the Spokane community has an interest in local issues.

She said the Spokane NAACP wants to continue its work on civil rights issues and not let recent events derail that mission.

April Anderson, of Unity in the Community, was the first at the meeting to say she was willing to help the organization move on by becoming a member.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” she said.

Several others followed suit — some joining for the first time, others renewing former memberships. Others in attendance volunteered to serve on various Spokane NAACP committees.

Like the Rev. Happy Watkins, of New Hope Baptist Church, who offered to serve on a ministers committee. But not before urging those in the room to refrain from judging Dolezal until the Spokane community hears her side of the story.

“As a community we’ve thrown her under the bus and the wheels keep running over her,” he said. “Are we a Christian community? I think we are. If she needs healing, we need to help her heal. I think we can do a lot when we come together as a community.”

Quarles-Burnley explained earlier in the meeting that the Spokane NAACP is not a faith-based organization, although it does a lot of work with local churches, and in response to Watkins said the executive board has spoken with Dolezal but doesn’t want to speak on her behalf.

“She has to decide when she wants to talk to Spokane,” Quarles-Burnley said. “She started good work…we want to continue the work she started.”

The meeting, she said, was a good way to begin that process.

“This has been an important conversation. Yes the circumstances that brought us together aren’t ideal, but good can come out of it. I heard a lot of energy here, a lot people saying they want to do something,” she said.

The next Spokane NAACP meeting will be 7 p.m., July 20 in the Community Building, 35 W Main Ave.


About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. She serves as the executive director of, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and for the Religion News Service. She is also a Journalism Instructor at Washington State University.

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  1. The org lost way too much credibility in my eyes. It’s time for someone to harness the issues of the times, set a truly round table based on the diverse community’s needs. Even the issues stated in this article cause me to steer away. Good luck to them but I’m waiting for a fresh, inclusive, humble, visionary voice and plan to facilitate real diverse unity and action.

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