MANZANITA — When LaNicia Williams moved to Tillamook County a few years ago, it was the first place she had lived without any sort of celebration for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I was used to being a part of something,” she said.
Williams decided to change that last year by starting the Oregon Coast Love Coalition, an activist group that focuses on equity education and creating inclusive events of all religions, races, nationalities and sexuality. Last year, she prepared a community breakfast with a focus on racial issues. This year, the coalition expanded celebrating the holiday with three days of events, including a movie with community dialogue, presentations about civil rights leaders at the Hoffman Center for the Arts in Manzanita and a day of service. More than 40 volunteers were registered to help build six different homes around Tillamook County for Habitat for Humanity.
“Traditionally, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is celebrated as a day of service,” Williams said. “We live in an individualistic society. We forget that people have needs around us..”
It’s important to Williams to plan these events, she said, because in a time where there is an “upheaval of political and social climate,” people need to find what bonds them together.
“It seems like (the community) doesn’t have a lot of diversity, but it does. And it is growing,” Williams said. “I think it’s time to stop focusing on what separates us and to start focusing on what bonds us, which to me is love.”
Part of what inspired Williams to bring people together comes from the struggles of feeling different herself after moving to the coast. As a black woman in a county that is 84 percent white, Williams noted difficult conversations with her neighbors about race. Her devout faith also separated her from her peers, she said.
“Back in California, I grew up in church. When I moved here, I almost lost spirituality, because I never had lived around a population where most don’t have a belief in God the same way I did,” Williams said. “I had to learn to be respectful of different viewpoints, holding my truths but not casting down my opinion upon others. I matured to a place of listening.”
It’s a lesson she hopes her coalition can continue to teach by incorporating new inclusion mentorship programs through the Tillamook and Neah-Kah-Nie school districts, as well as continuing to bring different people to the table to talk about equity issues past just one day of the year in January.
“You don’t have to agree on everything to live with each other, to live in a world of inclusion,” she said. “To move forward, how do we get different thinkers in the same room and find that we have more commonalities than we think?”