Community group works to stop local hate

Mitchell Roland, Editor-in-Chief

A group started over four years ago which aimed to bring the Ellensburg community together has recently relaunched with the assistance of ASCWU President Mickael Candelaria.

Not in our Kittco (NIOK) is a branch of the national Not in Our Town. Originally formed by CWU student Tai Jackson after Ku Klux Klan (KKK) fliers were found in Ellensburg in 2016, the group started holding meetings again in October after going largely dormant.

Candelaria said the original group lasted about a year, and he helped the group get off on the ground again in late October in the lead up to the presidential election.

“I thought it was super important that we started this after three or two years,” Candelaria said. “The reason for that was to make sure that community members felt safe and that we were really advocating for our town, and Ellensburg, to regardless of political affiliation, to be unified during these trying times.”

Candelaria said the group’s message goes beyond presidential elections, and its main focus is to stop hate in town.

While Candelaria was not a student during NIOK’s first iteration, he said he has heard about how important the group was throughout his time on campus.

Right now, the group consists of about 20 students, staff and community members who “work, live and breathe Ellensburg,” Candelaria said.

Candelaria said topics for this week’s meeting include discussing what to do about stickers from a white supremacy group that were recently found on campus and the events in the nation’s capital last Wednesday.

For the time being, Candelaria said the goal for NIOK is to listen to member’s concerns and spread awareness about the group.

“We have actually gotten backlash from community members about NIOK, believing that we are a… super leftist organization, when in reality we are a nonpartisan and we do have folks that align with both political affiliations,” Candelaria said.

The mission statement of NIOK is to “Bring Kittitas County together in seeing the strength in our diversity as we foster a safe and inclusive environment where our community can thrive together.”

Sara Omrani, a CWU student, said she has been attending NIOK meetings and communicating with Candelaria “organizer to organizer.” She said it is important for them to lead these efforts since they are both people of color.

“If we’re talking about marginalized people, it needs to be led by marginalized people,” Omrani said.

According to Omrani, groups like NIOK are important because they make it clear that hate and intolerance will not be accepted in Ellensburg, while also not ignoring that racism still occurs.

“If you identify with things like patriot front and white supremacist ideology then this is not the town where this is going to be appropriate,” Omrani said. “There are people in this town that think it belongs to them.”

Shana Kessler, a CWU staff member and a member of NIOK, said the group is a collaborative effort to work “towards a better community for all of us.” According to Kessler, this means focusing on areas where community members experience hate, bigotry and other forms of discrimination in the community. This effort can be challenging in a town like Ellensburg, Kessler said.

“People are divisive,” Kessler said. “A lot of people have different individual goals and experiences for what they want to tackle when it comes to issues in our community and that can create different challenges and barriers to try and work through.”

Kessler said people need  to know since everyone has their own life experiences and that all of them are equally valid.

Kessler wants it known that NIOK is more than an extension of CWU, even though it was originally formed by a student. NIOK is intentional in the topics they talk about, and Kessler said the group is mindful of opposing viewpoints, which doesn’t always happen when people disagree.

“We saw so many people who were butting heads and not communicating with each other in a way that was going to help either party,” Kessler said. “They weren’t trying to sell each other on their beliefs or ideas, they were just oftentimes fighting.”

NIOK had tried to spread into other towns in Kittitas County, including Cle Elum and Thorp, but Kessler said this has proven to be a challenge so far. The group has tried to use Facebook but has struggled to connect with pages for different communities.

But not everyone in the community has been receptive towards the group, Kessler said.

“If you’ve ever listened to a city council meeting in Ellensburg, on more than one occasion community members have brought up NIOK as unnecessary or creating more division,” Kessler said. “They’re just insistent that there’s no racism here, no bigotry here, no problems here that this group or any other needs to be addressing.”

Through NIOK, Kessler wants to find a way for community members to break down those barriers and listen more closely to each other. Kessler said

“One thing that we try to be very considerate of is this idea that the university and the rest of the community are separate from each other,” Kessler said. “We’re trying to bridge that gap more and make an effort to say that the students, faculty and staff at CWU are a part of this community and want to make a positive difference here.”

NIOK does not have a set meeting schedule, and they typically announce meeting details on social media about a week in advance. Their next meeting will take place Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 5 p.m. via Zoom.