A sign of the times: Ellensburg resident uses homemade signs to mark violence

A sign of the times: Ellensburg resident uses homemade signs to mark violence

Libby Williams, Staff Reporter

On a corner down North Main Street sits a house like any other, until you notice the 23 wood signs, with the names of 23 black people killed in America burned into each one. 

Marie Goheen, an Ellensburg local since she moved here in 1996 when she was 21, made each of the signs, starting after the murder of George Floyd on May 25 of last year.

“It was right after George Floyd was killed … I had heard about Ahmaud [Arbery] and a little about Breonna [Taylor], and then that happened and it was just fully right there in front of your face,”  Goheen said. “I felt like I needed to do something, but I didn’t know what to do and I couldn’t stop crying. So, finally, I just decided I needed to do something beautiful for humans that have been mistreated so badly by society, by police, by whatever happened to get that person on my sign.”

Goheen said she’s been making wood burned signs for many years for family and friends, and had been wanting to make something that symbolized peace when everything in the media seemed to revolve around violence.

“The idea of putting something out there was already in my mind, so I just felt like something needed to be done, and it needed to be visible to a whole bunch of people,” Goheen said. “It was basically heartache that I couldn’t control, that was the reason that I felt that I needed to do something.”

Originally, Goheen said the first sign was meant to serve as a memorial. But as more and more black people were being killed, she added more signs, and she hoped the issue would become undeniable to passersby.

“I figured the more signs I added, people would be like, ‘okay, yeah we get it, we understand,’ and then eventually be like, ‘holy crap, this is a serious problem.’”

Goheen said that since she started, the reactions from the community have only been positive. She said people have pulled over to take a closer look and snap a photo, and she’s had some people come up to the door to thank her for making the signs. She said she’s a bit amazed that no one has had any negative comments, which was a concern of hers.

“That was kind of one of my worries too, because I have kids, and I was worried about people seeing them outside playing and maybe stopping and saying something to them,” Goheen said. “I’m not wanting to put my children in danger, but it needs to be there and visible … something beautiful to remember them by.”

For the last year, Goheen has homeschooled three of her four children, and they’ve done a lot of work to learn about these issues. They went to the protests downtown, read Stamped (For Kids) by Ibram X. Kendi and Jason Reynolds and they’ve been watching lots of educational movies.

“I’m trying to get them well rounded,” Goheen said. “We try to, as much as we can, highlight the good things that are out in the world because of black people.”
Goheen said it’s important for people to keep open minds and learn as much as possible about issues surrounding racism in order to grow their own worldview.

“If you think something is one way, and somebody tells you it’s not, then it’s your job to do some investigating,” Goheen said. “Go digging, look around to see what they see, and then you can empathize with them.”

She said that part of bringing about change is calling people out when they’re in the wrong.

“If you see something, say something,” Goheen said. “I think standing up to people that we know and love when they do something that we know is hurtful or hateful, put a stop to it right away, instantly. If you need to, then you say, ‘this is not allowed around me,’ or, ‘I refuse to be a part of this conversation…’ I think it’s very important to hold people accountable for their actions.”