A new book illuminates stories and accomplishments of Spokane's Black leaders

click to enlarge A new book illuminates stories and accomplishments of Spokane's Black leaders
Erick Doxey photo
Celebrate Black History Month with Stephaine Courtney's book and many local events.

When we think of history, it may conjure images of ancient civilizations, colonial settlements and even wars of centuries ago, but something that happened yesterday or last week is also part of the same irreversible past.

Telling the stories of what's currently happening in our world allows us to ask questions and gain an understanding of issues that we may otherwise be oblivious to, and that's what makes books like Stephaine Courtney's Our Community: Black Leaders in Spokane important.

It's one of few books on local Black history, a gap that both erases a crucial part of the city's story and undermines the impact the Black community has had and continues to have in Spokane.

"There's just no content around these spaces for voices to be elevated and for us to learn about our current history," Courtney says. "I realized that there was nothing and I had to create it."

The book was born from working with educators around Spokane through her business the Learning Project Network, founded in 2015, which focuses on creating solutions to health equity and social justice issues through the lenses of art, conversation, policy and strategy.

During a training last year with local early childhood educators, Courtney's team tasked the teachers with informing students about what Black leaders in the community are currently working on.

"An educator had shared that they had not met really any Black people in the community and they weren't really sure of how to share that information with their students in the classroom," she says. "I reached out to my network and many other people around Spokane that were doing amazing things, and I asked them to be a part of a children's book where not only children can learn about different people, but also educators could read about these different individuals and how they're making a difference in Spokane."

Our Community: Black Leaders in Spokane highlights a variety of local artists, business owners, educators and public officials, such as the late Sandy Williams, former Spokane NAACP president Kiantha Duncan, and politician Natasha Hill. The book also includes a resource guide so readers can connect with those highlighted within.

Although Our Community: Black Leaders in Spokane was originally released in digital-only format in fall 2021, Courtney decided to also print physical copies late last year due to an outpouring of positive feedback.

The most rewarding part of the process for Courtney was seeing the physical manifestation of her work and reading it for the first time.

BLACK HISTORY AT U OF IDAHO

Another local book celebrating the region's Black leaders was recently published. The Seminal History and Prospective Future of Blacks at the University of Idaho is the second volume of the Black History Research Lab and the University of Idaho Library's Black History at the University of Idaho project and is now available to read online.

The book covers the Black community's contributions to the university starting in the late 1890s with the University of Idaho's first Black graduate. It also highlights recent milestones, such as reestablishing the university's Black/African American Cultural Center, Africana studies program and more. There's also advice and guidance for future Black students and faculty at the university to help them flourish. Much of the book's content isn't common knowledge at the University of Idaho or in the region in general, and thus illuminates a vital part of the school's history. Its authors are Brody Gasper, a 2021 UI history graduate, and Sydney Freeman Jr., director of the Black History Research Lab. Find out more at uidaho.edu/blackhistory.

"I know so many beautiful, amazing people that are doing things, and to be able to read it and go through it, it just filled my heart," she says. "The other part that was really overwhelming as well is when I heard the stories of people reading the story to their children and their children being like, 'Mom, you're in the book, this is you!' and just them realizing what their family's contributions are to this community."

Our Community: Black Leaders in Spokane is available through the Spokane Public Library and Spokane County Library District, and for purchase at Wishing Tree Books in the South Perry District. Courtney hopes to get copies in all city schools, too.

"People are just really glad there is a book that is representing other people's lived experiences," she says. "They're glad that there's a book that's representing people that look like their families and people who just want to see our community in a very diverse light, and I think that's what this book does. It brings this hidden piece straight to the front."

The book is narrated by a young Black girl through affirmations such as "I am brave like..." and "I am smart like..." with short biographies about each featured Black leader to remind readers of all ages that they, too, possess similar qualities to those they're reading about, and that they can accomplish similar things if they want to.

"Having someone that looks like them and represents their community is not only powerful, but it really is a testimony to the other people who are reading it, like, 'We can do this,'" Courtney says.

The book ends with the line "I am me," and the narrator's realization that she's capable of accomplishing anything she dreams.

"I hope that this book inspires our families and our children and community to learn to dream big and to know that they can be whoever they want." ♦


MORE BLACK HISTORY MONTH EVENTS

Tour the Carl Maxey Center
The Kootenai County NAACP chapter hosts a guided tour of the Black-led and Black-centered nonprofit in Spokane's East Central neighborhood. Sat, Feb. 18 at 12 pm. Free. Carl Maxey Center, 3114 E. Fifth Ave. kootenaicountynaacp.org

The Mapping Prejudice Project
Dr. Kirsten Delegard, a historian at the University of Minnesota, presents this year's William L. Davis, S.J. Lecture, followed by a panel discussion on racist housing covenants. Panelists include Larry Cebula of EWU, Logan Camporeale from Spokane's City Preservation Office and other community leaders. Wed, Feb. 22 at 7 pm. Free. Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center, 211 E. Desmet Ave. gonzaga.edu/mwpac

Art & Activism
An exploration of artistic expressions from local Black artists followed by a discussion with the artists. Thu, Feb. 23 at 6 pm. Free. Gonzaga University Hemmingson Center, 702 E. Desmet Ave. gonzaga.edu

Alethea Dumas ft. Sessionz
Local musician Alethea Dumas and Spokane-based jazz band Sessionz take the stage for a night of live music celebrating Black History Month. All ticket sales and funds raised during the show benefit the Carl Maxey Center. Sat, Feb. 25 at 7 pm. $15. Lucky You Lounge, 1801 W. Sunset Blvd. luckyyoulounge.com

Beyond the Western Canon
Featuring music faculty from area universities including Darnelle Preston, Amy Porter, Jadrian Tarver and Nicole Sonbert, this concert explores music of the African diaspora. Sun, Feb. 26 at 2 pm. Free. Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center, 211 E. Desmet Ave. gonzaga.edu/mwpac

Clusterluck
This short documentary highlights the experiences of a group of Black faculty within a department at a historically White institution. Producer Candace N. Hall joins for a Q&A after the screening. Tue, Feb. 28 at 7 pm. Free. The Kenworthy Theatre, 508 S. Main St., Moscow. kenworthy.org

— Compiled by Madison Pearson

Colin Jost @ The Fox Theater

Tue., July 16, 7:30 p.m.
  • or

Summer Sandstrom

Summer Sandstrom is a former Inlander staff writer who has written about 176-year-old sourdough starter, tracking insects on Gonzaga’s campus, and her love of betta fish, among other things. She joined the staff in 2023 after completing a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Eastern Washington University...