BY BOB SANTOS AND FRANCES YOUN

On Dec. 1, Partners for Livable Communities presented the annual Bridge Builders Award to seven individuals and organizations from throughout the nation.

Bob Santos, Larry Gossett, Roberto Maestas, the late Bernie Whitebear (who was represented by his niece, Kecia Reyes), and Dorry Elias-Garcia were presented with the awards for their participation in the founding and ongoing participation in the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County.

The black tie event was held at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington D.C. The emcee for the event was the former Mayor of Seattle, Charles Royer.

Partners for Livable Communities, incorporated in 1977, is a national civic organization working to improve the livability of communities by promoting quality of life, economic development and social equity. Partner helps the nation’s communities set common visions for the future, discover and utilize their cultural and natural resources, and build public and private partnerships to realize their goals.

Partners inaugurated the Bride Builders Awards in October 1997 to recognize outstanding individuals and institutions for building bridges of understanding and cooperation across social, economic, regional and racial divides and creating fruitful and lasting partnerships for the betterment of their communities.

Santos, Gossett, Maestas and Whitebear represent these attributes as they formed an alliance in the late 1960s and early 1970s that brought together the African American, Asian American, Latino/Chicano and Native American communities to work together to best advocate for the diverse population of King County.

This alliance was formally adopted as the Minority Executive Directors Coalition of King County in 1981. Elias-Garcia was the staff assistant in the early days that coordinated all the rallies, marches, meetings and panels attended by the ‘Gang of Four,’ as the four leaders were aptly referred to. Elias-Garcia assumed the executive director position six years ago and has worked with the ‘Gang of Four’ to foster existing relationships and create new partnerships with funders such as United Way, the Seattle Human Resources Coalition, the Family Leadership Fund, and the Muckleshoot Tribal Council to reduce reliance on government funding and help expand MEDC membership to over 120 leaders of color.

In true spirit of the gang of four and in light of the 50th anniversary of Rosa Park’s fight for social justice, the Seattle delegation, led by Maestas, interjected the program by chanting, “The people united will never be defeated!” The Seattle delegation included Elaine Ko, John Foz, Eileen Aparis, Thao Tran, Jaime Garcia, Robin Santos, Frances Youn, and Sally Anne Sadler. Lisa Hasegawa, executive director of the National Coalition of Asian Pacific American Community Development, of Washington D.C. and husband Sandy Lee also attended.

While in D.C., the members of the delegation were enchanted by their experience of the recently opened National Native American Museum. Floor by floor, the museum revealed the rich tapestry of the history of the America’s through intricate art work, telling artifacts of the horrific genocide of hundreds of nations, magical tales and of course mouth watering cuisine. Each visit was a fresh discovery to our past revealing where we are and the path of our future, from the Supreme Court, the Capitol Building to visiting the gated White House surrounded by numerous snipers. One compelling experience occurred at the National Archives Museum. Peering into the sealed, gas chambered case that held the U.S. Constitution of 1789, two lines were removed with candle wax – the right for women to vote and the abolishment of slavery.

There was so much more to be discovered, but the true highlight was experiencing the infectious passion for social justice, the betterment of community, and the laughter of the gang of four.
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