Rotary Club of Olympia
The Wheel
 
Date: 3/22/2021
 
Today’s Program: Merritt Long to discuss his book My View from the Back of the Bus
 
Meeting Called to order: By President Sean Padget @ 12:04 pm
 
Invocation by:  Dennis Cooper, who recognized the first meeting of spring, World Water Day, and living our Rotary motto of Service Above Self.
 
Pledge of Allegiance led by: President Sean Padget
 
Visiting Rotarians:
 
Doug Mah, Gateway Rotary
 
Guest of Rotarians:
 
Pat, guest of Warren Carlson
Beth, guest of Geoff Crooks
Steve, guest of Judy Henderson

Announcements:
 
Board meeting this Wednesday at 9 am.  If you would like to attend, assistant district governor will be joining.  Contact Sean for Zoom login and details.
 
Kim Wyman will be our guest speaker next week.
 
September 2021 celebration of our club’s 101st year.  Asking all members to contribute to the centennial project.  Seeking 100% participation by members to get to our $150k goal.
 
 
Program:
 
Colleen Gillespie introduced Merritt Long and his wife, Marsha Tadano Long:
 
Merritt grew up in the segregated South in the 1950’s and 60’s.  He experienced the Jim Crow laws, the “colored” drinking fountains, the segregated schools with hand-me-down books for the Black schools, riding in the back of the bus.
 
After graduating from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, Merritt moved to Seattle where he started a 37-year career with the State of Washington, which culminated in serving as the Executive Director or chairman of four state agencies:  Washington State Liquor Control Board, Washington State Lottery, Washington State Human Rights Commission, and the Washington State Board for Vocational Education.
 
Merritt’s private sector experience includes serving on the boards of two banks:  As Founding Director for Thurston First Bank in Olympia, and as Vice-Chair of the UniBank Board of Directors, based in Lynnwood.  He also worked as a consultant for Pfizer and two other companies.
 
Merritt moved to Olympia in 1974 with his wife, Marsha Tadano Long.  Their daughter, Merisa, was born at St. Peter Hospital, she attended McLane Elementary, Jefferson Middle School and Capital High School.
 
Merritt and Marsha started the Learning Seed Foundation in 2001 which is a component fund of The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, and has awarded $447,750 in new and renewable scholarships to 109 students from Thurston and Pierce counties.
 
Merritt’s experiences are chronicled in his recently published inspirational memoir, My View from the Back of the Bus.
 
Presentation:
 
Merritt shared how he came to write the book after writing a brief vignette about his first bus ride when he was only five years old. He emphasized that this is a book of history of segregation in the United States.
 
He described his experience finding that Black people were required to sit in the back of the bus, behind the “colored” sign even when seats were available in front of that sign.  He told the story about the elderly Black man in the back of the bus who called out the injustice of this segregation to the bus driver.  When the bus reached its destination, the Black passengers had to exit from the back of the bus and the white passengers from the front, symbolic of the different realities each race were living at the time.  Merritt shared that this was the first time that he heard a black person speak up for this unjust and inequitable treatment. This inspired him at a very young age.
 
Following the reading of his experience on that bus ride, he asked for questions from members.  Before the first question, he pointed out that he sees many people in the Olympia Rotary Club who have influence, who serve on boards and government agencies that can help bring diversity and new perspective to the table.  He does not believe a homogenous approach to important community meetings results in the best outcomes and points out our membership has opportunities to bring new voices to these discussions and decisions.    
 
Paul Knox asked what significant experiences he has had as an African American living in a majority white region.  Merritt described a recent experience at an Olympia business where the customer service clerk, presented with him and a white customer, asked “who is next?”  After Merritt responded that he was next, the clerk asked again “who is next?” and another white man who was standing next to him confirmed that Merritt is next.  Merritt asked why would a white man be needed to confirm what he had already stated clearly and accurately?
 
When asked what laws could or should be enacted to reduce racism in America.  He pointed to current legislative efforts to suppress voter turnout through mail-in voting because of the success of the recent Georgia election for Senate as an example of what is not the right direction. 
 
Merritt shared a second vignette about the time when Muhammad Ali spoke at his religion and philosophy class at Morehouse College and how he experiences racism in language and expressions in America.  Later, he had an opportunity to talk with the Champ directly with a group of students.  Ali asked, “Who is the baddest MF in the room?”  They all responded with “Frank.”  Ali pulled Frank out of the building by his belt.  Once Ali got Frank to the doorway, he turned back into the building leaving Frank behind.  The Champ came back to the students and asked “Now, who’s the baddest MF in the room?”
 
His book is available at Orca Books in downtown Olympia.  April 8th, he will have a reading on Zoom from Orca Books.  There are plans to offer an audio book version, hopefully by 2022.   
  
Meeting Adjourned: 1:02 pm by President Sean Padget