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Visions of Unity on MLK Day and Beyond

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January 17, 2020

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day and all through Black History Month, the Port of Seattle’s Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion is honoring members of our diverse community. We are highlighting members of Delmas Whittakerthe Port team who are inspired by Dr. King’s legacy and are working to transform the Port into a socially just organization.

Our first post is from Delmas Whittaker, the Port’s Maritime Division Senior Manager, Fishing and Commercial Vessels. Delmas is a retired naval officer who served our country for 25 years in active duty. Now retired from the US Navy, he continues to serve and has been working with the Port since 2008. He is the president of the Blacks in Government chapter at the Port of Seattle and is a member of the National Management Association and Military Veterans at the Port. He also serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Fisherman’s Memorial Board and is Member At-Large for Seafair Executive Board.

When I think about Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, what stands out to me is his message of unity. He understood that oppression is not only a problem for people who are oppressed, it is a problem for everyone, or as he said it, “no one is free until we are all free.” He knew that his work was not to make sure African Americans had equal rights, but to ensure that we all stand together against the oppression of anyone who faces discrimination. 

I joined the Port of Seattle after 25 years of service in the US Navy where I worked closely with the Equal Opportunity Initiative Office and deepened my understanding of organizational equity.
Once at the Port, I looked for opportunities to continue this commitment to social change and joined Blacks in Government (BIG).

BIG is a national response to the need for African Americans in public service to organize around issues of mutual concern and use their collective strength to confront workplace and community issues. BIG's goals are to promote equity in all aspects of American life, excellence in public service, and opportunity for all Americans.

Our chapter is dedicated to improving communities that surround the Port, and to that end we have developed partnerships with schools and non-profit organizations to hold school supplies drives and to serve as mentors for local area youth. Inside the Port, we serve as mentors for those who need support in navigating challenges in their work lives and to help people of color see a clear path to advancement and growth.

I am now the president of our chapter and want this Employee Resource Group to be a key component in the Port’s transformation into a socially just organization. I want BIG to be a place where employees, regardless of race, gender, religious affiliation or sexual orientation can find support and an opportunity to serve as this was so critical for me when I joined the Port 12 years ago. 

As we continue to build equity at the Port, in addition to strengthening employee groups, we need to make sure that people of color in leadership positions are paving the way for those that come after. When I joined my current department, Kenny Lyles was in my current position. As an African American, he laid the groundwork for building relationships and bolstering community acceptance of a person of color in this role. I look forward to extending his legacy. He represents steadfast leadership and organizational diversity. He is committed to enabling people of color to have a seat at the table. 

To be truly equitable, the Port staff needs to reflect the diversity of our community. To do this, we need more people of color leadership positions and maritime jobs. My role, in addition to direct mentorship of my staff, is to be visible in the community. I would like my presence to encourage people of color to consider the Port as an excellent opportunity for career growth. 

I am thrilled that the Port’s first-ever Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (OEDI) is now staffed and has the full support of Port leadership. I look forward to working with OEDI, BIG, and in my management role to transform the Port. 

Delmas Whittaker

The road ahead for equity is not going to be easy. We have come a long way with racial equity since Dr. King’s time, but we are up against structures of power that have existed for hundreds of years. We need to acknowledge and operate on the premise that equity is as important as the Port’s profit margins, land development, and reputation. I am heartened by the commitment Port of Seattle’s Executive Director, Steve Metruck has shown to OEDI so far, along with the commissioners. This leadership commitment is critical to making these efforts part of the Port culture rather than a passing phase. 

Even those who are not in leadership roles at the Port can still be leaders in this work. To everyone who works at the Port — If you are inspired by Dr. King’s dream of unity and prosperity for all, step off the sidelines and find out what you can do to make unity a core part of the Port’s culture. 

It’s easy to approach challenges and the difficult work of changing the status quo with the attitude of “what’s in it for me?” For this MLK celebration, let Dr. King lead the way. He said, “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” We must recognize that the changes we want to see in the world start with us. 

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