History in the making

When we talk about various commemorative “months” or “days” we raise awareness of those who came before us. We do this to remember those who overcame great challenges and to celebrate their achievements – and sometimes – their cultural heritage.  These stories inspire us and help us think beyond ourselves.

The month of February is celebrated as Black History Month, and much deserved attention will be focused on Black and African American achievers in our past. Some will talk about the courageous leadership and powerful voice of Frederick Douglass and his role in ending slavery.  Others will remember the courage and skill of the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group (Tuskegee Airmen), who despite a racially segregated US Army Air Force in World War II, fought bravely over the skies of Italy.  In the Bethel School District, the students of Katherine G. Johnson Elementary will undoubtedly be doing math problems commemorating their brilliant namesake and her contribution to NASA’s crewed space flights.

This year, my mind comes back closer to home and to more recent accomplishments that are every bit as inspirational. Two incredible Pierce County Black leaders who overcame the odds, have numerous achievements, and have made our entire community better are retiring this month.  Boy, have they earned it – as well as our community’s deepest appreciation.

I had the honor of attending and speaking at the retirement celebration for Pastor Gregory Christopher of Shiloh Baptist Church on the Hilltop above downtown Tacoma. Pastor Christopher has a powerful spiritual and personal redemptive story.  Like many, the Army brought him to our community – in his case, from Louisiana!  It is astounding to see how he went from a man once trapped in addiction to becoming one of the most well-respected leaders in our community. 

Photo courtesy of Dean J. Koepfler of The News Tribune

I have personally had the chance to work with Pastor Christopher walking the streets, praying for our community, and through numerous phone calls.  His pastoral leadership of Shiloh Baptist has been exemplary – never shrinking from challenges.  While he is fiery from the pulpit on issues of injustice, he is a steadying, calming voice in the face of potential violence.  Under his leadership, the congregation of Shiloh Baptist put their faith into action in the community – caring for the “least of these” in many ways.

Thank you, Pastor Christopher, for inspiring all of us to be better and reach out to the most challenged in our community.

During my remarks at his celebration, I was pleased to present him with a proclamation declaring February 2, 2024, as “Pastor Gregory Christopher Day” throughout the County.

There is another leader who has personally inspired me even closer to home.

Later this month, Diane Clarkson, Assistant Chief Deputy Attorney in the Prosecutor’s Office, will be retiring.

Diane has an incredibly powerful personal story as well.  Growing up in Birmingham, Alabama when avowed segregationist, George Wallace, was governor.  She overcame poverty and racism to go to college and then law school in the South.

And she emerged as a pre-eminent leader in our local legal community.

She spent her career representing the people of Pierce County, prosecuting domestic violence, special assaults, drug cases, robberies, and assaults.

She is beloved by her colleagues and was named a “Local Hero” by the Washington State Bar Association in July 2022.  In a wonderful profile of her, the Bar Association relayed a beautiful quote from her County colleagues, “We are all the better for knowing her. She reminds us to appreciate our own story and be thankful for those who are a part of our journey.”

Our Local Hero – Diane Clarkson

A history maker herself, Diane was the first Black president of the Tacoma Pierce County Bar Association.  And her community involvement on boards, groups and associations – both legal and beyond – is too numerous to list.  Her awards fill a bookshelf!

At the County, I have personally appreciated the perspective and wisdom she brought to many County initiatives, including the Criminal Justice Workgroup and her work with Juvenile Court.

Thank you, Diane, for challenging all of us to bring our best to our community. You have inspired all of us!

As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, we’ve created a comprehensive list of ways that you can participate in Pierce County.  Check it out for fun and interesting ways to remember yesterday’s heroes and honor today’s leaders!

Thanks for reading,