This was a great week in Lewis County and beyond.
Sunshine was on our shoulders at the first big community festivals of the year, as crowds enjoyed Egg Days in Winlock and Swede Day in Rochester.
I wanted to attend both, but I had three places to be at once in Centralia. That’s hard — maybe doable — but being in three different towns at once was a bridge (or a few bridges, actually) too far.
I started my Saturday at the Seminary Hill Natural Area, where the four-decade-old Friends group that I help lead had our first fully open public event since the start of the pandemic. A young woman named Rachel Hudson led a wonderful birding expedition for an energetic group of nature enthusiasts.
Then I headed down to George Washington Park for the first-ever Juneteenth celebration in Centralia. A hundred people formed a big circle in the heart of the namesake park that Centralia’s Black founder donated to his young town.
“This is an opportunity to guide our community toward greater levels of equity and inclusion,” said Centralia City Councilor Mark Westley, who helped plan the event. “My dream is to see Juneteenth grow into a community celebration that all of us in Centralia can be proud of.”
(More on that later in this column.)
To conclude the ceremony, music teacher and local Black leader Michael Green led the group in the singing of “Like a Mighty Stream,” with its powerful chorus of “let justice roll like a mighty stream.”
Then we headed further into the heart of downtown Centralia to the new Pine Street Plaza. Visionary city leaders blocked off both ends of a little-used connector street between the railroad depot and Tower Avenue. Filled with tables, umbrellas and a stage for musicians, it’s a great place to celebrate the reopened life that we’re all embracing as the pandemic winds down*.
Unfortunately, “winding down” comes with an asterisk. Those of us who are fully vaccinated have a really robust protection against COVID-19, upward of 95%. And the few who do get sick will likely have a much less severe case of the disease.
That’s important, because a new, more contagious and possibly more dangerous variant of the virus is increasingly circulating in America and Lewis County. The Delta variant poses a greater risk than the virus we knew last year, and those who are unvaccinated are unprotected against it.
I loved celebrating the good life in our community this week, largely unmasked. We’ve been waiting for this time for 15 months! And yet the unvaccinated among us are at a higher risk than even.
I know there are folks who have concerns about this vaccine, but after being administered to millions of people across the globe with very few side effects, this might be the safest and best-tested new vaccine in history.
I’m so glad that everyone who can be vaccinated in my family has been. If you haven’t gotten this quick, simple immunization shot yet, I urge you to do so. Life after* the pandemic is wonderful! Don’t risk your chance to enjoy it. Don’t let your experience be the exception to the rule and an asterisk on an otherwise wonderful post-pandemic life.
My friend, former Centralia Mayor Lee Coumbs, had a great idea that he shared with me during the opening of the Pine Street Plaza on Sunday.
He and his wife, former Centralia Mayor Bonnie Canaday, were stalwarts in the George Washington bicentennial project in 2017-18. Our grassroots group brought much-deserved attention to Centralia’s remarkable founder. We built a statue of George and his wife, Mary Jane, that now stands in his namesake park. We endowed a scholarship in their name at Centralia College.
We had talked about creating an annual Founder’s Day celebration, but as things became busy and then the pandemic hit, that hasn’t really come together.
Coumbs noted the goal of Councilor Westley to create an annual Centralia Juneteenth celebration.
What if we combined that with a George Washington Founder’s Day event?
It’s an intriguing and exciting idea.
Is anyone willing to help make it happen? I'm not looking to lead the effort, but I'm happy to help coordinate some new leaders making connections as they get started. Anyone interested can contact me or Westley at MWestley@cityofcentralia.com.
Something I learned through the George Washington bicentennial project is that all it takes is a few people working together and a dream to make something new and valuable that makes our good life together even sweeter.
Brian Mittge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.