Reverend Carol McKinley was honored as the 2019 recipient of the Evan Ferber Peacemaker Leadership Award by the Dispute Resolution Center of Thurston County (DRC). The award was presented at the DRC’s annual fundraising event, The Toast, on April 14, 2019.

Since 2010, the DRC has honored members of our community with the Evan Ferber Peacemaker Leadership Award. The award was named in honor of Founding Executive Director Evan Ferber, and is given to “individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to peacemaking and community service through strengthening civil discourse and civic harmony.”

“Carol is a strong networker,” says Dorothy Gist, the community member who nominated Carol for the award. “When she sees a problem or concern in the community, she reaches out to those who care, those who are involved, and those with the power to make change, and brings them together for dialogue and problem solving. She brings wisdom and equanimity to every situation with her deep respect for people, calm demeanor, and desire to bring people with different viewpoints together to learn and understand.”

Reverend Carol McKinley DOC Peacemaker Honoree
“She’s an amazing person and is certainly deserving of this recognition for her life-long contributions to promoting peace and civility,” says Joe Sanders of the Dispute Resolution Center. Photo courtesy: DRC

In 2000, McKinley made a late career change. For the previous decade, she worked in an office at the state legislature. She understood how to change laws, but she wondered, “Are there ways to change hearts?” That led to attending Seminary at Seattle University. “I always had an interest in world religions,” Carol shares. She reads widely on the subject and believes, “The focus of many religions is the transformation of heart.”

Upon finishing her schooling, she was ordained as a community minister through the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Church (OUUC). “As a minister, my work has always focused on the larger community and on justice work,” she shares.

Carol has been an activist since the 1960s when she advocated civil rights, voter access, and marriage equality. With the Vietnam War and Civil Rights movement, she says, “There was a lot going on to stir the soul. We are dealing with echoes of those same issues today.”

“There are many things in this world I am very grateful for. Marriage equality is one of them,” says Carol. “My wife and I were married first in 2001 in a church service, but it wasn’t legal.” In 2012, she was able to finally legally marry poet and playwright Barbara Gibson. The couple often worked together on creative and social justice projects before Barbara passed away in 2017.

Reverend Carol McKinley Crossing Edmund Pettis Bridge
Carol crossed the iconic bridge in Selma for the 50th Anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery march in 2015, commemorating the original march led by Martin Luther King Jr. after Bloody Sunday in 1965. Photo courtesy: DRC

“The big advantage of living in a community for 50 years is pretty soon you get to know all aspects of the community, the doers. You know people in politics, nonprofits, business.” Those connections are really important. Carol knows who to bring together to work on solutions.

Carol is an active member of Concerned Clergy of Olympia and Interfaith Works. When incidents of violence or hate happen in our community or elsewhere in the world that target a particular faith or community, the call goes out and Carol lines up with many others in front of the mosque or synagogue, so worshipers going to services see their love and support. The faith leaders also don their collars, shawls, or robes and join peace marches to provide a respectful, calming presence.

Carol has noted that often conflict arises when we focus on differences, placing people in the category of “other.” Her response has been to offer opportunities to learn from those we perceive as different. She has held classes to study a particular subject of concern, and invites people with direct experience to speak.

Mustafa Mohamedali would always come to Carol’s class on the Qur’an. He talked about the local Muslim community. “It was formed in the 1980s by Cambodian refugees. People fleeing Pol Pot and the killing fields,” Carol relates. “That was the foundation of our Muslim community and Islamic Center.” Carol often attends the First Fridays at the mosque to continue building connections with our Muslim neighbors.

Carol has organized classes at OUUC to examine racism. “We looked at what are the ways we can bring greater equity to the justice system right here in Thurston County.”

Reverend Carol McKinley
Carol at a presentation by Olympia’s Crisis Response Team in March 2019. Photo courtesy: DRC

A study group called Standing Up to Racism grew out of that first class. “We’d meet, have speakers, book discussions, and conversations around our own racism,” says Carol. “And of course I could add that racism extends across the boundaries of black and white relationships, to any way we perceive the other. It could be Muslims. It could be the homeless.”

“One of the first groups to reach out and which we work together with is the Black Alliance of Thurston County. Dr. Karen Johnson who was the spokesperson for the Black Alliance got together with me and Tammy Stampfli, the minister of United Churches, and suggested we do this film series.” The year-long series was called Racism in Film. They showed popular movies, and then talked about how race was depicted and how that might shape public perception. “Everyone was welcome not just the members of our churches. We wanted the larger community there. People loved that series,” says Carol.

“One thing that I have learned is the essential good will of people,” she says. “People want what is right for everyone in this community. I’m just amazed sometimes at the good that the people in this community do. I am just stunned!”

“The other thing,” she adds, “is there is always hope. The work that we do, the way that we live our lives, are hopeful. They are hopeful to me and they are hopeful for the world.”

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