Life can be chaotic. In our workaday hustle and bustle we sometimes forget to take stock of the powerful moments that happen all around us. For some, age brings the clarity and time needed to put those memories and experiences on paper and share the important lessons learned along the way. On May 13, Merritt Long will speak at the SPSCC Artist & Lecture Series about his experiences with racism and new book My View from the Back of the Bus.
Merritt and wife Marsha Tadano Long are tremendously active in the community. Both worked for state agencies for many years and have a passion for education and nonprofits. Almost 20 years ago they founded the Learning Seed Foundation, which has provided almost $450,000 in scholarships primarily to students of color in Thurston and Pierce counties.
Growing up, Merritt experienced racism firsthand. Through his book and speaking opportunities like the Artist & Lecture Series, he shares what it was like and how far we’ve come. “Most students today—especially outside of the deep South—have very little understanding of slavery, Jim Crow laws, segregation, and the apartheid-like conditions that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s when Merritt grew up in Alabama,” explains Marsha. “They may have read about these things in American history class, but it may seem like something that happened a long time ago or in another land, and therefore, not relevant to their lives. Merritt’s stories personalize and humanize these experiences.”
They both love working with, and for, students because education changes lives. “His parents, especially his mother, saw education as the way to access opportunities,” says Marsha. “His teachers provided the nurturing and support for him to develop self-confidence.” Because of their legacy, he learned “to keep trying and believing in yourself even when most messages all around may be demeaning and disrespectful and that it is possible to overcome obstacles based on the color of your skin.”
Despite limitations imposed by COVID-19, the Longs continue their charitable work. “Since February 2021, Merritt’s has been a presenter or panel member at 12 events (on Zoom), including an interview with Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, The Community Foundation of South Puget Sound special event, Olympia High School video, Rotary Club meetings, book club meetings and other groups,” says Marsha. “He’s scheduled into October for more Rotary and Kiwanis clubs, book clubs, and community groups, such as Homes First and Enl!ghten Kitsap, which is affiliated with the Kitsap Public Library. A number of businesses and organizations, such as Olympia Federal Savings, Washington REALTORS, and South Puget Sound Community College, are using My View From the Back of the Bus to educate their boards, senior staff and committees.”
OlyFed, a Thurston County institution since 1906, is also committed to life-long learning. They offer financial education to their customers and support community events like the Artist & Lecture Series. Through the month of May, they’ve chosen the Long’s Foundation as the recipient of their Two-Cent Campaign. Started in 2018, each month they select a worthy nonprofit to receive two cents from each debit transaction. “This equates to about $2,500,” says Marsha. “What an amazing donation from OlyFed to the Learning Seed!”
“Merritt and Marsha have been long-time friends of OlyFed and we’ve enjoyed supporting the Learning Seed Foundation for many years,” said Lori Drummond, OlyFed president and CEO. “We’ve gained so much insight and input from Merritt and Marsha’s leadership when it comes to caring for our community and ensuring all of our neighbors have the opportunity to thrive.”
“In our business, diversity of people, thoughts and ideas help ensure we meet a wider spectrum of financial and community needs with more innovative and personalized solutions,” Drummond continued. “Building a supportive and caring culture has long been a top priority for OlyFed, and we recognize we have an ongoing need for improvement, growth and learning. Supporting events like the one featuring Merritt and former Governor Gary Locke help us create opportunities for personal growth in our community.”
The May 13 SPSCC event will begin virtually at 5:30 p.m. The evening will be an informal conversation between friends with Merritt and Locke. Topics will cover stories from the book, insights on life, the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and how current events surrounding George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and anti-Asian incidents can help bridge racial divides. Online RSVP required.
Take the time to enjoy the multigenerational stories from your family as well. The past has many things to teach us if we just take a moment to pause, learn and listen.