Marvin Phillips was away with his family on their first weekend camping vacation when he got the call Friday morning that his home and truck had been vandalized.
At first no one wanted to tell him exactly what the graffiti said. It was uncomfortable to tell one of the only African Americans in their small town that his property had been sprayed with “KKK” and “Die N—–” in huge letters across the front and side of their home, and on the hood of his pickup. The interior of the car was also sprayed red.
Phillips, who is 58, has seen racism in his lifetime. He knows how to shake it off, like “water on my duck feathers,” he said. But it distressed him that he’d have to explain that kind of hatred to his 10-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son.
The community saw to it that he didn’t have to.
Phillips moved his family to Tenino, Wash., a rural community of about 1,800 people, less than two years ago. He said he hasn’t run into other black families in town or at school functions. The 2010 U.S. Census backs up that claim: Slightly more than 90 percent of residents are white and just 0.2 percent are black.
But his children, who are biracial, don’t see race, he said. They don’t know hate. His daughter, Joelene, is a cheerleader and a Girl Scout, and his son, Marvin Jr., plays football and baseball, with predominantly white teammates.
“My kids don’t see racism,” Phillips said.
While the Phillipses were still away, the parents of the Tenino youth football and cheer league, put out a call on the league’s group Facebook page. They shared that one of their football families’ homes had been vandalized. “Not just any vandalism but racial vandalism…..this literally breaks my heart,” the post read, “we live in a small community and we take care of our own especially our youth athletes. I would like to have a work party meet up tomorrow morning at 9am to clean this mess up before the kids get home and see this. I want the racist cowards to know that we WILL NOT stand for this in our small town.”
And so, members of their community gathered on the Phillipses lawn, and got to work painting over the words on the house and scrubbing them off the truck. The mayor came out to help. So did the police officer who made the call to the Phillipses to tell them about the crime. Throughout the day about 50 people stopped by.
“It all comes back to family,” said Matt Russell, who, with his wife, Heidi, helped organize the cleanup. “We’re all family and what does family do? We help each other out. We banded together so the family didn’t have to deal with it. We never wanted recognition for it, we wanted it fixed.”
Russell, who has lived in the town for 12 years, said he was shocked by the crime in their close-knit community.
So was Tenino Police Chief Don Moody.
“I don’t see any racial issues whatsoever in this community,” Moody said. “With all the racial things going on across the nation, I feel fortunate that we’re not impacted. It’s a great community and I can’t stress that enough.”
The investigation is ongoing, and there’s no person(s) of interest at this point, he said.
When the Phillipses came home early from their vacation on Saturday — they were supposed to stay through Tuesday — their house was freshly painted and the truck was scrubbed clean. There was no sign of the hateful graffiti for his kids to see. They have since learned a lot of what happened from their friends, but when his son asked what the KKK was, Phillips said simply, “K is a letter before L and after J.”
“Will they ever learn about it? Absolutely,” Phillips said. “But do they have to learn about it today?”
For now, they just know the people of their town did something kind for them. Phillips said he wished he knew all the people who showed up to help or reached out with prayers so he could thank them each personally.
Because in the end, an act that was supposed to incite hate did quite the opposite.
As Phillips put it: “How can you not feel that love?”
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