rolf williams

Jerrol’s owner Rolf Williams is a third-generation owner/operator and a strong advocate for diversity, equality, respect in Ellensburg.

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Respect earns respect.

The signs on the windows to the entrance of his business read, Diversity, Equality and Respect. They were up long before the topic of equality became a topic of discussion, before racial tensions escalated after an African-American was killed in police custody, long before the Capitol Hill riot.

To Jerrol’s owner Rolf Williams, these three words are not just a way to conduct business, they are a way of life.

“I believe diversity is what makes our lives interesting,” he said. “If we were all the same, how boring it would be. We’re a country founded on ideas, at times some really bad ideas. At some point we need to reconcile some of these things. A lot has to do with the questions you ask yourself.

“For instance, we are a told America is a country of immigrants, which is not true. There are some immigrants, but there were people here before the immigrants arrived. There are some people that were brought here against their will. So, when we say we’re a country of immigrants, what does that sound like to them? I had not even contemplated that idea before and now I can’t seem to get it out of my head.”

The Ellensburg City Council created an Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (IDE) subcommittee and reached out to various minority groups for input on how the city can be more inclusive. The council is now looking to extend that idea with an IDE Commission to explore and create different options and ideas moving forward. It would be similar to the parks and recreation or arts commissions in providing direction with new ideals to the council.

There have been objections. There has been support. The only way significant change can happen is one thought at a time, one person at a time, Williams said.

“It starts with each person educating themselves on the issues. For me, it means listening to folks. I appreciate the council leading the dialog, but the change has to occur within ourselves. We need to take the responsibility to change ourselves rather than waiting around for someone to tell us,” he said. “The things our kids hear when they sit at the top of the stairs listening to adults. What they are hearing is what’s going to mold their minds.

“These are issues that need to be discussed and that’s part of the problem. (Diversity and equality) is something that needs to be discussed. It is what it is and it won’t change until we have dialog.”

Williams cites events within his own family history as a blueprint for his beliefs. His father told a story of his Japanese grade schoolmates walking down a deck, getting on a barge and never returning.

“That never set well with my father. It had a deep impact on him and it eventually became multi-generational. It had an effect on me and I didn’t even see it,” Williams said. “The second story, my grandmother (Irene Williams) was first generation Norwegian. She felt a lot of the Norwegian stigma that was addressed at the time to the point where she would not allow my father to learn Norwegian. They only spoke English around the house.

“My uncle and namesake was born in the ‘30s with cerebral palsy. When my grandfather ran Jerrol’s, my grandmother always thought of herself as an immigrant woman with a spastic child. So, for whatever reason this whole idea of equity resonates in our family. The whole idea of seeing the beauty in diversity is something so important. I believe diversity is what brings interest into our lives, whether it be hair color, skin color, political ideas or cultural differences.”

The idea that nothing changes if nothing changes starts with one idea, then personal belief and eventually leads to community respect for one another.

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