Kent celebrates diversity: 'You’re going to see people from all over the world'

KENT, Wash. - The city of Kent is a melting pot, with thousands of residents moving into the city every month from all over the world.

From East Asia, to South Africa the city is a ‘minority majority’ city – meaning minority groups like Latinos, Asians, African Americans and other ethnic groups make up over 50-percent of the population.

That diversity is probably what makes the Paradise Hillside Parking Plots in Kent so special.

At first glance, the lot outside Kent’s Hillside Church looks like a normal place to park.

But this one-acre parking lot is now “parking plot” and it’s starting to sprout up a lot of attention around King County.

“We are taking proactive steps to be that welcoming city. I think that’s what makes Kent so wonderful,” said Sara Franklin-Phillips, a member of the city’s Cultural Communities Board, started about three years ago.

All the buzz--not for the peppers that grew over the summer, but for the community they’re growing.

“In many cultures--like the African American culture—food, and the celebration of food, and the cooking of food is one of those things that bring people together,” said Franklin-Philips.

And the food the urban farms just harvested in October is one way the city is embracing the cultural diversity you see around the community.

“Kent is the 10th most diverse city in the entire country--of any city. Not just based on size –number ten,” explained Kent Mayor Dana Ralph.

Each garden represents food from a different region. And much like this ‘minority majority’ city--it’s made up of a lot of countries.

“Every place you go whether it be the grocery stores, school or the city building--you’re going to see people from all over the world,” said Ralph. “It’s not out of the ordinary. And Kent has done an extremely good job of embracing that diversity.”

In fact, the city celebrates it with international festivals and even a 2 ½ hour multicultural assembly for students to share their heritage at Kent Merridian High School.

“One of our taglines for the city is ‘Kent, bringing the world home’--that’s a real thing. We have people from every corner of the world living in Kent,” said Ralph.

In fact, inside Kent schools students speak 137 different languages--like Punjabi , Arabic, Tagalog, Swahili, Dari, Pashto, Amharic-- just to name a few. The multitude of languages forces teachers within the district to get creative.

“I was up at Fred Meyer and I was watching a lady take a picture of all the different fruits and vegetables and I said ‘Why are you doing that?‘ and she said ‘Because I’ve got a whole bunch of 3rd graders who don’t know what an orange is,’ so its figuring out—kind of outside the box,” said Ralph.

Or perhaps ‘outside the plot’?

The garden plots are designed to represent the very people who live and learn in Kent and even worship in the community.

It’s just one more creative approach--like faith-based organizations sharing space with other religious practices--that retired pastor Marvin Eckfeldt says keeps so many immigrants coming back.

“This is one partnership, but you can also find other partnerships around the city,” said Eckfeldt, whose also a member of the Cultural Communities Board.

“All of those are building these bridges so that we’re really saying—we’re one community,” said Eckfeldt.