Racial/Ethnic Harmony Week, founded by K-State student Barbara Baker in 1988 with the support of Student Governing Association president Laurian Cuffy and his cabinet, was begun to develop a welcome presence for the leadership of people of color in campus and community life. Though the work of Ms. Baker targeted general problems and concerns of both U.S. and international citizens, the Week was the direct result of an unfortunate incident that occurred in what was then Bushwacker's Club in Aggieville in June of 1987. Puerto Rican students had rented the club to celebrate the day of San Juan (St. John the Baptist), the patron saint of the island and of its capital city. Bushwacker's employees hung signs that referred to San Juan, using obscene language, and the case was finally taken to the state attorney general's office, with the decision against the club for its actions.
Luis Montaner, a K-State alumnus in veterinary medicine and multicultural activist, spoke of how the invisibility that people of color often feel can manifest itself and be a concern to all; this was especially evident to him when he took the case to Topeka: "To my surprise, all the foreign students joined us since they too felt addressed by this action. They are not even American like Puerto Ricans are, so they must have assumed they would have been in the same position we were if they had chosen to meet there as a group."
According to Ms. Baker, "it was our hope that a Racial/Ethnic Harmony Association would be developed to continue the dialogues of multiracial harmony as it pertained to local campus and community issues... We knew the week would sometimes be controversial and some people would not understand its intent. But we had faith in the vision that our society can hear and then see truth together, dialogue about solutions together, heal together, and change together."
Ms. Baker adds that these events are for everyone: "We need European American voices and leadership, but we also need the voices of leadership from African, Native, Latino/a, and Asian Americans. Until we truly have equalized the vision of people of color toward how we can achieve an equitable society, we must have an event called Racial/Ethnic Harmony Week."
Racial/Ethnic Harmony Week is now in its 21st year, and it has spread beyond th borders of K-State to include the Manhattan community and school district. Ms. Baker chaired the planning committee energetically for the first nine years while she completed graduate work at K-State, and started a scholarship in memory of her brother, Joey Lee Garman. That scholarship is announced every year at the banquet.
Ms. Baker began working toward a Ed.D. at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and the chair has passed to Doug Benson and Candi Pitts. Members of the planning board come from several city agencies, USD 383, the community, and the university. It is truly a community learning experience and celebration of diversity. Dr. Baker finished the Ed.D. in 2008 and is now the Director of Multicultural Affairs at Emporia State University.
In 2002, Racial/Ethnic Harmony Week was changed to Community Cultural Harmony Week to bridge all the rich diversity in our communities, bringing us together to learn and grow.