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Checking In: Eric J. Silvers, State Farm Insurance | Local

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Despite several adjustments — including a completely virtual meeting on Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic — the program was well attended. More than 200 people logged in to watch the session, which featured a keynote from James Joyce, a former Yakima Herald-Republic reporter who founded Coffee with a Black Guy, a movement where Black men engage in community conversations about their experiences and the issues they face.

Silvers, 62, has spent more than three decades working as an insurance and financial services agent for State Farm Insurance. But he’s just as passionate about both community service and music. He previously taught music at Washington Middle School.

When he’s not selling insurance, he’s doing a wide variety of community activities and facilitating programs such as a mentorship program for Black students at Davis High School. He plays the organ for Greater Faith Baptist Church and helps organize a college fair for middle and high school students. Before the pandemic, he and his wife, Ester, administered polio vaccines in Ethiopia as part of the Rotary National Immunization Day.

In this month’s Checking In, we ask Silvers about how the pandemic has changed his insurance and financial services work, why community service is important to him and the work he does to represent the Black community, both locally and at-large.

What impact did the pandemic have on your day-to-day work and career as well as the insurance industry?

We have utilized our “Good Neighbor Connect” platform to check on our policyholders. We have been actively reviewing their policies to see what we can do to help them navigate the pandemic. Although our face-to-face contact has been reduced to ensure the protection of our policyholders and office team, we remain proactively committed to serving our clients and are specifically working to confirm they are protected through this ever changing landscape.

My clients are more concerned than ever with the protection of their families as they watch so many individuals in our community and worldwide get sick and die during this global pandemic. We are currently using virtual claim handling, drones for wildfires and are utilizing technology like FaceTime and Google Duo to connect in with clients.

You are active in the community and have participated in a variety of organizations. Why is community service important to you?

Community service is important to me because it is a hands-on way for me to make my community a better place to live for all. Specifically, my role as Yakima Rotary president has provided me a special platform and opportunity to better serve my community. In the past year, I have been able to donate necessary personal protective equipment to the first responders who serve our community on the front lines of this pandemic, support our local food banks through Operation Harvest, award scholarships to local students to increase access to higher education, and install a new playground at the Martin Luther King Jr. Park. This spring I will be able to help build a new playground at the Yakima Greenway.

The Yakima Valley has a small Black community. How do you feel you represent that community, both locally and at-large, through your work and community service?

During my term as Yakima Rotary president, I felt called to share my experiences as a Black man who lives and works in Yakima. Although that was a deeply vulnerable moment for me, it spurred the creation of the organization’s Racial Justice Ad Hoc Committee. Through the committee, which I lead, Rotarians have been working on educating themselves on becoming anti-racist and are working on creating action steps to now work outward in expanding our influence in the community on this important and critical issue. Under my leadership, the committee has heard from local and national speakers on the issue of racism. It’s important to me that individuals use the influence they have to address this issue of racism.

The Black Lives Matter movement has gained steam nationally in the last year. There have been protests in support of the movement here in Yakima. What can the local business community do in the ongoing effort to eradicate racism?

There are two important things we all need to do: 1) listen and 2) educate ourselves. We need to join with people who are different than ourselves and have vulnerable and honest discussions regarding the current racial divide. We have to raise awareness of the historical impact and the current issues so that we can better address these issues of racism with an accurate and compassionate lens.

We need more events that are designed to increase understanding through intentional listening to voices of Black leaders where we learn that we have more in common than we have things that are different in our lives. Our local business community can’t exist in a vacuum; the business community is part of our community and the business leaders must actively address the issues caused by systemic racism. In 1960, Black individuals made up 16% of the population and, currently, we make up 1% of the population in Yakima County. Why? We need to address that issue and, together, work on finding and engaging in meaningful solutions to this issue.

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