Black History Today: Merle Redd-Jones, a model for changing systems from the inside out

Black History Today: Merle Redd-Jones, a model for changing systems from the inside out

System-level change is one of the hardest changes to make and navigate. Traditionally for people of color those systems weren’t meant to serve us in a meaningful way, so learning to work in them for the greater good and teaching others to do the same for the benefit of the “we” over the “me” is powerful.

Acquiring this skill set as a strong and powerful Black woman in city government is an even more daunting challenge. Yet for 20-plus years, not only did Merle Redd-Jones navigate that system, but she paved the way for so many others to launch their careers in that system and in other ways.

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Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Black History Today: Jerrell Davis, an unsung revolutionary

Many people speak of narrative change but are often afraid to be in the trenches. It takes an ecosystem to create change, yet often times those who are the champions for and by the people get overlooked, their revolutionary presence lost in photo ops and small victories.

Yet it was once said that you can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution. One man that embodies the revolutionary and the revolution is Jerrell G. Davis.

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Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Black History Today: Letta Mason, living her purpose of liberation through education

Rarely in life do you meet people whom you instantly know are one-of-a-kind, authentic and unique in their presentation, passion, purpose, performance and personhood.

Yet when you meet these people, whether you know it or not, their energy completely transforms your life. One of those people is Letta S. Mason.

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Black History Today: April Bowman, Bold Believer

Black History Today: April Bowman, Bold Believer

Sundays are for many a day of reflection and rest, a day to grow closer and get in touch with the creator. Whether tied to religion or not, people’s faith manifests hope and hope manifests belief and belief manifests destiny.

One person who uses her belief and her faith to manifest the destiny in others is April Bowman. As the founder and CEO of Bold Believers, April travels the country helping others live their best lives through a connected faith and through promoting and living her beliefs.

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Black History Today: Chris Chatmon, using his gift in service of the Kings and Queens

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a pillar of the South Seattle community and a truly unsung hero, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his neighborhood and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.

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“We are all gifted, but we have to discover the gift, uncover the gift, nurture and develop the gift and use it for the glory of God and the liberation and struggle of our people”
- Louis Farrakhan

By Marcus Harden

#BlackHistoryToday15

One of the greatest gifts, if not the greatest, is walking alongside someone else and encouraging them as they uncover their own gift. Then finding another and another to walk beside, giving the gift of being a gift, in service to others.

To do this with people is work, but very doable. To do this and begin to create systemic and institutional change, that is a gift in and within itself. When I think about people who hold that gift, brotha Chris Chatmon comes to mind.

Chris and his team (family) of powerful brothas and sistas have helped to transform Oakland Public Schools and begun to change the conversation nationally about what it means to support, educate, empower and put young Black men at the center of the conversation. Going beyond changing the narrative, his leadership and work have helped rewrite the books!

His true gift has been in spotlighting those he serves and those he serves with. When you meet him, you’re most impressed about his passion for the work, but also the deference he shows his family, his children and his wife, whom he promotes in front of himself as the heart and soul behind his work.

He has now led the way to transform work not only for Kings (black males), but for Queens (black women) as well, and he is blazing the trail for other cultures and identites to follow the blueprint he’s helped create — which has now spread to San Francisco and Seattle.

On this weekend in which we honor Wakanda's cousin city, Oakland, we honor this King who’s doing the work to transform and change lives, using his gift to be a gift in service. That is why Brother Chris Chatmon is Black history, today.


Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

Black History Today: Keith B. Wheeler, sharing his message of H.O.P.E.

From the streets of Seattle that many don’t even know exist, to finding himself at Washington State University (the one mistake we can’t forgive him for 😂), to becoming a teacher on the rise back home in the neighborhoods he walked, realizing that there was more and a call to his life.

Keith B. Wheeler now lives in the hope that he espouses, traveling the country and giving to others the gift that has been given to him, never stopping short of acknowledging his own flaws and blemishes, while making sure to point out that it's those things that make us unique.

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Black History Today: Gwen Allen-Carston, unwavering activist

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a pillar of the South Seattle community and a truly unsung hero, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his neighborhood and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.

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By Marcus Harden

#BlackHistoryToday10

Angela Davis powerfully stated, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change... I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

When I was a child, I didn’t understand what things like Black Pride, Black Power, heroes like Malcolm X, the Pan African movement or even local things Umoja Fest, etc. Being proud to be something other than what society put in front of us and learning more than what schools dared to teach us.

Beginning to understand different religions and philosophies and maybe most importantly, learning what it meant to advocate for others in truth and in authenticity. One of the strongest if not the first to teach me those lessons and so much more was Gwen Allen-Carston.

She epitomizes unwavering activism, being a strong voice for social justice, community collaboration and change. As a child I couldn’t understand what the fight was about and why she was always so passionate, yet like seeds being planted, I understand it so much more now.

Yet beneath that activist spirit is a mother’s heart. A proud mother and grandmother to her family, she’s been that for so many more. She constantly gives of her mind, heart and soul, lovingly fighting for her people, the community and not just standing in front of but standing beside the present and having no problem handing the torch to the future.

Whether running for local office, strongly promoting the city of Kent, Leadership in the Kent Black Action Commission or leading a supply and food drive for hurricane victims from her beauty supply store with her pillar of a husband (C&G in Kent) she is an incredible community and state treasure.

Whether you’re calling her Momma, Nami, Aunty, Mrs. Gwen or being the answer to the question who’s yelling, “Who ya wit!”, Gwen Allen-Carston is Black history, today.


Black History Today: Caine Lowery, authentic teacher and humble learner

Black History Today: Caine Lowery, authentic teacher and humble learner

“What a teacher is, is more important than what he teaches.”

Many have said that it’s the respect from your peers, no matter the profession, that matters the most.

When I think about men who teach not just from the book but from who they are, full in their authenticity and growth, and inspire students, families and staff, Caine Lowery is one of the first that comes to mind.

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Black History Today: Phil Jerrod Heath, 'The Gift' who keeps on giving

Black History Today: Phil Jerrod Heath, 'The Gift' who keeps on giving

Jesse Owens famously stated, “We all have dreams. In order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline and effort.”

When I think about determination, dedication, self discipline and effort, few spring to the forefront of my mind faster than Phil Jerrod Heath, a South Seattle product and one of the most hungry yet humble people you’ll ever meet.

Phil is a seven-time Mr. Olympia competition champion, amongst numerous other accolades. Five years ago (and every year since) I decided to go to Las Vegas to go support a childhood friend. Little did I know that in his world, he’s a megastar.

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Black History Today: Anthony Rose, inspiring artist and visionary dream-chaser

This post is part of an ongoing Black History Month series written by Marcus Harden, a pillar of the South Seattle community and a truly unsung hero, as he honors the living legacy of Black history in his neighborhood and beyond, and recognizes the people who are shaping the future.

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By Marcus Harden

#BlackHistoryToday7

As kids, we are often told to follow our dreams. As parents, we often tell our children to chase their dreams. Somewhere in between, though, we begin preaching practicality and reality and a part of us dies.

One person who lives his dreams in a way that is unapologetic and to his own beat is Anthony Rose. Anthony embodies the notion that only those whom dare to chase their dreams are bold enough to catch them.

How so? By moving to Los Angeles and stepping out on faith. Being unrelenting in living by his values of honesty, presenting his culture in a meaningful way and holding true to the arts of photography, film, poetry and the other mediums he brilliantly manages.

Meaning often times being questioned on his path or his method. People taking advantage of his heart and passion for other people. Yet never allowing those things to turn his mind or heart cold.

His vision not only as an artist, but as a community advocate and friend, are equally incredible attributes. He is truly the person who will give you the shirt off of his back. If you need a couch to sleep on, if it means he has to be overdrawn for you to share his last $20, he does it without blinking an eye.

As “success” begins to find him, his fingerprints on recent film releases, red carpet parties and the very companies that turned him down are now asking to work with him. Fame or Hollywood won’t change him, but he will undoubtedly continue to change them.

He takes incredible joy in making sure that when he climbs, everyone else climbs with him. His selflessness, compassion and vision — not only for himself, but for others — are why I’m honored to call him Brother and friend, and why “Ant Rose” is Black history, today.


Black History Today: Rev. David Hardy, Sr., an everyday neighborhood hero

Black History Today: Rev. David Hardy, Sr., an everyday neighborhood hero

I deeply believe that your life has to be a reflection of your values and beliefs. That’s truly the only “legacy” we have. It's what living every day is about.

One of the idols who exemplified and taught me that powerful lesson was Rev. David Hardy, Sr.

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Black History Today: Cornelius Minor, passionate educator teaching reading as a pathway to liberation

Black History Today: Cornelius Minor, passionate educator teaching reading as a pathway to liberation

If you’ve been fortunate enough to be successful in spaces, you know for people of color, especially Black men, the higher up you climb the lonelier it tends to get.

Ten years ago I was told I had to meet Cornelius Minor. I knew immediately we were being put on a Black professional “play date” 😂. While I respected the thought, I wasn’t that enthused.

I’ve never been more proud to be wrong.

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Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

The Seattle School Board is in the beginning stages of finding a new superintendent to lead Seattle Public Schools. Also, they're apparently near the finish line.

Despite the fact that the application materials still aren’t available online, Ray and Associates, the firm chosen to conduct the search, still lists Feb. 28 as the deadline to apply. The board, meanwhile, after opening their ears to a brief moment of community input, has apparently decided to stay the course and still plans to hire the new superintendent before the end of March.

That doesn't give us much time.

First off, here's what the board says they're looking for in a candidate...

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Columbia City's anti-bias, community-focused preschool is having an open house on Friday

Columbia City's anti-bias, community-focused preschool is having an open house on Friday

We’ve been navigating the ins and outs of assimilation and inequitable public schooling for our whole lives — and as parents for several years now with Julian. We’re being as conscious as we can be and going a day or a school year at a time, but I’m confused most of the time and not at all sure that we’re doing the right thing. The idea of now voluntarily giving our three-year-old over to the same system — of willingly starting this whole process anew, even knowing what I know — caused me such momentary near-panic that I wasn’t sure I would find a school for him that I could stomach.

Then one day last summer we stumbled onto a brand new preschool that was about to open in the south end of Seattle. Columbia City Preschool of Arts & Culture, we learned, would be centered around an anti-bias, anti-racist curriculum, with a focus on loving service to the community. And play, of course.

"We're looking to create the confidence that when these kids go into predominantly white schools that they can bring counter narratives to the school," Benjamin Gore, one of the preschool’s teachers and founders, told KING5 News last year.

If we’re being honest, that alone addressed most of my concerns.

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Wait, you mean you're not crazy? You must not be paying attention.

Wait, you mean you're not crazy? You must not be paying attention.

Good day, friends.

I’m just writing to give you a heads-up that I’m crazy now.

I had been hovering right on the edge for quite a while, obviously, but I think Neal Morton's recent Seattle Times article officially pushed me off the deep end. He pointed out that we’ve been talking about the opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines in Seattle Public Schools since the ‘50s — and that today, they’re worse than ever.

In other words, we’ve been acknowledging that things need to change for 70 years now without actually making any changes.

Tell me that’s not enough to drive you crazy.

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Am I crazy? Or are things actually much worse than they seem?

Am I crazy? Or are things actually much worse than they seem?

Our schools are inequitable. That much I knew coming in. Students of color are disciplined more frequently and harshly than white students, even for the same basic behaviors. The are typically viewed and treated differently based on their teachers’ implicit biases. These and other factors combine to produce opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines.

In other words, students of color and low-income students have access to fewer, different and inequitable opportunities than their more affluent white peers. This creates what is often referred to as “achievement gaps,” which refers to the discrepancy in academic outcomes based on these same factors of race, gender identity and family income.

But the more I wrote, the more I found I had to learn, and as I learned about the theories and realities that have created our current inequities, I also started to live first-hand the experience of inequity in education. I experienced the failures of our public school system at Emerson Elementary School, the neighborhood public school where we send our son, and I realized — vividly, painfully — that every year we fail to close the gap or to improve a struggling school represents at best a year lost for thousands of kids and families in Seattle. At worst, it represents a year of continued trauma.

I tried to figure out what to do. I began to surprise myself by wondering, at what point is it irresponsible to send my biracial son through these doors every day?

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I may be crazy now, but at least my eyes are open

I may be crazy now, but at least my eyes are open

I rode out to Ferguson from St. Louis with DeRay Mckesson on the night after the one-year anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder. We parked on a side street and walked a few blocks to the intersection of Florissant Ave. and Canfield Dr.

From there, we walked into a buzz of people and activity.

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Am I just acting like a sad-sack Vikings fan by not yanking my kids out of Seattle Public Schools?

Am I just acting like a sad-sack Vikings fan by not yanking my kids out of Seattle Public Schools?

This isn’t easy to admit right now, so I’m just going to come out and say it:

I’m a Vikings fan.

It’s true.

I’ve loved the Vikings all my life. When I was in 8th grade, I wore a Cris Carter jersey to school every Monday and Thursday pretty much all year long. I would have worn it even more if I wasn’t so sure that the wrong people would notice and harass me for wearing the same shirt every day.

I found that purple No. 80 jersey in a box in my parents’ basement in Iowa when we visited after Christmas a few weeks back, and I brought it home to Seattle along with my “lucky” purple Vikings socks. I was wearing the full ensemble yesterday for the first time in almost 20 years as I watched the Vikes get blown out by the Eagles 38-7 in the NFC Championship Game.

It was a genuine heartbreaker.

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Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Guest Post: Five Lessons from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we celebrate the life of a Civil Rights hero who believed in ordinary people’s ability to do extraordinary things. It’s an important day to reflect on his legacy, but too often Martin Luther King Jr. Day is tokenized schools. When we fail to engage students in meaningful conversations about Dr. King’s legacy and the Civil Rights Movement, we fail to help students understand their own place in the ongoing struggle for racial justice.

Last week I gave a talk at Lakota Middle School’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day assembly, and I asked students to consider five lessons from Dr. King. I also asked students to share their own ideas about how to bring people together to fight for racial justice, both in the world and in their own middle school.

Here are the five lessons from Dr. King that I asked students to consider.

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