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

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


“Challenging power structures from the inside, working the cracks within the system, however, requires learning to speak multiple languages of power convincingly.”
– Patricia Hill Collins

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.

Merle’s influence with King County Superior Court spans years and generations. Known for her attention to detail and management, and for her ability to navigate people who serve other people in some of their darkest times with a level of professionalism, in working with clients, judges, politicians and crying children in the lobby who just needed a hug, she was the heartbeat of a sometimes-soulless system.

Yet maybe her greatest strength was seeing strength in others who came from similar backgrounds as her and holding them accountable to their best self. Whether through her attention to hiring practices to make sure people of color got equitable opportunity or tugging on young employees' coattails and teaching them professionalism and how to thrive even in the midst of a sometimes-broken system — and to be in position to do the same for those who’d come behind them.

Merle is a person whose heart and compassion for people far outshines any title she’d ever have. Her fingerprints and touch ripple throughout and she does it all without fanfare or flare, just doing what needs to be done.

Now she enjoys her beautiful family and a well-earned retirement. Her light continues to shine inside of those she passed her knowledge down to, and that, among many other reasons, is why Merle Redd-Jones is Black history, today.