Black History Today: Ernestine Rutledge, the definition of dignity, the essence of excellence

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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“The kind of beauty I want most is the hard-to-get kind that comes from within - strength, courage, dignity.”
- Ruby Dee

By Marcus Harden


Beauty is a word that unless deeply explained is usually reserved for what the eye can see. As many have explored throughout the years, true beauty is when you close your eyes to describe the fullness of the person you’re describing — their strength, courage, dignity and shining exemplar of what we all hope to be.

One of the most beautiful people you will ever encounter is Ms. Ernestine Rutledge. The “Ms.” added for the dignity and respect she commands, not through position, power or even mean tweets, but through the sheer essence of excellence she brings.

If you’ve spent a moment learning from Ms. Rutledge either as a student or co-worker (and we’re all her students!), then you know that the first lesson you learn is about grace. Her deep humility, patience, care and warm (yet accountable) way of treating others is the definition of dignity.

Often times for children and families in systems that cause them angst and/or trauma, she is the living “Music” that is able to soothe and bring calm and rationale to most if not all situations.

Her deep well of knowledge and wisdom are only surpassed by her true loving and kind nature. She is the consummate coach and cheerleader, yet accountable champion, holding people and systems to their greatest selves and giving a swift word if it’s not measuring up.

Her greatest love being in how she continually honors herself and her family. Her children and grandchildren being the apple of her eye, yet to the rest of us, we all share in the love of “Ms. Rutledge.”

She is class personified and is deserving of so much more than even these paragraphs could summarize. I and those who know her have forever been changed and are better for her, and that is why Ms. Ernestine Rutledge is Black history, today.