Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

The structures and systems are shackles. We have to remind ourselves that we the people are the system. Our participation keeps the gears turning.

It’s time we break the shackles!

Read More

Black History Today: Lull Mengesha, inspiring innovator and influencer

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


Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.
-Will Smith

Living life fearlessly and authentically are values often espoused but rarely actualized. Not because people don’t have the desire or the skill, but oftentimes because we’ve rarely paid attention to the people who have done it. To live absent of fear is almost impossible, yet to choose to live a life allowing your fears to fuel your passions and doing it in a way that inspires to do so as well — that’s authentic living!

Lull Mengesha lives authentically and fearlessly! Born to immigrant parents in Seattle, raised in the glorious South End, proud alumni of Rainier Beach High School and later the University of Washington, Lull has never been afraid to embrace thinking and being different. Lull began to discover his fearlessness as an undergrad at the UW, beginning to openly challenge his own thinking and the shortcomings of systems, specifically for African-American people and people from the African diaspora.

Lull’s strength coming in his nature to engage others across difference in those conversations, questioning not only the systems of oppression but people who have been oppressed themselves, realizing early that the breaking down of one requires the empowerment of the other.

In 2009, Lull penned his first book, The Only Black Student,” exploring life as a Black student navigating the public education space in a majority Black school, and then learning how to navigate life and academics at a college that was predominantly white. Fearless in his honesty and introspection, Lull used his life to create an actionable workbook for others to follow.

Lull’s greatest attribute may indeed lay in his fearlessness to just be. Whether gracing the stage at a local comedy shop, writing a screenplay, hosting a vegan Eritrean food talent showcase, exploring and bringing new technology and thought products to market, or just Snap-chatting his Uber driver journey to a $39 Spirit Airlines flight to parts unknown, Lull’s commitment to truly LIVING inspires others to do the same.

At his best, Lull brings the environment of authentic thought, fearless living everywhere he goes, and through his constant joy pushes others to the possibility of the same for themselves. He is unafraid to challenge the status quo because he is unafraid to challenge himself. He’s a son who honors his mother, cherishes his sister and truly is a friend to all.

Lull gives of his time, talent and treasure in ways seen and unseen. Fear looks Lull in the face and lowers its gaze because it knows as we all do now that Lull Mengesha is indeed Black History, today!

To learn more about Lull:



Black History Today: Jamal Crawford, superstar mentor and hometown hero

Black History Today: Jamal Crawford, superstar mentor and hometown hero

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

Read More

Black History Today: D’Vonne Pickett Jr., fearless dreamer at home in Seattle's South End

Black History Today: D’Vonne Pickett Jr., fearless dreamer at home in Seattle's South End

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

Read More

Don't let them distract you. Rise up.

Don't let them distract you. Rise up.

I've mostly kept quiet about the Parkland shooting, because it feels like the last thing we need is more empty words or more voices shouting angrily into the abyss. Today, though, I find I have something to say.

This nonsense about arming teachers is a distraction, and we need to stop giving it the time of day. If the people clamoring to give teachers guns were serious, they would be working on legislation. They would be taking action in some way. But they're not. They're using the ridiculous idea of arming schoolteachers to keep us on the defensive, to keep us worried that things might get even worse, which keeps us from working as single-mindedly on real solutions and real change.

Read More

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.

Read More

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.

Read More

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

Read More

How Walter Chen Is Building a Charter School That Reflects the Diversity of Its South Seattle Community

Walter Chen, the founding principal of a new Green Dot public middle school set to open in south Seattle this fall, has a pretty simple vision for the school: “I want it to be a rigorous, joyful place,” he said.

Simple, on the one hand, but incredibly complex when you think about what it was like to actually be in middle school. In my experience, “rigor” plus “middle school” did not typically equal “joy.”

But the more I hear him talk about it, the more I get the sense that maybe Walter, if anybody, can pull it off.

For one thing, he understands that before they can feel joy at school, kids have to first feel safe and accepted. More than that, though, he understands through lived experience the nuances of inequity in education — especially in the Seattle area, where Chen was born and raised.

“My parents were immigrants from Taiwan and always deeply concerned about education,” Chen said. “When we were really young they moved us [from Kent] to Mercer Island because they had just heard about the great public schools there.”

It took a few years for the impact of that move and for an understanding of what had been left behind, both in Kent and in Taiwan, to fully unfold, but as a young college student in Southern California, an education class led to an eye-opening experience for Walter.

“Because I got the opportunity to go out and visit schools,” Chen said, “I really was for the first time opened to the idea that not everyone has the same educational opportunities and outcomes, that your zip code, your race, your family’s income can change the complete trajectory of your life.”

Coming to understand that truth was enough to push Chen into a career in education, and after earning his BA in Economics at Pomona College and Master of Education at UCLA, he taught middle-school math in a public school in South-Central Los Angeles for six years.

“I really got to see what it was like to work in an urban school and really partner with families,” Chen said. “I got to see the impact of not just being a school employee, showing up to work and teaching kids, but spending time in the community, going out on the weekends to the soccer games and to the swap meets and things like that. It was really a true community feel.”

When Walter and his wife moved to Seattle together, he sought another highly impacted school community to serve and to call home, but he also “started thinking bigger picture,” he said.

“How could I impact more students at a time,” he asked himself, “and really make a change in educational outcomes for kids?”

His answer led him back to school, and in completing the Danforth Program for Educational Leadership at the University of Washington, he refined his view of education as an urgent social justice issue, and it marked the beginning of putting down new roots in the Rainier Valley.

After an internship at SouthShore K-8 in Rainier Beach, Chen has continued to invest in southeast Seattle, spending two years as the assistant principal at Aki Kurose Middle School and two more as the principal of Graham Hill Elementary. He and his wife and young daughter also live in the neighborhood.

“I’m just deeply invested in this community and the social, academic and emotional well-being of our kids,” Chen said, “because I know that strong schools make strong communities. Being someone who works in the community, who lives in the community, and as a person of color — specifically an Asian-American — I’m very aware that children of color don’t see many representations of themselves in their teachers and their school leaders. I believe it’s important to provide that voice.”

A rendering of the new Green Dot Middle School seen looking south on Rainier Ave. in Seattle.

For that reason, Chen hopes to build a staff at the new charter school that's as diverse as the community they will serve. He plans “as much as possible to provide opportunities for people of color to work in education, because if [students] don’t see themselves in their teachers, then we won’t have teachers who are people of color who are representative of the community. If you don’t have teachers of color, you’ll never have leaders of color either.”

It doesn't take much imagination to picture one of Walter's first students coming in this fall as a sixth-grader, leaving SPS in another seven years as a high school graduate, and then returning in another seven to teach middle school in his old neighborhood — maybe at the same school Walter's children will by then attend. And suddenly, as you consider the reality that we are always educating our babies' future teachers, building schools grounded in equity that infuse joy and acceptance into their curriculum sounds less like a pipe dream and more like the only way forward. It starts to sound like a vision for a holistic education that nurtures students as it pushes them to new heights.

“I think it’s possible to have very high expectations and high structure and a very rigorous college-prep curriculum, but when you demand that and you push kids to be the best that they can be academically and to really succeed, you also have to make it fun to come to school, and to help them feel a lot of joy in school. To take pride in their school and take pride in their community. I think that’s my ultimate vision for this Green Dot Middle School in Southeast Seattle.”


Green Dot Middle School is a tuition-free public charter school serving a diverse population in Southeast Seattle. Their mission is to help transform public education so ALL students graduate prepared for collegeleadership, and life.

Green Dot is currently enrolling incoming sixth-graders. Click here for more information.

Hate has no home in the 98118

I'm back home again in Rainier Beach after a whirlwind six-day trip to and from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, and I'm filled this week by appreciation for my neighborhood.

The 98118 zip code is known to be "the most diverse zip code in the nation," and that diversity is reflected in the messages on the yard signs decorating the blocks.

In just driving a few minutes around our neighborhood with my sons, we found more signs demanding social justice and declaring solidarity than we had time to photograph. Here are just a few:

"Black Lives Matter"
"Silence = More Deaths"
"Stop profiling Muslims."
"Refugees are welcome here."
"No matter where you're from, we're glad you're our neighbor."
"Here we believe love is love, no human is illegal, Black lives matter, science is real, women's rights are human rights, water is life, kindness is everything."


These are bold words sending powerful messages at a time when we need them most. What messages are you sending?

What messages are you seeing around you? Do you have photos to share?



Emerson Elementary is losing most of its teachers next week

Somewhere between 10 and 15 teachers have reportedly resigned from Emerson Elementary School effective at the end of the school year.

By my count, that’s most of the teachers at this little neighborhood school in Rainier Beach. And if it's most of them, that means my son’s kindergarten and first-grade teachers are probably among the soon-departed.

Emerson lost former principal Farah Thaxton to the same position at West Woodland Elementary about a year ago now, so current principal Andrea Drake is days away from the end of her first school year.


There's been a different energy this year, and what feels to an outsider-looking-in like lower expectations school-wide, but if my son is a representative sample, the kids have no idea they're about to lose their teachers.

I don’t know much about this situation yet, so I don’t really know what to make of it except that it hits close to home. It doesn’t take much squinting to see this mass exodus as a sign that something is very much not right at Emerson. It could also mean the new principal is pushing such changes as to alienate her stagnant teachers. It could mean any number of things. I don’t know.

I do know that it’s been a bit of a leap of faith sending Julian to Emerson in the first place. Just about everyone in the neighborhood with the means and/or system wherewithal to opt out of their neighborhood school has done so.

Of course, most of them don’t seem much happier or more assured than we feel with Emerson. Orca and SouthShore are the two most common alternatives, and while they’re on steadier footing than Emerson, they’re suffering from the same south-end disparity and from calling a dysfunctional district home.

To its credit, the school has been safe and welcoming for my son, and he goes to school with a truly diverse group of classmates -- and research has shown that going to school with a diverse student population is actually connected to positive outcomes for students.

So far, it's been fine. He says he wants to stay. It's working for us.

But now most of the teachers are leaving. So, I don't know.

I’ll find out more soon about what’s happening at Emerson, and I’ll write about it.

In the meantime, what’s happening at your school? What’s the story nobody is telling? What’s missing that nobody is talking about?

Or better yet, what’s working? What is your school doing to help insulate itself, to reach all students, to stand up for families?