Recognizing and Maximizing Black Leadership

March 5, 2018

Editor's Note: We are honored to cross-post this piece, the second in a series of posts that the Seattle Foundation is running on their blog throughout February, Black History Month, to promote and lift up different perspectives from nonprofit leaders on the state of funding black-led organizations locally. Guest contributor Mozart Guerrier heads 21 Progress, a nonprofit that helps develop young leaders to build a more equitable society.

By supporting local black leaders, we can make strides in equity and justice.

I am not from the Seattle area, but I find that after each coffee meeting, people are quick to mention how few black people live in King County and how rare it is to find blackness in our region, let alone black leaders.

21 Progress in Seattle is committed to antiracist and equity practices as we work to encourage emerging young leaders to build a more just society. But 21 Progress is not unique. Across this region are folks dedicated to black brilliance and grace. We may be few, but we exist. For this Black History month, I would like to bear witness to the black leadership in our region. I want to share about three leaders who are working to end inequality and increase justice.

April Sims spends mornings listening to the stories of grocery workers and nurses who are working to make ends meet, then spends nights cheering her incredible daughter who had the courage to kneel during the national anthem at her volleyball game to demonstrate her belief that our system does not treat people equally. In November 2016, April was a leader in gathering 345,000 signatures for a ballot initiative to increase the statewide minimum wage, an effort that won with two million votes. Black women are most likely to experience the lowest wages in this country, and here was a black woman helping to increase the likelihood of others being able to pay rent or groceries this January.

Domonique Meeks is slow to speak and quick to smile. This host of No Blueprint, a podcast for millennials of color who are trying to navigate their young adult years, Meeks has spent time mentoring campus leaders at the Ethnic Center at the University of Washington, volunteering for HacktheCD and is a cultural ambassador who never hesitates to celebrate as he innovates alongside students. As a leader in STEM education and a key collaborator on the first book about the Technology Access Foundation, Domonique shares his infectious curiosity with the next generation, opening opportunity for them that can lead to justice.

As an eight-year-old girl, Tonita Webb rode in her grandfather’s truck to sell fruits and vegetables to their black community in Virginia. She’d count the produce and money, and watch in wonder when her grandfather gave a little extra to families who were hungry or falling on hard times. Those lessons serve her well today as the Chief Operating Officer/Executive Vice President of the Seattle Credit Union (SCU), an organization dedicated to helping address the affordable housing crisis and which partners with the city on workshops serving thousands of immigrant families under constant threat. When Tonita speaks, she often says that prosperity is not possible without equity.

While April, Domonique and Tonita are three examples, it was difficult to not write a list of 50 more leaders and organizations, from WA-BLOC to the Children’s Alliance, who are dedicated, transformative and thoughtful. From the moral leadership of Rev. Kelle Brown at Plymouth Church to the courage of the Seattle Seahawks, there is no scarcity of black leaders in this region. There is a scarcity of support.

People of color and especially black people must consistently deal with whether our change efforts will be supported and how long we might be considered members of the vanguard.

Nakeia Chambers, an educator who has mentored hundreds of exceptional black medical students and scientists, recently shared a powerful quote:

“Opportunity without support isn’t success.”

This Black History Month let us consider that the solutions to address the inequality that results in black households in Seattle making a median income of $36,000 compared with $90,000 for white households, will not be a new idea. It will be a willingness to support grassroots and large organizations through mistakes and slow starts, because nothing worth achieving has ever been quick or easy, especially justice.

We must reject that there is an absence of black leaders and examine our ability to recognize when we are in the presence of folks committed to change. Black History Month in King County invites an essential question: “How can we maximize our ability to identify, recognize and support courageous and creative black-led mentorship and leadership dedicated to equity?”

To start, the answer will come from recognizing the power of the stories of black leaders, paying living wages in our community and supporting the efforts of black senior executive women committed to justice.