by Gerald Hankerson
I don’t take the decision to weigh in on an election lightly. Yet when I see our community become divided, confused, and misled, I feel an obligation to speak up.
It’s important for people to know that the views I’m expressing are my own. I am not speaking on behalf of the NAACP or any of the other organizations that I work with. Instead, I am speaking as a member of our community—someone who has firsthand experience with the various challenges our city faces and has a strong understanding of the type of candidate we need in order to move our city toward justice.
One of the things that has come up repeatedly in the District 3 City Council race between Pamela Banks and Kshama Sawant is the program Career Bridge.
Career Bridge began as a community-led, collective effort by deeply committed members of our community. It has made a real difference—connecting formerly incarcerated men with career path options—changing the lives of many that were looking to find a new start.
I can still remember our first meeting. It was held in Janet Preston’s home a couple of years ago and there were 20 to 30 people there. Myself, Janet Preston, Dustin Washington, Mary Flowers, John Page, Danette Smith and others came together with a commitment to support our loved ones in finding hope amidst the devastating and destructive impact of our criminal justice system.
I still remember the first five people that I helped sponsor through that program, and the impact it had on their lives.
Over the years, and since the Urban League began to finance the program with city dollars, it has shifted into something else. It’s now more a machine that shuttles people through the doors, with an emphasis on using the program to raise more money, not helping change people’s lives. The emphasis has shifted to numbers, with little regard for what happens to people after they’re done with the program. And the jobs aren’t there on the other end like they used to be. It’s turning into a false promise that’s being run for profit instead of people.
It’s frustrating to hear people call Career Bridge an Urban League Program. It’s a program that belongs to the community—to the brothers and sisters that go through the program, and the original group of people that had a vision for how we can create a better future for our community.
When I think about the issues that matter most to our community: jobs, healthcare, affordable housing police reform, juvenile justice, and the minimum wage, among others, there’s only one clear choice for me. Kshama Sawant has been an incredibly vocal and strong advocate for the range of issues important to our community, and she hasn’t used people as stepping stones to get more power.
She’s shown us that she’s a dedicated leader that will fight for the needs of our community and our city—without backing down to corporate interests. In fact, Kshama was the only elected official to vote against the New Youth Jail and the consequence over incarceration of our children.
Recently, Pamela Banks made a statement in an interview with Erica Barnett about Kshama Sawant: “I don’t know that she understands the history of slavery, the Jim Crow laws, and the impacts that has had on our community. If you’re not from here and you don’t understand the history of this country…”
This statement really crossed the line for me—purposefully and maliciously driving a wedge between the immigrant community and the black community. The only way we’re going to move forward together as a city is if we bring everyone along with us. While African Americans have a distinct and horrific history of racial persecution in our country, that doesn’t mean that people who aren’t originally from here don’t understand our oppression. Many African immigrants in our community face the same brutality at the hands of our police as our black brothers and sisters.
This is an important race for our city, but also for our future. Let’s make sure that we’re choosing the candidate that’s willing to sit down with us and determine what kind of a city we want to live in together. Let’s make sure we support the candidate with the proven progressive track record, that doesn’t take campaign funds from the Seattle Police Guild and gentrifying corporate forces.
We don’t need someone who claims to know all the answers. We need someone who’s willing to truly listen and create room for us in the discussion—one that we’ve been purposefully left out of for generations.
It’s time to find the elected official that will take our concerns and champion them on our behalf. And we have that in Kshama Sawant. She’s shown it time and time again—through action, not talk. I urge you to re-elect Kshama Sawant.
Gerald Hankerson is the president of the Seattle/King County NAACP and the former Executive Director of the Main Street Alliance
Photo: Creative Commons Wiki