For Seattle Organzier, Listening Spurs Change

by Anika Tse

Seattle native Tali Hairston’s life has been dedicated to listening to marginalized community members. Two Saturday’s ago he helped an audience at Whatcom Community College understand how to do the same in his talk entitled “Just Listening: Hearing the Voices of the Marginalized.”

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Tali Hairston at his office. Photo Credit: Man Fei Tse

In his speech at the college’s 18th Annual MLK Human Rights Conference, Hairston said listening is a way to honor others because it is a sign of trust. We would see less emotional and mental distress if there were more listeners in the nation.

“Why did we become a nation of screamers, of talkers and not a nation of listeners?” Hairston said, asking the attendees to listen to marginalized groups in an effort to understand their stories and the social injustice in our communities.

Hairston works to help youth to explore their abilities and address issues of poverty, racism and cultural disparity within their communities and their lives. As director of the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Community Development, and Leadership Training at Seattle Pacific University, his duties include overseeing staff, communicating with youth, developing events and holding fundraising events, which further promote youth leadership in urban areas.

“He cares about not only the people around him but his community,” said Paul Kim, a friend of Hairston, who is also the interim coordinator for Global and Urban Involvement at Seattle Pacific University (SPU). “I think that’s what he is working towards: helping community to develop, working on justice and working on social disparity.”

Hairston’s Philosophy and Work: Learning from the marginalized community

Hairston believes that education is a transformative tool for combating systemic social problems, such as racism, poverty, stereotype and injustice.

At SPU and in different leadership programs, Hairston manages events for students to experience different social problems, such as poverty. His educational strategies involve having youth read about social issues, but also to see them for themselves.

“Poverty is something you can’t read in a book,” said Hairston. He believes youths need to be involved in the poor’s lives to understand their living conditions.

Hairston’s goal is to help youth find their passions, develop their own identities and become leaders in their communities. There is excitement on his face when he talks about the achievements of youth.

Hairston’s Lessons from His Mentor

Hairston credits much of his success to his mentor, John Perkins, president of the John and Vera Mae Perkins Foundation of Jackson, Mississippi, whom the center at SPU is named after. Perkins taught Hairston how to listen to those living in poverty. He believes that people living in poverty usually know what it will take to help improve their lives, however, they are rarely asked what they need.

“Poverty is more than just a lack of resources. Poverty is a lack of relationships,” Hairston said.

Hairston works hard to include the poor into the community by listening to their stories and issue, and by putting their issues at the center of social-justice events.

“He is definitely a relational person. He likes to connect,” said Caenisha Warren, a friend of Hairston, who also works in Student Ministries at the John Perkins Center. “His capacity to learn, capacity to relate, not just to people, but relate ideas; I think it’s powerful.”

 Featured Image courtesy of Seattle Pacific University Seminary.

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