Black History Today: Dawn Mason

by Marcus Harden

(Black History Today is published in collaboration with Rise Up for Students)

Introduction to Black History Today 2021:

I loathe funerals. I suppose most people do. Yet, I despise them for different reasons than most would imagine. I hate funerals because I always wonder how glorious and useful the words, sentiments, and expressions of love and gratitude would be to the departed (and those giving them) if they were around to hear and feel them.

As children, many of us experienced Black History Month as a repetitive loop that for years rolled out the same names, the same stories and the same assembly. While appreciated, I always wondered why the history-makers I saw in the communities currently living and breathing the espoused values of the familiar names — the Kings and X’s, Tubmans and Carvers, Alis and Winfreys — weren’t featured or talked about.

Thus began the Black History Today series to honor the everyday heroes in our communities, in people’s lives, who live selflessly serving others without the fanfare they deserve. Of course, while writing, a funny thing happened. I thought this was just a platform for me to show gratitude to those who have filled my life with wisdom, joy and love. But then others joined in, and as I honored them, their spirits filled and honored me.

This year the spirit is the same. I am privileged and honored to be able to share 28 (maybe 29, maybe 30, who knows?) beautiful human beings who embody goodness, service, joy and love. Most of them don’t know yet that they’re being featured, as it’s a gift of gratitude from my head and heartspace. This list is never easy, and honestly, that’s what makes it so awesome to write, because there are so many everyday history-makers in all of our circles of influence. I am proud to share my list again this year through Rise Up for Students, and excited to reach new audiences through our collaboration with the South Seattle Emerald.

Please join me in celebrating these wonderful people by commenting, sharing your stories of them and sharing in the love of those who are indeed Black History Today!

Dawn Mason

“It’s not about supplication; it’s about power. It’s not about asking, it’s about demanding. It’s not about convincing those who are currently in power, it’s about changing the very face of power itself.”– Kimberle Williams Crenshaw

According to researcher Richard Millington there are five types of communities:

Interest – communities of people who share the same interest or passion.

Action – communities of people trying to bring about change.

Place communities of people brought together by geographic boundaries

Practice communities of people in the same profession or who undertake the same activities.

Circumstance communities of people brought together by external events/situations.

If those five types were embodied into a living vessel, they’d be inside of Dawn Mason. Her titles often precede her, although they pale in comparison to her dynamic impact. Whether you know her as Dawn, Former State Representative Mason, or Adjunct Professor Mason, once you’re in her presence you know your mind is challenged and your spirit filled.

Dawn served two two-year terms in the Washington State Legislature from 1995-99, serving during that time aas Assistant Minority Whip and Ranking Chair of the Higher Education Committee. The Washington Student Lobby presented her with the Legislator of the Year Award in 1996 for her effective leadership in maintaining access to higher education for all students. In 1998 she was appointed by President Bill Clinton to the Women’s Economic Roundtable.

For many that would be enough, but Dawn’s service and contributions are endless, whether that is modeling communal leadership in her role with First Place School in Seattle, where she guided a private school unapologetically serving African American Families as it became the first authorized public charter school in the State of Washington and later, with the will of the community, returned to a private model, or serving as wise counsel in community with the Africatown Landtrust in the Central District of Seattle to acquire and preserve the Black Diaspora Community.

Dawn Mason (Photo: Susan Fried)

Yet two titles embody her above all others: Elder of Distinction and Mother/Grandmother. The crown of Elder is one that Dawn wears proudly, not because it was given by birthright, but because it was earned through her commitment to community, her respect for those before her, and her love for those who’ve come after her. In the Black/African American community, to be considered an Elder is one of the pinnacles. It doesn’t always mean you are agreed with, and it doesn’t always mean that you go unchallenged, but it does mean there’s a baseline of dignity, honor and respect. Those are the things that at all times Dawn Mason brings.

Despite her many accomplishments, Dawn shines the brightest bearing the title of “Mother/Grandmother” — a mother who raised seven wonderful children, and an irreplaceable maternal figure to so many more. The pride in her family and her children, along with her revered and praised late husband Deacon Joe Mason, define how she cares and loves the community because it’s just a reflection of her home. 

If the mythical Dora Milaje of Black Panther fame had a real origin, it would live inside of women like Dawn Mason. She is courageous, she is fierce, she is regal, she is loving and beyond a shadow of a doubt she is Black History, today!

For more local Black history check out our friends at Rainier Avenue Radio as they’ll be producing special broadcast throughout February to celebrate, affirm, and uplift Black History Month.

Marcus Harden is the creator of Black History Today, an annual series honoring Black History Month that pays tribute to the living legacy of Black history in our community and beyond.

He is a seasoned educator, with experience as a teacher, counselor, dean, administrator, program and policy manager. 

Marcus focuses his work on creating better culture and climate for students, families and staff. He believes deeply in restorative justice practices and in mindset and resiliency work that leads to excellent and equitable educational outcomes for all students.

Featured image created by Devin Chicras for the Emerald.

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