Black History Today: Baionne Coleman

by Marcus Harden

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

“My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.”

― Audre Lorde, “The Cancer Journals

The courage you see in others is inspiring. Their will, their fortitude doesn’t just move you, it transforms you to become better than even you believed yourself to be. When your voice is stolen and worse yet, when you give it away, the person who uses theirs while gently placing their arm around you, becoming a human amplifier to help your voice resonate, demonstrates the highest level of courage.

Baionne Coleman is that amplification and courage personified. I’m not sure whether courage is by nature or something nurtured — for women like Baionne it might be both. Born and raised in the Central District of Seattle, Baionne has exhibited courage since her formative years. Whether that was through being one of the only “girls” to play football at Garfield High School or being the tough-minded sibling who provides nurturing and guidance, the caring daughter who makes sure her dad is outfitted in one of his favorite brimmed hats, or the daughter who turns the untimely passing of her mother into the ember that lights her flame for pursuing higher education and beyond, Baionne’s courage is never just about her but about service to others.

Baionne’s courage has shown up in the most powerful ways when it comes to family. She is an affirming and proud mother of four beautifully brilliant, wonderfully unique children who she nourishes with courage every day. She is loved and supported by her equally courageous husband. 

She displays a similar measure of courage, though, when it comes to the families she is connected to — specifically through her work as an educator and school founder. While the destination was always going to be Baionne serving as the leader of a school, the road took twists and turns, and it required overcoming systems of oppression embodied in archaic paradigms and executed under a veil of “support.”

Bionne Coleman and family (Photo courtesy of Bionne Coleman)

Through her penmanship and powerful personal testimony, Baionne’s courage to speak truth to power around systemic racism, oppressive workspaces in educational structures, and the sometimes dismissive tactics of those thought of as “allies” has sparked change seen and unseen. Like most courageous people, she didn’t do it because there was no risk — to her name, to her family, or to her reputation — she felt the fear and did it anyway.

Whether it was leading through those moments to transcend them and then walk alongside a new community or the transformation and fulfilment of a promise broken by others before her to co-create in an intentional and authentic way what is now Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, Washington State’s only operating public charter school with a CEO of the Global Majority, Baionne’s courage sent soundwaves through all of those bold enough to hear.

Baionne’s courage pours into her school community. Whether it be having young people as the experts they are lead weekly “Panther Talks” with national celebrities like Spice Adams or state representatives like Sharon Tamiko Santos or having her students speak on issues around not just social equity, but educational equity — such as making room for more Black, Brown and Indenginous leaders of color and equitable funding for state charter schools — others grow because of the courage she lends.

Maya Angelou once stated, “Courage is the most important of any of the virtues, because without it you can do nothing else.” Baionne’s courage and virtue are transformative, empowering and emboldening others. She is a leader, she is a trailblazer, and she is Black History Today!

To learn more or contribute to Rainier Valley Leadership Academy visit their website

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, and 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 illustration by Devin Chicras for the Emerald.

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