Black History Today: Aaron Reader

by Marcus Harden

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

“For while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn’t any other tale to tell, it’s the only light we’ve got in all this darkness.” -James Baldwin (Sonny’s Blues)

Oprah Winfrey always laments about her true passion and purpose not being a mega-celebrity or talk show host, but a teacher. We often romanticize teaching as solely happening inside of a classroom, and even more specifically we think of the K-12 environment.

Yet, what about those who teach through their gifts? What about those who guide at the levels above traditional public school? 

And what about those who do both?

Aaron Reader serves as an answer to those questions. There are a lot of adjectives to describe Aaron — leader, thoughtful, humble, charismatic, gifted, etc. Aaron currently serves proudly as the Vice President of Student Services at Highline Community College, that’s his title anyway. But what he actually does is serve as a living embodiment of what’s possible at the same college that helped transform his life.

Aaron (AR as I like to call him) was born and raised in Oakland, Calif., where he witnessed violence on several levels. During his senior year of high school his family moved to Seattle, where he’d complete high school and then choose to attend Highline Community College.

While at Highline, Aaron found his way, yet not without struggle. As a first-generation college student, he had to navigate the ups and downs of college seemingly on his own, seeking out wise counsel from mentors and close friends. Aaron stood out in track & field, yet he knew his gifts made him more than just an athlete.

Aaron, a thoughtful and gifted poet, spoken-word artist and singer (he was in some version of a boy band as a kid — somebody find the archives!), used his college experience to cultivate those gifts and express the trials and triumphs of young men just like him, trying to thrive in systems and places that often times didn’t have people like “him” in mind.

Aaron would go on to graduate and then gain his master’s degree. Yet his commitment to, as the saying goes, “be the person he needed when he was young” never waivered. Whether it was as the Director of Multicultural Services at Bellevue College where he modeled what true diversity looks like for young people, or as a Dean of Students at Renton Technical College where he supported students with giftings beyond the traditional “English 101,” or in his current role, Aaron never lost sight of who he was, and who people who were like him could become.

Aaron Reader (Photo courtesy of Aaron Reader)

I first met Aaron years ago in our respective formative years, he worked at Circuit City and tried to sell me a protection plan on a car stereo that probably cost more than the car I owned. As most friendships begin, we realized we shared a friend in common in Loyal Allen. Aaron ran track with him in college. Our conversation quickly turned to the fact that Aaron could have been a stunt double for Kobe Bryant (their demeanor, work ethic and geniuses having striking parallels).

Through the years, I along with many others have continued to be graced by his powerful words and his commitment to purpose. Whether its leading large institutions through change, or as an adoring husband and father of two young children (including a newborn son), or just using his life as a reflecting pool of purpose and possibility.

Langston Hughes once penned, “Perhaps the mission of an artist is to interpret beauty to people—the beauty within themselves.” If that truly is the mission, then Aaron Reader is an artist who through his service and words is a wonderful interpretation of all Langston wrote of and he is indeed, Black History Today!

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.