Black History Today: Kisa Hendrickson, a Voice for Those Who Would Be Kept Voiceless

by Marcus Harden

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

“Listen, if you choose to believe nothing else that transpires here, believe this: your body does not have a soul; your soul has a body, and souls never, ever die.”

—Bernice L. McFadden

What does it truly mean to be the voice of those kept voiceless? To have to show up in spaces dominated by out-of-touch policy and dogma, good intentions but oftentimes horrible outcomes? What does it take to be the person who can’t grow tired, who can’t grow weary because if at any point you choose silence, then you choose to dishonor those who put trust in you — even if they don’t know it’s you who are their champion.

Kisa Hendrickson is that champion, she is that voice of the voiceless (known and unknown) for so many in Highline Public Schools in Washington State. Kisa has a title, and it’s pretty fancy — Chief Engagement & Partnership Officer for Highline Public Schools. But no title, no matter how fancy, could fully encompass the impact she brings and the weight she carries on her shoulders.

Kisa’s role is first and foremost as an advocate for the communities she serves. Her leadership and her department serve as the “customer service” wing of Highline Public Schools, where parents, students, community partners, and educators alike come to be seen, heard and, under Kisa’s stewardship, valued.

Kisa is a proud graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle, and maybe an even prouder University of Washington Husky. Her family roots run deep in Seattle’s historic Central District, where her mother instilled a love for learning and history into her and her talented siblings, who all have grown to put their fingerprints on the arts, business, and social services.

As a leader, Kisa is the quintessential “duties-as-assigned” leader. Does your student need an advocate to mediate a meeting to best serve their needs? She’s on it. Does the school district need support and strategy to ensure a pandemic roll-out is not only equitable, but intentionally focused on those historically furthest from educational justice? She’s on it. Does the district need strategy and stewardship to set up potential clinics for vaccines for Highline Public Schools staff? She’s there as well.

Like any leader, she does it by first sharing widely and celebrating her team (no one does this work alone), and by using the influence of her voice to speak truth into power. She does it all as a Black Woman on the cabinet level of a large metropolitan school district, maintaining her voice but never losing her soul.

She accomplishes all of this and still manages to get in her home workout, celebrate and spend time with her equally hard-working husband, Justin, and their two beautiful and brilliant daughters. I’ve had the privilege of knowing and calling Kisa a friend and sister for nearly 20 years, in our nascent years working for King County Superior Court. While there, her role was advocating for families (there’s a pattern) who were seeking to adopt children. Her heart was always in the work for those who maybe hadn’t found their own way yet.

Kisa’s constant fight to do what’s right, no matter the popularity or the comfort of it, has always inspired me. Her leadership is the invisible hand and the powerful voice that so many would never know or see — and that would be exactly the way she wants it. Yet just for a day, it’s time for her voice to be known and that invisible hand to be seen. Kisa Hendrickson is a tireless voice, an unheralded champion, and because of this she embodies what it means to be 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.

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