by Sean Goode
Several years ago, I sat in my South Seattle office frustrated at what I believed, at the time, was a misguided mission to stop the building of the new youth jail. It wasn’t that I thought our kids needed to be incarcerated. Rather, because the new facility was already being built, I believed that energy spent to protest the build should be used to combat the many other inequities perpetrated upon the Black community in Martin Luther King Jr. County.
Yet day in and day out, I watched Nikkita Oliver and many others continue to mobilize around the construction site. Daily, they shouted, marched, and engaged the broader community in a call to action to stop building the jail and instead use the more than 200 million taxpayer dollars that were to be spent on the construction to fund community programs.
Those in power chose not to listen and in February 2020, King County officials celebrated the opening of the new youth jail.
But four months later, in July, the very same elected officials unveiled a plan to shut down the newly opened facility.
I began to wonder then: What is it that kept me, kept us, from hearing what was possible? What was it that motivated our elected officials to continue down the path of building a new youth jail? Why, even in consideration of all the information that would justify a reinvestment of those dollars, did we still commit to resourcing this building?
Could it be that in this bastion of progressiveness, our implicit bias and lack of imagination, kept us from hearing and responding to Oliver’s call to action? I’ll admit and own that my lens was clouded by not only my limited vision of what was possible but also a quiet conviction that I knew best. Somehow, I had contrived in my mind that this brilliant community servant, chaplain, teacher, scholar, poet, activist, advocate, and lawyer was the misguided one.
This was a mistake, as evidenced by the fact that the very same building which Oliver protested the build of in 2020 is now slated to close in 2025. I hope the voters in Seattle don’t make the same mistake as they vote in the race for the citywide Position 9 City Council representative, which Oliver is running for.
I’ve come to realize that Oliver not only understands the conditions that exist today but is courageous enough to dream out loud about a Seattle that is inclusive of all for our tomorrow.
The editorial board of Seattle’s largest publication recently shared candidly their critique of Oliver’s candidacy by making a mockery out of their compassionate approach to serving those who are unhoused. They dismissed the notion that public safety is possible without increased funding in policing, and more than suggested that Oliver is unfit for public office.
The editorial board failed to mention Oliver’s broad support from the labor unions, their commitment to environmental justice, and their history of working with the very systems they desire to abolish in an effort to achieve greater outcomes for the young people in our community. And this editorial board certainly didn’t mention the significance of having someone on the City Council who brings a lived experience that closely aligns with those of us who have been most distant from positions of power.
Seattle residents have an opportunity in this election to take a large step in the direction of equity for all. I do believe in many ways Seattle is suffering and there are significant challenges ahead for those who choose to serve in office.
Do we need small businesses to thrive? Absolutely! We also need those who own or work for those businesses to earn a living wage so that they can afford to live in the city they serve.
Do we need to find housing for our unhoused neighbors? Of course! We need to do so while elevating their humanity and recognizing there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the diversity of needs that are present for these members of our community.
Do people need to feel safe as they live and travel through the city of Seattle? Yes! Safety doesn’t come from the increased presence of police but by increasing access to living wage jobs, quality health care, quality education, childcare, groceries, and stable housing.
We do not live in a time of simple solutions and to create beyond the complexity of what we are facing is going to take the type of vision that Oliver carries forward as they lead.
I implore you, the reader, to courageously listen and begin to see beyond the problems and embrace the possibilities that Nikkita Oliver creates for our community. I made the mistake in doubting their vision in the past and for the sake of our city it is one I will never make again.
Sean Goode is a husband, father, and community servant who stewards the non-profit organization CHOOSE 180 as their executive director. Considered a national expert on justice reform, he is frequently sharing the work of CHOOSE 180 and the transformative power of grace as an alternative to the criminal legal system.
📸 Featured Image: Nikkita Oliver (Photo by Alex Garland)
Before you move on to the next story … Please consider that the article you just read was made possible by the generous financial support of donors and sponsors. The Emerald is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet with the mission of offering a wider lens of our region’s most diverse, least affluent, and woefully under-reported communities. Please consider making a one-time gift or, better yet, joining our Rainmaker Family by becoming a monthly donor. Your support will help provide fair pay for our journalists and enable them to continue writing the important stories that offer relevant news, information, and analysis. Support the Emerald!