by Amanda Ong
As we come upon the close of International Women’s Month, we at the Emerald feel indebted to recognize three women who have been integral to the growth of our values and success. In the last eight years, the Emerald has come so far, and we know we could never have done it without so many of the amazing women on our team. But Cynthia “Mama” Green, Bridgette Hempstead, and Devin Chicras in particular deserve special recognition for their contributions. Green, Hempstead, and Chicras have been with us from day one, and we appreciate them beyond words.
Each of these women are powerhouses in their own right, doing work for both the Emerald and for community issues more widely in South Seattle. Hempstead has been involved since the beginning of the Emerald, back when our founder Marcus Green was still gathering resources and supporters through his own community to create our newspaper. Hempstead is a family friend of the Green family and has known Marcus since childhood.
“I watched Marcus grow up,” Hempstead said in an interview with the Emerald. “He always talked about what he wanted to do for the community, and look at this — look at what has happened now!”
Hempstead is the founder of Cierra Sisters, a breast cancer support and educational organization for Black women. As founder of a health-focused nonprofit, Hempstead does research, has been published in medical journals, and has created evidence-based educational tools for the community. She is driven by an understanding that despite high instances of breast cancer, the Black community still experiences low services and resources. To her, real, evidence-based knowledge is the best way to educate and support the Black community, especially as they have been mistreated by the health care system.
The organization’s name, Cierra, is from a word originating on the African continent that means “knowing.” To Hempstead, it signifies that if you have the knowledge, you have the power to fight against cancer. The Emerald holds a similar power in her eyes. As a South Seattle mother, Hempstead has raised three incredible daughters in Skyway and has seen them grow into women with booming careers who still give back to their communities. And yet, many of the stories she saw coming out about South Seattle in local media were negative. But the stories of the Emerald give people the power to know their communities better, to hear their own voices, and to fight against false narratives.
“Stories like these are empowering the community to really uplift their esteem and be proud of their community,” Hempstead said. “The Emerald has given a powerful voice to those who did not have a voice … because the community can bring their voice to the Emerald and have it heard. It won’t be ignored, and that makes a big difference.”
Chicras came to the Emerald as a volunteer, and has served on the Emerald’s board of directors since its founding in 2014. She was initially elected as vice president and has served as president from 2016 onward. Beyond her work with the Emerald, she is also on the communications team for the City of Burien and is a longtime community advocate and event organizer in the Skyway neighborhood.
A shared love of the South End and serving the community set Chicras and Emerald founder Marcus Harrison Green on a course to inevitably meet in 2013, at a volunteer event serving Thanksgiving dinner. The event, organized by the parents of a 12-year-old boy who lost his life to gun violence in Skyway, was intended to carry forward his spirit of community service and strengthen connections between neighbors.
Since then, Chicras has become an indispensable member of the Emerald team, through every trial and tribulation. She was there for late nights gathered in the meeting room at the Hillman City Collaboratory, trying to figure out how a volunteer working board could fill every role outside of the newsroom from accountant to HR manager, from development director to IT department, from executive director to events coordinator. She was there to make it work, and she has been here ever since.
“The milestones that stick out to me the most are often the quieter and less flashy ones,” Chicras said in an interview with the Emerald. “Like the times where we’ve been forced to stand at a crossroads between giving up and doubling down and chose to recommit ourselves to sprinting up rocky terrain to reach near-impossible goals — or the second the ink dried on our mission statement and list of values, giving further shared purpose and renewed dedication to our cause.”
Chicras feels that the Emerald owes its successes and thanks first to our community. “The Emerald is special because it doesn’t give up on our community, and they don’t give up on us,” Chicras said. She hopes the community keeps reading and joins the Emerald’s Rainmaker family.
Cynthia “Mama” Green is the mother of our founder Marcus, and without her, the Emerald might have just been an idea instead of a reality. When Marcus decided to found the Emerald, he moved back into her basement. She would help him transcribe his tape recordings of interviews, staying up with him until one or two in the morning so he could write.
But for Green, who is a retired social worker based in Skyway, Marcus’ vision spoke to her. She felt frustrated with reporting on their neighborhood and community, seeing pieces that were often negative rather than showcasing the community’s strengths. Green was raised in the Central District and has herself been recognized for her dedication to community work. The Renton Area Youth Services Family Center, where Green worked, was renamed the Cynthia A. Green Family Center in her honor in 2014. In that same year, King County Councilmember Larry Gossett proclaimed Sept. 6 to be Cynthia A. Green Day across the county.
Green recalls realizing the power of the Emerald after Michael Flowers, a Black man, was shot and killed in Renton, and a news article about it made it sound as if it was okay for him to be killed because he had been previously incarcerated. She and Marcus attended his memorial services and heard the story of a kind young man who was gracious to all his community members.
“There was another side of this man, but did [the media] care?” Green said in an interview with the Emerald. “And so I told Marcus as we left those services, ‘This is another reason I’m so glad that you did decide to start [the Emerald] because this gives us an opportunity to paint the other side of the coin, to show the other side of this man.’”
Since its early days, Green has pushed the Emerald to tell stories bravely and truthfully and has seen a community grow from that. “It makes me feel proud to know that people trust us,” Green said. “The readers, the people who have dedicated their time to the Emerald and who have supported Marcus … My heart just really swells up because I’m so grateful because we couldn’t have come this far. We have to always remember that we couldn’t have come this far without dedicated people.”
Hempstead, Chicras, and Green don’t just exemplify the values of the Emerald — they have lived them and shaped them since day one at the Emerald and even long before that. We couldn’t be more grateful to and for these women and what they have done for us and the South Seattle community.
Editors’ Note: This article was updated on 04/09/2022 to clarify that Devin Chicras’ is on the communications team for the City of Burien rather than a director as previously stated. The Emerald apologizes for the error.
Amanda Ong (she/her) is a Chinese American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate at the University of Washington Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in creative writing and ethnicity and race studies.
📸 Featured Image: From left to right: Bridgette Hempstead, Cynthia “Mama” Green, and Devin Chicras. Photos courtesy of subjects, art and editing by Marti McKenna.
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!