Side-by-side headshots depicting Angelica Chazaro (left) and Dr. Megan Ming Francis (right).

OPINION: The 2 Seattle Freedom Scholars You Need to Know

by Carmen Rojas, Ph.D.

“There is nothing inevitable about the current ways in which wealth, power, and life chances are distributed. We could just as easily imagine a new way of doing things that gives more people a chance to survive and thrive.”

This powerful quote from University of Washington assistant law professor Angélica Cházaro serves as a reminder that building a just economy and a multiracial democracy is not a wild ambition. As the president and CEO of the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation (MCF), one of the most rewarding parts of my job is supporting women like Cházaro. She is a 2021 Freedom Scholar and a person who has left an indelible mark in her field by working at the intersection of community organizing and legal scholarship.

Each year, the Freedom Scholars awards — done in partnership with Group Health Foundation — provide a one-time $250,000 award to scholars from universities across the U.S. These funds give them room to do research, write books, and identify the solutions that will move society forward, toward a future predicated on freedom. 

As a celebration at the end of this Women’s History Month, I would like to introduce you to two Freedom Scholars local to Seattle with deep connections to the South End: assistant professor of law Angélica Cházaro and Dr. Megan Ming Francis. Let’s take time today to honor them by learning about how they are cultivating and nurturing movements for justice.

Angélica Cházaro, J.D., 2021 Freedom Scholars Cohort 

The Northwest Detention Center (NWDC) has been called “Tacoma’s dirty secret” — one of the largest immigration detention centers in the country, with a documented history of human rights abuses. People can be imprisoned there for months or even years while awaiting the resolution of their deportation cases. Some have been deprived of appropriate medical care; others have been served infested food or kept in solitary confinement for months.

When immigrant detainees staged a 56-day hunger strike to protest their confinement, Angélica Cházaro served as a chief negotiator on their behalf. She also co-founded La Resistencia — a grassroots organization working to end the detention of immigrants. During the Trump era, Cházaro fleshed out what it meant to “Abolish ICE,” authoring a policy platform for the national Latinx organization Mijente, as well as developing a scholarly framework for abolishing deportation altogether. 

Cházaro and a broad coalition of activists and community members kept at it for years with protests, teach-ins, and hunger strikes. Last year, they celebrated a major victory with the passage of HB 1090, a bill that prohibits private, for-profit detention facilities like NWDC from operating in Washington State and will lead to the closure of the facility.

Today, Cházaro is also organizing with Decriminalize Seattle and Seattle Solidarity Budget — cross-movement coalitions transforming the City’s approach to public safety. On the heels of the 2020 uprisings in defense of Black lives, these coalitions helped make Seattle the only city in the country to divest from policing and invest in BIPOC communities two years in a row. Both in her practice and teaching, Cházaro is trying to interrupt what we’ve learned about societal practices and bring forth new possibilities to respond to crisis and harm. 

Watch Angélica Cházaro’s 2021 Freedom Scholars presentation to learn more.

Dr. Megan Ming Francis, 2020 Freedom Scholars Cohort 

Megan Ming Francis saw systemic racism firsthand while growing up in Seattle’s Central District in the 1990s, and she has been observing and fighting it ever since. In a personal account she shared in her popular TEDx Talk, her brother was profiled and slammed to the ground by Philadelphia police officers on the false assumption that he was carrying drugs. 

In her work, Francis challenges American assumptions around the root causes of state-sanctioned violence against Black people and advocates for solutions. Francis has studied the Black Lives Matter movement and its historical antecedents, drawing a throughline between the movement and the work of activists from the past, such as Ida B. Wells and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Her public University of Washington lecture, “Protests for the Soul of a Nation: COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, and Election 2020,” unpacked how the pivotal year revealed inequities and allowed people to come together in solidarity against institutional racism.

She challenges the pervasive idea that racial violence is isolated to “stubborn racists,” and suggests another way to understand the issue: “To combat racial injustices, we must expand our vision and responsibility to what civil rights actually means.” She amplifies a message from the Black Lives Matter movement: “We must pay closer attention to the way that Black people are treated. The story of police brutality and killings of unarmed Blacks is not a story about Black people, it is a story about all of us.” 

Francis’ ideas are the kind that encourage us all to imagine how we can radically improve our democracy, economy, and society. Every day, she brings these challenges to her lectures and research as an associate professor of political science at the University of Washington. Francis demonstrates the importance of citizen agency and activism in shaping society in her award-winning book, Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State. She is currently working on a second book that examines how criminal punishment systems contributed to the rebuilding of political and economic power in the South.

Watch Dr. Megan Ming Francis’ TEDx Talk to learn more.

Supporting Freedom Scholars Is Critical for a Free Future for All of Us

The activism, scholarship, and research of Megan Ming Francis and Angélica Cházaro is a vital part of our work at the Marguerite Casey Foundation to shift the balance of power in society to those people who have long been excluded from having it. They represent beacons of light, helping us make sense of the mistakes we’ve made in our past and shining a light on the ways we can move forward toward collective freedom.

When Freedom Scholars have the freedom to lead their fields and research ideas about what is possible in our society, we all get a blueprint to a future where racial and economic justice are not just words, but are realized for all of us.

The South Seattle Emerald is committed to holding space for a variety of viewpoints within our community, with the understanding that differing perspectives do not negate mutual respect amongst community members.

The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the contributors on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of the Emerald or official policies of the Emerald.

Carmen Rojas, Ph.D., is the youngest and only Latina president of a nationally endowed U.S. foundation — the Seattle-based Marguerite Casey Foundation — and a nationally recognized leader in economic and racial justice. Watch Dr. Rojas’ presentation on Converge Media’s Morning Update Show to learn more.

📸 Featured Image: Left — Angélica Cházaro, J.D.; right — Dr. Megan Ming Francis. Photos courtesy of Cházaro and Francis respectively.

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