My Emerald Story: A True Jewel

In celebration of the South Seattle Emerald’s 8th Anniversary, we asked community members to share moments in our publication’s history that remain special to them.

by Benjamin Hunter

Without the Emerald, the true narrative of our community would rarely be told. For too long, and for too often, most media has painted our community in a negative light. When I say community, I include everyone who our mainstream media often ignores, diminishes, and casts aside. The Emerald has been here to remind our community of its worth, and that like all emeralds, karat for karat, the people of our community are worth more than gold. Join me in supporting the Emerald as a recurring donor during their 8th anniversary campaign, Ripples & Sparks at Home, April 20–28. Become a Rainmaker today by choosing the “recurring donor” option!

—Phillip “Papa” Green, The Publisher’s Dad (and Longtime Community Curmudgeon)

I can’t think about the South Seattle Emerald without thinking back to the old days when it started. It was 2013 or 2014 (ha, “the old days”), and I had just started the Hillman City Collaboratory — a co-working space, event space, and social change incubator — with my friend and co-conspirator John Helmiere. 

Now, I recognize that I’m a transplant to this city and that people had been organizing long before I got here. But for me, there was this palpable energy in the South End at this time. Rainier Valley Corps was being formed. Families of Color Seattle was getting started. Even in City government, Randy Engstrom was leading an incredible team of people in the Office of Arts & Culture that was changing the ways we did our cultural and creative work. People with incredible ideas, ambition, and collective vision for the Rainier Valley were sharing, networking, collaborating, and dreaming up a better world. They challenged every stereotype of the Seattle freeze. They wanted to say hi to others walking down the street! That alone makes all the difference. 

It was in these inspiring days that I first met Marcus — and his mother, Mama Green! The Collaboratory was a work in progress, up until we had to close our doors during the pandemic. And in those early days, it was always a partial construction zone. Marcus and Mama Green would come in once a week to mop the floors as work trade for use of the space as they started the Emerald. One of the nights, my mom was pulling a late night with me to install crown molding in the co-working space. A few feet away were Marcus and Mama Green, and it made me think of how both our mamas helped out in the werewolf hours of the night so we could achieve our dreams. Whether they remember that evening or not, the symmetry of our experience solidified what continues to be a very profound friendship for me. 

This memory is also in line with what the Emerald represents to me: legacy, friendship, camaraderie, resilience, passion. 

Achieving eight years of organizational growth is not an easy feat. It’s even harder when your organizational structure is an outlier to the normative structures that dominate a field. It’s those aforementioned qualities that have made the Emerald the publication that it is. The Emerald is built on the foundation of real stories, meaningful relationships, and a process that isn’t extractive, salacious, or backstabbing. 

In a time when everyone has something to say, it brings me calm to know that there is a news source that is taking the time to listen. In a time when everyone wants instant gratification, I appreciate pausing to reflect on the fact that this paper started piece by piece and through work-trade. 

The South Seattle Emerald is a true jewel of intricate beauty and incredible strength — the result of great patience, care, and dogged enterprise.


Help us celebrate our 8th anniversary with our ‘Ripples & Sparks at Home virtual event on April 28 at 7 p.m. with Ijeoma Oluo, Charles Johnson, Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, and our own Marcus Harrison Green — with the music of Shaina Shepherd and Intisaar, plus Emerald board member Lucas Draper will make a custom cocktail/mocktail with you to enjoy in the comfort of your own home. RSVP here!

Benjamin Hunter is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, composer, community activist, social entrepreneur, and educator. Benjamin’s work explores the intersections of music and art, community, policy, and culture. He currently lives in Beacon Hill.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration by Haley Williams for the South Seattle Emerald.

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