by Emerald Staff
After a five-month search, the South Seattle Emerald has named Michael McPhearson as its new executive director, succeeding Emerald founder and publisher Marcus Harrison Green, who had been serving in the role on an interim basis since February. Though Green is handing over day-to-day operations after eight years, he will remain the Emerald’s publisher as a member of its board of directors.
McPhearson has been a Beacon Hill resident since 2019, originally hailing from North Carolina. The Emerald’s board of directors felt he had the rare combination of skills and leadership qualities to lead the Emerald toward long-term sustainability at a time when many small media outlets, particularly those focused on Communities of Color, are in decline.
As Emerald founder and publisher, Marcus Harrison Green put it, “When stories, publications, and social media platforms are being purchased by the already powerful to perpetuate their worldviews, Michael will be an exceptional steward of the Emerald’s legacy of trumpeting the voices, deeds, and ideas of those willingly ignored and pushed to the margins of society.”
As the co-coordinator of the Ferguson/St. Louis Don’t Shoot Coalition, McPhearson worked closely with many diverse organizations to demand changes in law enforcement after the police shooting of Michael Brown Jr. in 2014. He served as executive director of Veterans For Peace for five years, then was asked to return to the helm three years later. He has also been a national coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, and headed up youth and adult programming at the New Jersey/New York region of the National Conference for Community and Justice. Additionally, he’s worked in fundraising for public radio.
Locally, he also serves as a member of the board of the ACLU of Washington and of the American Friends Service Committee’s Nobel Peace Prize Nominating Task Group. He is a graduate of Campbell University in his home state of North Carolina. He enlisted as a private in the U.S. Army and rose to the rank of captain, serving one combat tour in Iraq.
McPhearson also has a track record of social justice activism. As a trained mediator, he organized thousands of veterans for anti-war and peace marches, led a delegation to support the people of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and has testified before Congress.
The Emerald’s new executive director sat down for an interview to discuss his vision for the publication and how he intends to carry on its legacy.
(This interview has been edited for length and clarity.)
What made you want to join the South Seattle Emerald as its executive director?
First, I’ll say that after I left Veterans For Peace, I didn’t even know if I wanted to be an executive director of anything. It’s not easy. There’s fundraising, being the face of an organization, and also having people look to you for leadership.
But, then I saw the Emerald job. One of the reasons it first stood out to me was that it was similar to the community-building and justice work I’d already done nationally. That work was one of the most fulfilling times of my life.
This job at the Emerald was focused on serving the community that I live in, and service has been important to me. I originally joined the military because, at the time, anyway, I thought it was one of the best ways, if not the best way, to serve others. Since then, I’ve of course learned that there are many other ways. I have to say that I question who exactly I was serving when I was in the military.
Setting that aside, the desire to serve is why I became part of the NAACP and then later Veterans For Peace. I feel like I was put here on Earth to help, and this position with the Emerald provides a broader platform to be able to serve the community in multiple ways. The Emerald touches the community across the spectrum and is a reflection of our community’s beauty. It also helps share information about the challenges it faces so our community can better respond to those challenges.
I feel that’s important. Many times in other communities I’ve lived in, the press didn’t necessarily represent the true nature of the community in their coverage. That’s why I’m excited to be a part of a publication that helps tell the truth about the community so that people can see that, yes, we have challenges that we’re addressing, but we also have beauty. It’s about accountability. It’s about transparency. It’s about telling the whole story.
Between your time in the military to moving to Seattle a few years ago, you’ve lived all across the country. What makes Seattle’s South End such a special place to you?
The South End is the most diverse community in Seattle. I like living in communities with diverse people, diverse backgrounds. One thing I love about humanity is the diversity of it. And that also includes people liking different things. So, some people want to live in the suburbs. Some people want to live in the city. Some people want to live in the country. Some people want to live in a more modern cultural environment, and that’s all cool.
Personally, I like the vibrancy that I see here when you have different kinds of people interacting with each other and how on one corner you might have an Italian restaurant, and on the other you might have a Chinese restaurant. It reminds me of a club I used to go to where they played dance music on one floor, and alternative music on another floor. All that exposure to diversity is exciting. It helps me grow. It stretches me. It challenges me as a person to be accepting and understanding of people. That’s how we get past tolerance to acceptance and fully embrace each other’s humanity. You can’t completely have that embrace if you’re not exposed to it or interacting with different people.
What commitments can the Emerald readership and our larger community hold you to?
Well, number one is being of service to them and effecting positive change. If you want your community to move in a positive direction, you have to help make that happen. I don’t like seeing people treated unfairly, no matter who a person is. I see in our larger community some challenges as to how people are treated, and that’s why this publication tries to lift the stories of those people up. And it will continue to do so objectively, telling the true story, not slanting anything, or hiding anything. I believe that’s what our readership wants, along with knowing that the average person can have a platform here.
So, I feel like as long as I’m part of something that is telling the story of this community and is uplifting this community, then we’re fulfilling our mission, which is to help people trivialized by other outlets.
Anyplace that I’ve lived, I had to be part of making things better. On a political basis, I believe in this idea of forming the more perfect union. I think there is a way for us to move forward together as a people, and as a nation.
I know that the press is a really instrumental part of that. I think that the founding generation, with all their flaws, had a really good idea that if you provide the people with information, then they can make good decisions. The press is at the center of that. And the press’s job is not only to inform, but to educate. So, in serving South Seattle, I feel like that’s what we have a responsibility to do.
Along with journalism and storytelling, community building is a huge part of the Emerald’s mission. How do we continue fulfilling that part of our mission?
Having people read the Emerald while knowing that it’s being transparent in telling the authentic stories about the people in this community is really important to that mission. We do that by continuing to be out in the community, looking for that depth and breadth of stories.
One of the things I’ll be doing is going out to meet and talk with our community. I know that I’ll also be learning from our current reporters and editors about really being in touch with our community. Much of that learning will come from listening and observing what we’re already doing and then building on that.
I think that as long as we listen to the people, we’re telling those authentic stories, and we’re constantly present in the community, I don’t see how we’ll wander off in some bizarre direction where we’re not continuing to build trust with the community.
It’s said that a community is a people and not just a place. At this moment in our city’s history, particularly in the South End, many community members are facing forced transitions due to high rents and cost of living. How do you foresee continuing to serve our loyal readership base even as some move elsewhere?
That’s a really good question. From what I’ve seen, the Emerald is already reaching out to outlying communities where South Seattle people have moved. Their stories are still our stories. We’ll continue to build relationships in the community so that people will want to return to our publication even when they’re living in other parts of the county.
A lot of stuff that impacts South Seattle also impacts elsewhere. By telling the stories of South Seattle, we are also reflecting what’s happening to people in other parts of the city, county, and possibly state as well.
So, if you’re living somewhere else, you can still go to the Emerald, because you’re going to see yourself. Unfortunately, we’re not facing anything unique; especially on the West Coast, several cities are facing gentrification, high housing costs, et cetera.
Another thing that I’ve been thinking about, and something that I’ll be sitting down with our team to discuss, is how we’re looking at what’s happening in the country, and maybe even around the world, and relating it to how people are being impacted here.
And I think that if we do that in an intentional way, which could include a section dedicated to what I just outlined, even when people move, they’ll want to read that, because if you’re talking about stuff that’s happening around the country, then it’s probably happening to them too.
But the way that we tell stories will be different than if they’re reading The New York Times or their local city paper. We want to show the real impact that things have on regular people, and be intentional about the voices who are sharing about that impact.
The South Seattle Emerald celebrated its eighth anniversary this week. Eight years from now, what do you want to be able to say about your time here?
Personally, I just want to be able to say that it was a great additional eight years. I want to be able to say that I met awesome people, learned a lot, grew as a person, and grew professionally.
I hope to be able to say that I brought out the best in this awesome team and continued the great tradition of the Emerald. What I hope other people say about the Emerald is that they continue to celebrate and realize the incredible value it brings not only to our community, but to everywhere.
Hopefully we’ll also have expanded our reach, our readership, and further deepened our roots in the community. I want us to be on the cutting edge eight years from now, and have people know that we’ll always be there for them.
📸 Featured Image: Michael McPhearson. (Photo: Isabella Tjalve)
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