Category Archives: Voices

OPINION: Anonymous Survey Reveals Educator Despair, Poor District Communication

“I’m not sure I’m making a difference anymore. We are drowning here.”

by Tracy Castro-Gill and Ari Robin McKenna

(This article is reprinted with permission from the Washington Ethnic Studies Now blog.)


On Tuesday, Nov. 9, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) Human Resources Department (HR) sent an email to parents and then 39 minutes later to educators — almost as an afterthought — announcing the unexpected closure of schools just three days later on Nov. 12, sending parents without work flexibility scrambling for childcare.

The HR email author might have mentioned the national teacher shortage. They might have mentioned that — in the wake of the pandemic — substitute teachers have dried up. Nearly every school in the district is shuffling to cover daily absences, with teachers having to use up designated grading and planning time. They might have mentioned that a district calendar initially had Friday as a holiday, and office staff at various schools circulated it before it was updated. They might even have mentioned that, for over a month, staff at SPS district headquarters have been signing up to cover absences — despite, in some cases, not having an active teacher certification.

Instead, HR chalked it up neatly to teachers insisting on taking leave. “We are aware of an unusually large number of SPS staff taking leave on Friday,” the email explained. Then they chose to end the email assuring their audiences that the district’s central office, the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence (JSCEE), would remain open Friday — as if anyone reading this email cared about anything other than classrooms and children.

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OPINION: Homelessness, Poverty, and the City Budget

by Jay Sygiel, Isaac Litwak, and Sawyer Hanners


Walking down the streets of Seattle, tents, tarps, and sleeping bags have become a familiar sight. The state of homelessness in our city can only be described as a human services emergency. To solve this dilemma, we must look at where it stems from. The primary cause of homelessness can be boiled down to two things: the cost of living and the income gap that plagues the city.

In recent years, 77,300 Seattleites (5,000 more than the seating capacity of Lumen Field) reside below the poverty rate. Of these people, more than 11,000 of them are homeless and half of those are unsheltered. But this statistic is not representative of the amount of people not having their needs met due to low/unstable incomes. The national poverty line is set much lower than what is considered livable in Seattle. For one person to live comfortably here, you must make around $72,092, which is over five times the national poverty line.

Over the past six years, rents in Seattle have increased 57% while the average salary has not scaled to compensate for that increase. Thus, the income gap is only getting larger, leaving the people of Seattle in the dust.

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OPINION: Tomorrow Isn’t Promised — a Reflection on Veterans Day

by Patheresa Wells


When I talk about my experiences with the military, which doesn’t happen often anymore, I almost always end up talking about family. My direct experience with the military is as an army wife, a role I fell into when my husband needed some way to provide for us as a young married couple. One of the reasons I rarely discuss my time as an army wife is because once you are out of the military community, it’s hard to know who might understand or care about the life you lived while serving.  

To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into; neither did he. In my family, it was common for someone to join up as a way to provide a steady income or receive opportunities not usually found in our community. My uncles had served, but we were long past the days of the Vietnam War that sent the strong Black boys my grandmother had raised back to us, some more broken than others.

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OPINION: Where Service Begins

by Sophia Malik


I spent my earliest years running barefoot through freshly cut grass. The border between my Brown skin and the brown earth was indistinguishable. My unruly dark hair billowed behind me, curling in no particular pattern, as did the branches of the oak tree holding my treehouse. My father was usually doing yard work nearby. A post-war child, born out of Partition, who was trying to nurture seeds in a new land, his eyes were often heavy with worries he struggled to communicate about. Sometimes he shared painful stories with me. Other times he chose to say nothing, bringing my attention to the present beauty around me while sharing a box of oranges or mangoes as we rested under the shade. In the evenings, he would walk with me on his shoulders, helping me touch the sky and understand the stardust we all are. He found healing in the nature around us, and encouraged me to do the same. 

My mother was an artist with a deep knowledge of ancestral traditions. She brought an element of subtle transcendence to the most mundane tasks. A true village auntie, she constantly shared unsolicited advice with others in hope of uplifting those around her. She had a recipe or remedy for any illness, emotional or physical. Neighbors recalled, with gratitude, her teas brought in the dark of night to their home to aid a sick child. She had learned love and service from her mother and, with her actions, was beginning to pass teachings down to me.

In my adolescence, I lost both my maternal grandmother and my mother to cancer. I fumbled my way through this already inherently challenging time of life. With their eternal prayers, supportive friends, and pure luck, I got into medical school. As a chronic daydreamer, the studies were really difficult for me. When I transitioned to the practical, hands-on part of my training, I was so overwhelmed by white medical culture, that I’ve considered labeling my memoirs of that time “The Angina Monologues.” The culture prized speaking loudly and with authority, having a firm handshake, hiding doubt, and assumed all things could be known, fixed, proven, and plugged into an algorithm if we obsessively intellectualized and collected enough of a specific type of data. There was no space for the unknown. I was encouraged to fake it ’til I made it, but to my own detriment, I have a distressing inability to be fake. 

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OPINION: Second-Guessing ‘Woke City’

by Glenn Nelson


On a recent morning in Woke City, I had to perform a double take while swallowing guffaws between lumps of oat bran. Yes, I can be quite the multitasker that way.

“People were sick of the status quo and they wanted change,” Sara Nelson said on election night.

I was confused. Nelson (absolutely no relation) ran against Nikkita Oliver, who was the biggest change agent on anyone’s ballot that day. 

Then — snap — I thought, were we the status quo she was talking about? And by we, I mean folks who want to reform the police, have compassion for the homeless, and take a jackhammer to income inequality. And by folks, I mean mainly Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who are the most impacted by that Bermuda Triangle of social inequity.

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Love, Mutual Aid, and Humanity at ChuMinh Tofu

by Johnny Fikru and Johnny Mao


It is no accident that ChuMinh Tofu still stands tall in a spot that other businesses have long since vacated. 

To date, Thanh-Nga “Tanya” Nguyễn and her staff have held down the spot on South Jackson Street for 10 years. Tanya’s journey to ChuMinh has involved a myriad of pathways. Medical school in Vietnam, biochemistry, a mindfulness in Buddhism, a passion for tofu, and a culture of caring — all manifest into the language of love present at ChuMinh to this day: food and mutual aid.

“I met Tanya years ago — I would come to ChuMinh Tofu and buy meals for community meetings. In the era I was raised in, banh mi was part of the diet at community meetings,” said organizer Johnny Fikru. “As I walked inside trying to determine what I wanted to eat, I was struck by the warm presence of Tanya. Anyone that’s ever been lucky enough to feel that energy knows exactly what I’m talking about. It’s an inviting and warm presence. It’s authentic. It’s caring. It is peaceful. I was welcomed in a way that I haven’t felt at a restaurant, and it felt so great.” 

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OPINION: School Boards and Local Elections Are Ground Zero for Our Values

by Shasti Conrad


Local elections don’t just matter: They are a matter of life and death for far too many in our communities. 

About a month ago, I learned that my hometown of Newberg, Oregon, became the center of attention for all the wrong reasons. The local school board voted to ban symbols such as Pride flags and signs declaring that “Black Lives Matter,” calling them “political statements’’ and therefore inappropriate for school. What they really did was politicize humanity and, in the name of “neutrality,” help the oppressor. 

As someone who also had to navigate predominantly white spaces as a student of color, my heart went out to students who, in that vote, witnessed representatives of the community invalidate their entire existence as a mere “political statement” that didn’t belong in a classroom setting. 

The fact that Newberg is my hometown galvanized me to take action. And I am now working with people in Newberg to hold school board members accountable for this, by supporting recall efforts for Brian Shannon, and making the Newberg School District more welcoming and equitable. And while the story of Newberg is deeply personal to me, it is also far from unique. These incidents are happening in schools all around the nation and in our own backyard. 

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