Editor’s Note: This letter was written by the author in response to the pending construction of the King County Children and Family Justice Center building that many in the south Seattle community have deemed a “youth prison.” The Seattle City Council will be convening at City Hall Monday at 2:00pm to vote on allowing amendments to the City’s current land use codes that will aid in the development of the building. Councilmember O’Brien’s reply follows the letter.
Dear Councilmember O’Brien,
I was at the hearing two weeks ago on the zoning issues regarding the new juvenile justice center. I supported and campaigned for you in the last city council election, in no small part due to your courageous stand regarding the tunnel. While some thought it was grandstanding, I viewed your position as genuine conviction and imagination.
Have you to considered the similarity of the tunnel and juvenile jail situations?
The tunnel was approved by an electorate who saw a piece of crumbling infrastructure, and decided to upgrade it. You were convicted that the car-centric, carbon-reliant solutions were fundamentally flawed, and you called on us to have greater imagination. You worked to fight the tunnel at every turn, even in settings that were not intended to be referendums on the tunnel (specifically) or fossil fuel-based economics (generally).
Consider now the new youth jail. If anything this vote is less of an honest reflection of the will of the people than the tunnel was. A cursory read of the ballot initiative for the jail demonstrates that the language was obfuscating– it was described as a juvenile justice center for social services, and hardly mentioned the fact that is primarily a jail. Regardless of that reality, people saw a crumbling building and were told there was no option but to replace it.
I say let the youth prison crumble to dust and be eradicated from memory. Rather than replace a jail for children (which you surely know has housed black and brown children in outrageously disproportionate numbers) with a sturdier version of the same monstrosity, please issue a call for us to envision better solutions. The country of New Zealand, provinces in Canada, schools in Oakland, and municipalities around the world have replaced incarceration-based juvenile justice systems with restoration-based juvenile justice systems, and done so with incredible success.
Big Bertha sits in a money pit, and eventually will enable the release of huge amounts of carbon in the name of convenience. At least you stood against it. Can we count on you to make as courageous a stand for the sake of our youth as you did for the sake of our environment?
Rev. John Helmiere
Valley & Mountain Fellowship
5623 Rainier Avenue South
Seattle, WA 98118
Councilmember O’Brien’s Response:
While I am planning to support this land use change King County is requesting, I do not support the disproportionate arrest, sentencing and detention of youth of color. I have tried to use this land use code change to leverage an opening for concerned communities to get a seat at the table with the County—including many young people of color who will be most impacted by this new facility and who have largely been left out of the conversation to date.
I understand I am letting those same communities down by supporting this land use change, but my support for it is resulting in positive, constructive steps with the County that they were not considering even one month ago. The County is committed to conducting a racial impact analysis and is committing that the findings of that analysis will influence the design and programming that happens at the new facility.
Through this process, I am also committing the City and myself personally to be actively engaged in the racial impact analysis, including looking at specific actions that the City can take to reduce the racial disparities for youth in the criminal justice system.
The game against Washington involved some blatantly wrong calls, some poor execution, and a lack of turnovers from the defense, but still resulted in a comfortable road win. The Seahawks also remain mostly healthy, when compared to the attrition throughout the league, our team is in great shape to take advantage of the schedule getting easier, and return to the Clink for some home cooking against Dallas this week.
Dallas is on a 4 game winning streak, and even the first loss of their season at home to the 49ers featured 4 fluky first half turnovers that cover up the fact that they controlled the better part of that ballgame. Dallas features strong skill players in Dez Bryant and emerging 2nd year wideout Terrace Williams coupled with Jason Witten at TE, but the team is now based around DeMarco Murray and their strong running game. No team has more rushing attempts than Dallas, and only the Seahawks average more yards per game than the Cowboys. Their offensive line is young and extremely talented, pass protecting Romo much better this year and clearing huge holes for Murray to run through.
On defense Dallas has forced turnovers at a good clip to help cover up some of their warts. They don’t stop the run very well, and are prone to also give up the big passing play. They have rushed the passer well using a collection of little known ends and tackles, and are amongst the league leaders in QB pressures on the year. Overall they give up considerably more yardage against the pass and the run when compared to the Seahawks unit though, and should have difficulty with the efficient offense the Seahawks possess.
I expect the first quarter to be strength on strength with Dallas trying to establish the run versus the Hawks league leading run defense. Dallas will have limited success early on, and Murray who also leads the league in fumbles will put a ball on the ground in the first half leading to Seahawk points. The Hawks will grind out tough yards between the tackles via Marshawn and get at least one big play over the top for a touchdown building a two score halftime lead. In the second half Dallas will open things up some, but I don’t expect them to abandon the run. Romo will throw at least one pick, but they will score a couple of times making the final tally closer than the game would indicate. The Seattle run D stops Murray’s hundred yard game streak limiting him to 80 on the ground. Russell finishes with another strong game with over 200 yards passing and two scores to go along with two rushing TDs by the backs.
The McCleary decision (McCleary vs. State of Washington, 2012) is one of the most momentous events for public policy in modern state history. It asserts that the state is failing in its paramount duty: “…to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” (Washington State Constitution, Article IX, section 1). This decision calls for a major increase in funding for K-12 education – roughly $4.5 billion per biennium by 2018. The upcoming legislative session will be dominated by negotiations on how to meet this demand. This article offers seven observations on McCleary.
The McCLeary decision represents a direct indictment of Washington State governance. High income states tend to spend more per pupil on education – but not Washington State. We are 44th in the nation in per pupil spending as a percentage of personal income. The state’s courts have ruled repeatedly that public education is not appropriately funded (e.g., 1977, 1978, 1983, 2007, 2009). Moreover, citizens have voted for increases in educational funding (e.g., I-728 and I-732 in 2000). For a variety of reasons, these efforts have not led to sufficient reform. Thus, despite repeated judicial interventions and citizen initiatives, the state’s educational financing system remains dysfunctional. Worse, prior to McCLeary, there were no consequential plans afoot from the governor or the Legislature to address this glaring problem.
The McCLeary decision represents an indirect indictment of Washington State’s taxation system. The biggest factor driving inadequate education funding is a poorly designed tax system. With no personal income tax, constraints on property tax increases and a corporate tax code filled with exemptions, Washington operates at a severe competitive disadvantage relative to other states. In my last article (“Washington State’s Broken Tax System,” September 2, 2014), I noted that between 1995 and 2011, Washington fell from 11th to 37th in tax revenue as a percent of personal income. A broken tax system leads to a broken educational financing system. Period.
Holding the Legislature in contempt of court is entirely appropriate. Despite a court order to develop a funding plan by April, 2014, the Legislature did nothing. Thus, the Supreme Court’s decision to find the Legislature in contempt is appropriate. I disagree with the former Washington governors who argued against the ruling for two reasons: their argument was an after-the-fact attempt to defer a contempt finding rather than a before-the-fact effort to change the compliance deadline; and the Court’s directive for the Legislature to develop a funding plan for McCleary prior to the 2015 session was both reasonable and desirable.
There is no easy way to fund McCLeary. In the upcoming legislative session, there will be large claims for extra funding for K-12 education, higher education and the state transportation budget. The improving economy will provide some additional revenue, but not nearly enough to meet these demands. Thus, a tax increase and/or spending cuts will be mandatory. Citizens (and the Court) should be wary of accounting gimmickry, whereby funds are taken from a non-education account and moved into education in order to comply with McCleary, leaving the raided accounts to be backfilled later. Many analysts (including retiring Senator Adam Kline) claim that several hundred million dollars of the initial wave of McCleary funding was “achieved” in this manner.
I-1351 should be rejected. This initiative calls for a reduction in class sizes. This is an important endeavor, as Washington State has average class sizes that are among the highest in the nation. However, the initiative should be rejected for fiscal reasons: the money necessary to finance it is considerable (several billion dollars per biennium); this funding is incremental to McCleary; and no one in the state has any idea how to pay for it. I-1351 is exactly the right initiative at exactly the wrong time. The focus should be entirely on McCleary.
McLeary should provide the impetus to overhaul the state’s tax system. A confluence of factors make this an ideal time to modify Washington State’s tax system: the current system is broken (as noted above); McCleary requires significant additional funding that the current system is not well-equipped to provide; and the improvement in economic conditions makes tax reform more viable. A restructuring should include a combination of strategies (e.g., a major repeal of corporate tax breaks, an income tax on higher income earners, a capital gains tax, a reduction in regressive taxes, etc.), leading to a modest net tax increase. An inferior approach is the mere tweaking of the existing system – with Democrats working for the closing of several tax loopholes and Republicans calling for “education first, other priorities later” (which is, of course, code for cutting social programs to pay for McCleary).
McCleary represents an opportunity to rethink public education in Washington State. Anytime an institution (in this case the education system) is infused with a substantial amount of additional funding, an opportunity exists to redesign the system. The McCleary funding can support significant new investment in early learning; efforts to more tightly integrate early learning, K-12, and higher education (rather than managing them as separate, standalone entities); and other reforms. McCleary should not just be about educational finance; it should be about education system design.
The Legislature can address the McCleary requirements using one of two philosophical approaches. The first is a narrow, partisan approach that sees McCleary as a burdensome problem to be begrudgingly solved using incremental adjustments to the existing system. The second is an expansive approach that sees McCleary as a unique opportunity to simultaneously restructure three major and persistent state problem areas – tax policy, tax level and education system design. The adoption of this second approach will require powerful leadership and bipartisan support – attributes that thus far have not emerged. Indeed, all initial indications – the approach to generating the first $1 billion in McCleary funding; the failure of the parties to meet to develop an April, 2014 funding plan; and current rhetorical posturing (the depressing “close some loopholes” versus “education first” debate) – indicate that the narrow approach will be pursued — to the immense detriment of the state. Rahm Emanuel stated that, “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” The McCleary challenge provides a rare opportunity for Washington State to restructure its troublesome tax policy, tax level and education system. One hopes that this occasion is not squandered.
John Stafford is a substitute teacher for Seattle Public Schools and a former management consultant in corporate strategy. He recently completed a run for State Senate in the 37th District. He is writing a monthly article on public policy for the South Seattle Emerald.
Health: Cierra Sisters presents Families Coming Together: What Sisters Need To Know For Our Families Today from 10:00am to 3:00pm @ New Holly Gathering Center: 7054 32nd Avenue South Seattle, WA 98118. More Info: http://www.cierrasisters.org
Community: DetectiveCookie’s Urban Chess Club with Pro Chess Instructor H.R.Pitre. From 12:00pm – 2:00pm @ Rainier Beach Community Center: 8825 Rainier Ave South Seattle. Ages 7 and Older. More Info: 206-650-3621 (Detective Cookie)
Sunday, October 12th
Dance: Seattle Subversive Square Dance Society (All Dances are taught and no partner is necessary) Potluck begins at 6:00pm. Dance begins at 7:00pm @ The Garden House: 2336 15th Avenue South 98144 More Info: http://www.rockitspace.org
Music:Columbia City Beatwalk: Country Lips begins at 7:30pm @ The Royal Room 5000 Rainier Avenue South Seattle 98118. Cost: Free. More Info: http://www.theroyalroomseattle.com
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“It was like a horrible darkness had completely engulfed me, but I couldn’t believe that life was over even though it seemed to be. It had obviously changed drastically, but I couldn’t allow myself to believe that it was over.”
Bridgette Hempstead grimly recounts the day -19 years ago -she was diagnosed with breast cancer as vividly as if the doctor were standing in her office at Skyway’s Cynthia A. Green Family Center and had just delivered the horrid news mere seconds ago.
At the time she faced what appeared to be certain death with limited knowledge of the disease that now contaminated her body and what resources, if any, were at her disposal to fight it.
Had it not been for her pesky intuition, which led her to insist her doctor perform a mammogram, Hempstead’s cancer would actually have remained undetected for years, continuing to devour her body’s healthy cells unabated.
“My doctor initially gave me a litany of excuses as to why I didn’t need one as a woman in my mid- thirties. However the main reason she kept coming back to was that because I was African American it was unnecessary for me to worry about breast cancer,” Hempstead says, shuddering as she contemplates the alternate pathway her life could have taken. “I’m just so glad that I followed my intuition and didn’t wait an additional ten years to have one performed like she suggested.”
While it is true that on average African American women are diagnosed less frequently than their Caucasian counterparts, breast cancer stubbornly remains the most common form of cancer they are stricken with. Just as obstinate is the mortality rate amongst African American women with the disease, which is 41% higher than that of white women.
Reciting these facts typically forces Hempstead into a rage spiral as she feels that the misconceptions about breast cancer and African American women that persists in the medical field mightily contribute to discrepancies in the initial diagnoses and level of care received between white and black women.
“I really think that the media deserves a lot of blame for the unfounded perceptions people have about breast cancer. It wasn’t just my doctor, but, as silly as it sounds now, I even believed that I couldn’t get breast cancer as it only effected white women. It’s unfortunate to see how little that thinking has changed when you talk to many medical professionals,” says Hempstead.
With the confirmation of her cancer detonating this false assumption, Hempstead was sent into a state of shock. Fortunately that disposition lasted only a few days as having two toddlers at home meant limited time for paralysis. So after accepting her plight, the southender decided to do what anyone who has spent a sliver of time in the presence of the woman whose grandchildren affectionately call her Daboo knows is as characteristic of her as unabashed narcissism is of Kanye West – she got going.
“Giving up wasn’t an option for me. I’m a person who believes that everything happens for a reason and I said: Okay you’ve been handed this, but you know what? If I’m going down I’m going down fighting,” says Hempstead, who scoured her native South Seattle area from pillar to post only two days after her cancer was confirmed in a fruitless search of support groups.
“I was facing something that I couldn’t imagine going through by myself, and I knew that there had to be others out there in the southend who were dealing with something similar. I just thought that it was a grave injustice that all the resources for cancer victims seemed to be on the other side of the I-90, which included the best doctors, medical staff, counselors, and pretty much everything that communities of color rarely have equal access to, which honestly is the main reason that black woman have such a high death rate from breast cancer.”
The facts would seem to square with Hempstead’s assessment, as the Susan G Komen Foundation- the United State’s largest breast cancer organization- cites a lack of access to adequate health care, and infrequent doctor visits as factors that contribute to poor prognoses and late stage detection in African American women.
Already facing a daunting battle for her life coupled with radiation treatments that, as she puts it, left her feeling like she had been in a 30 round brass knuckle boxing match with Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson taking turns pummeling her into the ground, Hempstead, completely disgusted with what she felt was an inequitable health care system elected to wage another to combat what she felt was an inattentiveness to the needs of women of color in the southend suffering from breast cancer.
Starting off as an informal meetup only two weeks after her diagnoses, she formed Cierra Sisters to function not only as a support group where women in the community could bond around their shared experience, but one that would also eventually provide them with access to top oncologists, and the entire South Seattle community with educational resources that accurately relayed the risks of breast cancer to women of color. The Cierra, in Cierra Sisters, not so coincidentally means knowledge in Swahili.
“People said I was crazy, that I was literally crazy because this community would never be interested in what I was attempting to do, either because of pride in not wanting to admit that they were struggling with cancer or out of indifference. If I had a dollar for every time people told me my little organization would fail Bill Gates would be looking up at me on the Fortune 500.” laughs Hempstead.
During Cierra Sisters’ early years, when Hempstead served in the capacity of “all of the above”, it appeared that the naysayers had been prophetic as the organization was plagued with biblical streaks of bad luck.
“I think about those early days and it was God that really got me through. There were times that everything I was doing seemed so thankless.” recalls Hempstead, referring to situations such as those that saw local groups partner with the adolescent organization for fundraisers, under the auspice that they were raising money for “breast cancer,” only for Cierra Sisters to be completely cut out of any donations collected during the festivities. This after exhausting their meager budget on marketing for the event-most of which came directly out of her own pocket.
Hempstead even received an ornery letter from a foundation, after applying for funding, that stated her, “grant writer was beyond lousy and must only know English as a second language,” which also contained the unsolicited advice that it would be better for Cierra Sisters to cease as a “going concern.”
However, Hempstead- ever drained- maintained optimism that what she was endeavoring would eventually meet success. “I had to ask myself, who was I doing this for? Was it just for me or was it for those women who needed the support. Had it just been for me I wouldn’t be talking to you right now, because it wouldn’t have been worth all the aggravation,” she sighs.
After withstanding a cascade of negativity and setbacks throughout its formative years, the organization could presently not be flying higher, as meetings that once consisted of only Hempstead and a few infrequent stragglers whose primary reason for attending was to partake of the free food offered, are packed with women who have formed an unbreakable kinship with one another, viewing Cierra Sisters as essential “emotional” therapy that coincides with whatever other treatment they might be undergoing.
“Cierra Sisters is my life line to hope, and an example of how humans should support each other. It is very important to have a support system during time of pain and suffering, but they go beyond that. They’re family to me,” Says Shayla Richardson, a member of Cierra Sisters.
The organization that at one time was told it was flirting with fantasy to ever think it could appeal to African American women has now expanded into a network that spans the country. Its founder has received both national and international honors for her work on breast cancer awareness and is heavily sought for her expertise in developing methods to bring greater focus to the disease in communities of color.
Hempstead- who recently returned from a speaking engagement in Africa- is still incredulous that the group that early on barely had enough money to print educational flyers to distribute to the neighborhoods of Othello, Rainier Beach and Skyway, now routinely conducts informational health workshops in the southend along with their partner organizations, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance and Swedish Medical Center.
There latest workshop, Families Coming Together: What Sisters Need To Know For our Families Today, precedes national mammography day and will take place this Saturday, October 11th at New Holly Gathering Hall.
“Bridgette just does everything for members of the Cierra Sisters. I’ve seen her accompany survivors to their weekly doctor’s visits, and provide counsel to all who call. She sits on health boards, she flies to other countries to speak out on breast cancer’s effects on black woman.” says Arthur Walker, who has been volunteering with the group since 2005.
Even as she could not be prouder at her organizations ascendance, Hempstead- who despite a couple of scares has been cancer free for the past 7 years- admits that her work can often be emotionally taxing, especially when a Cierra Sister succumbs to the disease.
“Dying prematurely is never fair, for either the person or their friends and family. Last year we had two deaths a month in our group. It was extremely tough to continually have to say goodbye to people you had become so close to,” shares Hempstead.
“Bridgette sat with women as they’ve passed on, flown bodies to other states to waiting families, comforting them once she arrived, and building a bond that last to this day,” adds Walker.
As the organization settles in on 15 years of existence as a non-profit, this month- which just so happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month- may be its most monumental, as not only has it received unprecedented media attention from several media outlets, including KUOW, KIRO, KOMO and KING 5 news (she will be appearing later today on New Day Northwest), but Cierra Sisters was also named the Seattle Seahawks (yes those Seahawks) charity of the month, with the team bestowing a minimum donation of $20,000 to the southend nonprofit .
However, the biggest honor – at least for any person who self-identifies as a “12th man”- that comes with the distinction is that Hempstead will be singing the national anthem during this Sunday’s game at Century Link Field against the Dallas Cowboys.
“From where we were to where we are…” she says,wistfully reflecting on the journey that has brought her to where she is today. And even as her dream has finally been actualized, she seems to just be gathering steam.
“In going what I’ve gone through, you learn to look at every day, every single one as if it is a gift. And gifts are things you don’t easily discard. You appreciate them to the fullest. It took me facing death to learn how to live life. I feel mine has just begun!”
On September 25th a gathering occurred in Rainier Beach where the talk was about how to create jobs in the neighborhood. The event was held at the Somali Community Center right off of Renton Avenue South and Henderson Street and hosted by Rainier Beach Moving Forward. Not sure when the last time something like this occurred and I’ve been doing work in RB since 1999. By all indication the ideas offered up were cutting edge, realistic and in progress. All told the ideas promised to create over 1,000 local jobs with most of those occurring in the next 18-24 months. Mind you these ideas were generated by folks doing work in the Rainier Beach neighborhood…..you better go tell somebody….!
Job creation strategies identified in Rainier Beach for Rainier Beach:
Hold meetings like this on a regular base where report outs of job activity in the neighborhood get made…Authors note: I project that this practice would be good for no less than 10 jobs per year.
For any project that is meant for the people “in an actual sense” talk to those people. Engage the community directly….Author’s note: I project 20 jobs per year from this practice
Have an organization that assists businesses with technical assistance that can help businesses expand….Author’s note: I project 10 jobs per year here
Bring new businesses into the area, that satisfies the desires for goods and services the people in Rainier Beach have….Author’s note: 5 jobs per year
Allow growth to be organic, not predetermined by a public entity, than figure out the roles of the stakeholders (public, private and nonprofits) e.g., government should create the conditions to make it easier for investors to come in and entrepreneurs to thrive…..shall I say…5 jobs
Entrepreneurial Live Work, home based businesses…the investor for this idea projects 36 jobs
The neighborhood must reach a level of subsistence…where subsistence and sustainability cross you will get fully supported systems that will support each other…..I say 5 jobs
Utilize the product innovators in the Rainier Valley and ignite a “maker movement” where ideation energy and ideation scale are matched…the presenter of this idea says 18 maker shops and 500 jobs
Don’t bring projects to the community unless you are going to hire local people…the coalition organizing around this idea and very close to winning says 500 jobs in 5 years
Retention programs….10 jobs??
That is over 1,000 jobs from ideas from the neighborhood!
Now before you get ahead of yourself and start critiquing these ideas to no end and possibly out of existence, lets first understand these are ideas from people who are actually putting in energy and investments as we speak . These are not pie in the sky notions. However to bring “reason” to the proceedings the job creators where asked what are good job creation success measures , here is what they said:
Success measures for job creation in the Rainier Beach neighborhood:
Number of businesses retained…semi-annual reporting
That any physical development is active, bustling, well used, well-loved and financially feasible….15 years after it starts
Race and Social Justice principles are used by the business…annual review
Dollars businesses invested in themselves…annual reporting
Dollars being leveraged and translated into increased profitability and productivity…annual report
The number of jobs in the businesses and number of new jobs…annual report
The increase in the number of small businesses able to produce financial statements and performance reports…annual report
Number of new business attracted to the neighborhood… annual report
Number of live work unites…annual report
Number of maker spaces online and jobs as a result…annual report
Number of jobs through public work projects…annual report
FYI – The organizers of this event Rainier Beach Moving Forward, in coordinating this event, along with Southeast Effective Development (SEED) listened to the neighborhood who said they need to take these events to the people in the neighborhood….thus it being held at the Somali Community Center. So they called this gathering the “roaming RB Town Hall the first in a series. RBMF is seeking communities of color and immigrant refugee communities to host future “roaming” town halls. Some keen thinking is going on in Rainier Beach. Rainier Beach is a cool place. Stay tuned ! Go to www.rbmvoingforward.org to read who the idea/job generators are.
Written by Gregory Davis, Chair Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition and member of RBMF Steering Committee.
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