I have been under contract with the Rainier Beach Action Coalition, RBAC, and it’s predecessor, the Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition, RBCEC, for well over ten years, from when the organization was essentially three to four people with an annual budget somewhat south of $100,000 in matching grants to the current dynamic entity with a multi-faceted program portfolio, 50+ staff and a correspondingly robust budget with multi-year grants and growing funding needs and opportunities. I’ve been promising that once things settled down and I had transferred the core of my responsibilities to local staff, I would take some time to reflect on the journey of that work and share lessons from my perspective as a consultant as a milestone for the organization as well as my own professional development.
It seems like that time has come. Several young adults who had started out with RBAC as high school youth and subsequently completed secondary education have returned to advance their careers by “giving back” to the neighborhood and are now able to collectively handle the technical support and training I had been providing, but at a level commensurate with the growth in the number of RBAC staff and the increased richness of its engagement with the community at local, state, and even national levels.
So I can now begin to settle my own “debt” of gratitude by sharing what I have witnessed and celebrate having had the opportunity to see so many young people coming into their own. And to recognize, at a very practical level, the healing power released when even a just a few rise up to embody the dignity, resourcefulness, and caring of the larger community.
In a far earlier career “lifetime,” in expectation of entering the ministry, I would have thought that significant social change required a righteous prophetic rage, a divine accountability that suffered no fools, took no prisoners. Maybe I’m just getting old; somehow in the course of working in Rainier Beach, I’ve arrived at a different understanding of power, for example. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
I want to call out a few themes in advance, as a way of helping me focus a bit, and give fair warning that these posts may not fit comfortably into any standard report format. I am writing as much to learn about what I have learned, as to provide any specific guidance or instruction. I know I want to reflect on having a “calling” or “being called” at the heart of living out a vocation across multiple careers, the serendipitous nature of networking, the multiple roles of witnessing.
These have been among the unexpected learnings that have emerged from supporting RBAC’s exploration of citizen journalism as a story-telling practice and means of building up personal and community assets. And something about equity, in both of its meanings related to rebalanced opportunity and the fruits of investment.
So the point of departure for these posts is Rainier Beach Rising and the transformative impact of changing the public narrative of a community from the ground up and the inside out.
Now, the full arc of this journey actually began around 1990, about 20 years before I actually arrived in Rainier Beach and over 30 years before writing these posts. I was working in Tokyo at an international marketing communications company, where the president had invited Seattle’s then-young “gang of four” activists to share their learnings about social justice with an eager audience of Japanese civil rights organizations.
Yes, oddly enough I need to start there as my early introduction to the rising up of communities in Seattle and the young people who seemed to be opening the way and then passing the baton, from one generation to the next.
So the next post will trace the series of encounters leading to my working in Rainier Beach from “the four amigos” to a “cloud of witnesses.”
SPECIAL NOTE: As I am publishing these posts, RBAC is running a year-end funding drive toward breaking the cycle of public sector grants and moving toward a more stable foundation of grassroot support. As you will see in these posts, RBAC has earned the trust of the neighborhood and is raising the next generation of leaders who well deserve your support, so please consider becoming a partner in this work by donating here.