By Sam Le
Northwest Asian Weekly
Despite the overwhelming economic growth Seattle has experienced after the recession of 2008, the divergence of Seattle’s richest and poorest neighborhoods have grown drastically.
The difference in economic growth, capital investments, and community development have left Southeast Seattle lagging behind, especially within the realm of education and opportunities for students. Now, the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) aims to improve the schools in the area so all students succeed and families are empowered.
SESEC is a coalition that represents community-based organizations, local educators, schools, parents, and community members.
“The coalition is one of the places we make the effort to organize cross-racially and not be siloed,” shared Erin Okuno, the executive director of SESEC.
“I joined as the first full-time staff member around four years ago. The coalition’s boundaries are the areas south of I-90 and east of I-5, which are the areas where people of color are the majority.” SESEC’s boundaries include the Beacon Hill, Columbia City, and Rainier Beach neighborhoods, with high percentages of Asian American, Black, and Latino communities.
“We try to bring in people together to figure out what conversations we need to have around educational justice, and center it on the needs and perspectives of communities of color.” Okuno shared that SESEC holds monthly meetings where different issues are presented and discussed.
“These meetings are a great place to learn about what’s going on in the community,” said Okuno. “We put effort into making these meetings consistent, where a lot of the people attending come from small to large organizations that serve communities of color.”
Previous topics and discussion items have included race, immigration, school registration, and parent-teacher relationships.
“Around five or six years ago, SESEC started out at the grassroots level to start providing narratives and stories to the data, in order to provide a true reflection of the communities’ challenges and struggles,” Okuno explained about SESEC’s formation. Data from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2011 showed that five Southeast Seattle schools were ranked among the lowest in performance throughout the state.
“Community leaders and organizations, such as Vu Le, the Filipino Community of Seattle, and others, saw that unless we do something, our students are going to be left behind.”
“Communities of color in Southeast Seattle are strong and pull strength from the cultural richness and diversity of each other, but there is still a lack in the systems to bring in monetary and capital investments. It is unfair when systems only recognize the strengths of certain communities and not others,”Okuno said, on how Southeast Seattle communities have been misrepresented.
SESEC encourages communities and parents to be actively involved and support those who do not have the resources or access to do so. This support has allowed SESEC to address issues such as data disaggregation and educate the public on levies.
Okuno talked about the partnership between SESEC and the Chinese Information & Service Center (CISC) in addressing transparency of data with the community. Data collected and analyzed by SESEC through surveys was shared with the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities to ensure that the data matched the narratives of the community.
“Teasing out exactly what we wanted to do with the data and why we collected it in the first place was one of the biggest concerns of the community. We worked with CISC and the Seattle Public Schools to host listening sessions for lawmakers and stakeholders to understand the data and narratives behind them. During the sessions, parents put together specific asks and recommendations on how to work with the API community and communities of color in general.”
SESEC continues to elevate the voices of immigrants, refugees, and communities of color. Meetings are held monthly at the Rainier Avenue Church.
For more information, visit sesecwa.org.
Sam Le can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.