Brandon Wong and Many Uch are volunteers who run an advocacy group for currently and formerly incarcerated Asian-Pacific Islanders across the state.
But when they partnered with the Library, they connected with resources that could advance their cause – and the volunteers would lead the way.
The collaboration was part of the Library’s COPE program – the Committee for Outreach, Programming, and Engagement. It’s a new Foundation-supported effort to help social justice advocacy groups by listening to their needs and responding to their ideas on how the Library can help them advance their causes.
At Formerly Incarcerated Group Healing Together – known as FIGHT – they help form educational curriculum for the incarcerated, assist released people with deportation cases, and bring counseling services to those on the inside.
“At first we thought it was just all about books,” Brandon, FIGHT co-founder, said of the collaboration. Brandon himself was incarcerated for 10 years before starting FIGHT with Many.
The Library did help FIGHT with books and materials to supply to prisoners, but it offered printing services and event space, also.
“It helped open our eyes to what resources – not just books – the Library had that we could try to use or share with each other,” Brandon said. “At the same time, the folks at the Library could
learn the work that we do.”
Last year, FIGHT hosted three events with the Library’s help: a discussion on youth incarceration, a panel addressing the unique needs of former Asian-Pacific Islander prisoners, and an event supporting the family members of incarcerated people.
Many spent more than five years in prison and immigration detention. He said Asian-Pacific Islanders are susceptible to deportation after prison release and are often forced to perform hard labor and under-the-table work to support themselves.
JM Wong, an advocacy volunteer at FIGHT, said the Library’s help solidified its role as a social service provider committed to equity.
“I’m really impressed that folks in the Library are taking such a proactive role in the community and seeing itself as a hub where folks from all different backgrounds can come to access resources,” she said. “That’s one really powerful way in which we can get our work out there.”
Last year, The Seattle Public Library expanded its Digital Media Learning programs to include a virtual reality program that promotes the Library’s collections in creative ways and educates people on local history in the process.
Cara Pangelinan, a junior at University of Washington, applied to work on the virtual reality project “kind of on a whim.”
She had no experience with virtual reality, but as a double-major in English and human-centered design engineering, she knew it ﬁt in to her academic focus of designing products for intuitive public use.
Stephen Cooper is a senior computer engineering major. He said that because of his internship working on the Library’s virtual reality exhibits, he developed skills that would propel his career.
Both UW students earned the internship through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation grant, which aims to recruit more people of color into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) ﬁelds. They developed a virtual reality exhibit hosted by the Central Library about the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Users acted as volunteer ﬁreﬁghters to learn about the massive blaze and why it prompted Seattle to rebuild the city in its wake.
The Library’s goal through its virtual reality program is to connect users with The Seattle Room and Special Collections, bringing their historic archives to life in an interactive way. It will continue to unveil new exhibits, with one featuring the historic Duwamish River set to debut in the Fall.
“I learned a lot from the experience that I don’t think I could have in a traditional classroom setting,” Cara says.
Nearly 800 visitors tried out the exhibit for themselves in February.
“It was really important for us to convey the history of the entire event, really bring the user to the knowledge of what happened and why it was such a big deal,” Stephen says, “and why we had to change the city to make sure it never happens again.”
Stephen credits the project with helping him land a prestigious summer internship at HBO, working on the TV network’s streaming services at its Seattle ofﬁce.
“Virtual reality has given me a skillset I can use in the future,” he says. “It really helped broaden my horizons and helped me leverage my own endeavors.”
Apple Washington, director of South Seattle’s A 4 Apple Day Care, says the literacy program she offers to the 12 kids in her care started with her young son.
When he went to preschool, he came home with a little red bag of books from The Seattle Public Library
“We were expected to read with the children every day,” Apple says. “My son really got drawn into it.”
He also proposed that his mother incorporate the program into her day care’s curriculum – so she did.
The program is Raising A Reader, an early literacy program that sends children home with a rotating selection of books and encourages parents to read them with their children. It serves children 18 months to 6 years old through organizations such as daycares, preschools, and non-proﬁt organizations that provide early learning services. Apple has offered Raising A Reader at A 4 Apple – a certiﬁed Seattle Preschool Program provider – since 2016.
Supporting early literacy programs remains apprimary focus of the Foundation.
Apple lets her kids take home two different books a week, all offered by the Library.
She coordinates the book selection with the curriculum she offers.
“The kids get excited,” she says. “They run up to their parents and want to share the books with them.”
For their part, the parents love the program, Apple says. Not only does it prepare the children for kindergarten, but it engages them in their own learning and development. Parents notice their children using more words and asking more questions during their experience with Raising A Reader.
It also holds parents responsible for reading to their children, she adds.
“What makes me happy is when our former parents give us shout-outs on Facebook and say, ‘Thank you for holding me accountable for reading with my child,’” Apple says.
Raising A Reader also brings the program manager into A 4 Apple twice a month for story time, as well as an end-of-the-year celebration. The programming is free to Apple and her students, and helps kids go into kindergarten ready to read.
“Birth to 5 years is a crucial time in their development years,” she says. “They’re storing so much in their memory and it’s key they don’t miss a major part.”
When reflecting on what civic courage means to her, it came naturally for Ruth Tedla to think of the Botswanan philosophy of Botho: “I am because you are.”
Born in Ethiopia and raised in Botswana before moving to Shoreline two years ago, Ruth incorporated this spirit of interconnectivity and community into her winning essay for the Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship contest, earning $5,000 toward her tuition at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where she will begin as a freshman this fall.
And the figures who embodied that spirit to her: the “Gang of Four,” a group of diverse leaders – Bob Santos, Roberto Maestas, Bernie Whitebear, and Larry Gossett – who individually advocated for marginalized people of color in Seattle during the second half of the twentieth century and united their efforts for maximum effect.
The Stim Bullitt Civic Courage Scholarship prompts local students to research and write about Washingtonians standing up for their beliefs against popular wisdom, awarding three prizes each year to honor the memory of the late Library supporter and activist Stimson Bullitt.
A panel of distinguished historians and authors selected Ruth’s essay as the winner.
The Shorewood High School graduate consulted her U.S. history teacher, Sarah McFarlane, about whom to feature in her essay. When Ruth learned about the Gang of Four, they resonated with her, because “four different men from four different backgrounds … shared a bond that transcended their differences,” she says.
“Individually, the men took on different battles in their community, but came together and realized their pain is shared,” Ruth continues. “They were more than just an alliance, they were brothers. Their passion for activism grew into a lifelong friendship.”
The faith she learned in Ethiopia and the community-minded ethos that nurtured her in Botswana has fostered in Ruth a pride in her heritage and a passion for social justice.
She plans to study international affairs at George Washington University before going to law school.
Ruth has already attended workshops and earned fellowships emphasizing the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr., and attended summer conferences led by ACLU.
The designation is a distinguished honor, and The Seattle Public Library and Foundation act as primary partners to advance the City of Literature program’s aims. The Creative Cities Network shares the Library’s mission toward equity and expanded humanities programming. The Seattle Public Library Foundation acts as a funding partner to help support these initiatives.
So what’s changed since then? Those involved in the volunteer nonprofit managing Seattle’s City of Literature say they’re still in the early stages of leveraging the network to promote Seattle’s literary services and businesses, but they’re already performing work to make the city’s literary community more equitable.
Let’s step back: UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) launched its Creative Cities Network in 2004 in an effort to foster “international cooperation between cities committed to investing in creativity as a driver for sustainable urban development, social inclusion and enhanced influence of culture in the world.” The organization offers designations for seven areas: Craft and Folk Arts, Design, Film, Gastronomy, Literature, Media Arts, and Music.
“They identified that creative communities tend to be catalysts around a lot of those sustainable development goals naturally,” says Rebecca Brinbury, co-founder of the Seattle City of Literature nonprofit founded in 2013 and development manager at the Page Ahead Children’s Literacy Program.
UNESCO aims to rally the cities in its Creative Cities Network to achieve a set of community goals aimed at making cities more livable, addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and hunger.
In Seattle, the City of Literature nonprofit aims to address the mostly white and white-led literary infrastructure and has already offered free trainings for those in the literary community to teach them about how racial bias is reflected in book selections offered to buyers at the retail level.
Seattle’s training model has also spread to Portland and other regional trade shows. Seattle City of Literature aims to make the city’s literary system more equitable, from writers to publishers.
“We’re working to leverage culture as a way of initiating change in our city,” says Stesha Brandon, literature and humanities program manager at the Library, and program manager at the City of Literature nonprofit.
Brandon’s work at the Library helps facilitate the partnership between the Library and City of Literature.
Joining the global cities of literature allows Seattle to tap into other cities’ resources, as well as share what works here, Brinbury says. Seattle has worked with Melbourne, Australia, to facilitate professional exchanges, including one for literary programmers and an upcoming international exchange of booksellers for trainings. Two other cities – Quebec City, Canada, and Barcelona, Spain, hope to create their own versions of Seattle Reads, SPL’s annual “one book, one city” program.
The Seattle Public Library serves as a partner to Seattle City of Literature, and The Seattle Public Library Foundation facilitates some of the grant funding from the City of Seattle Office of Arts and Culture.
Literature is an indelible part of this city, Brandon says, from the rain that nourishes creativity to its robust independent bookstore community to the network of 27 libraries and the diverse array of writers who call Seattle home.
“The writers and the support of the community makes this city special,” Brandon says.
Through the City of Literature designation, Brinbury hopes to give the Seattle literary community a leg up in accessing resources and audiences. If someone wants to open a bookstore, for example she hopes they can come to one place – the City of Literature group – for all the help they need.
“I see us as a sort of booster organization for the books communities in Seattle,” Brinbury says. “We want to make it easier for all the cultural organizations and independent organizations to do their work.”
Ruth Tedla, Kristin Hong and Alex Huynh have each earned tuition support from this scholarship fund with their essays about local civic leaders.
Now wrapping up its sixth year, the scholarship honors the legacy of the late Library supporter, community leader, and activist Stimson Bullitt, who believed that courageous civic leadership could transform lives for generations. The scholarship contest challenges local high school and college students to write an essay about an individual or group of individuals from Washington state who demonstrated civic courage on an issue of importance to the community at great personal, political, or professional risk.
Each year, $10,000 is divided among three outstanding students and their essays are permanently cataloged in The Seattle Public Library’s Seattle Room.
This year’s three winning essays illustrated the accomplishments of the Gang of Four, a group of activists who fought for social justice and education for racial minorities in Seattle; Rep. Pramila Jayapal, an immigration activist who launched a nonprofit immigrant rights organization and was elected to represent Seattle in Congress; and Akiko Kurose, a Japanese-American teacher who used the lessons of her own internment during World War II to promote peace and education.
Congratulations to our winners!
Shorewood High School
Entering George Washington University $5,000 scholarship “The Gang of Four”
In July 1995, Chicago suffered a devastating heatwave, killing 739 people. In short order, questions arose and a team was formed to investigate the disaster and to see how future disasters might be avoided.
Women fared better than men. People living alone, particularly the elderly, fared badly. Latinos fared best of all, and that seemed because, even though they lived largely in crowded tenements without air conditioning, dying alone was seemingly impossible and that single feature proved most important. Three neighborhoods were particularly interesting in this study. These three with the lowest death rate were poor, violent, and primarily Latino. It’s hard to believe, but these same neighborhoods fared better than the affluent ones!
So, how? As ‘Palaces for the People’ points out, these three neighborhoods had a strong societal infrastructure: playgrounds, restaurants and bars, stores, and most importantly, a library. These were all places for neighbors to meet, socialize, and bond, but the library stood out as the only place attracting all age groups, and it is free.
This study expanded to other large cities around the world that had survived a disaster with an eye for similar patterns. In each case, the results were the same: Residents living in cities with a strong social infrastructure, including a library, fared the best. If infrastructure is this important, with libraries the cornerstone, it stands to reason that libraries should be maintained and continue to offer their free services that include not just loaning books – the original service – but the special section for infants and children, computers, help for those learning a second language, plus their ongoing programs and lectures. It’s an institution that offers plenty of time for learning, and recreation while developing friendships. If Palaces for the People has credibility, the need for maintaining libraries is obvious.
Between 1883 and 1929, Andrew Carnegie endowed 2,811 libraries. All would gradually need financial help to continue to provide the free and expanding services. This book is not a large one, but it certainly provides an inviolate case for widespread need for libraries.
If you review books and would like to submit a review for eNews consideration, please send it to Lynsi@supportspl.org. We look forward to reading your thoughts!
Paulina’s three children counted down the days until the South Park Branch of The Seattle Public Library reopened June 10.
Living just a block from the branch, the South Park library is a near-daily part of her family’s routine. She goes there to get some work done while her kids read books and use the computers.
The branch was closed for eight weeks while undergoing a makeover, with financial support from donors to The Seattle Public Library Foundation, the 2012 levy approved by voters, and REET (real estate excise tax) funds. What had been a difficult space for the small branch to host its popular community events turned into a brighter, more open space with greater flexibility to adapt to the community’s needs.
“I think the Library looks more open, more beautiful,” Paulina says. “I like the new colors. It looks bigger.”
A re-opening celebration will take place at the branch from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, July 21, as part of a community celebration complete with speakers, booths and activities for all ages.
To the left of the front entrance is an updated kids’ area with new furniture and a bright green bamboo motif painted on the wall. Ahead is a teen area, likewise furnished with new seating and a bold paint job. Imposing shelves throughout the building are replaced with movable shelves and comfortable seating areas with plenty of outlets for charging electronics.
“We really increased all of our seating capabilities,” says Lupine Miller, supervising librarian of the South Park branch.
The mobility of the shelves lets Library staff carve out unique spaces suited to each event hosted at the branch. Previously, popular programs for Dia de los Niños, Summer of Learning, and Dia de los Muertos attracted crowds that were crammed into the tight space, Miller says.
“It’s lovely,” she adds of her impression of the space. “It just feels a lot lighter. There’s just more of a flow.”
A regular patron named Israel worked at a computer last week, where the computer stations were turned from closed-off cubicles to a more open configuration in which everyone can see each other.
He said he likes the branch’s updates and is happy to visit again after spending two months visiting libraries farther from his home.
While the branch was closed, the nearby community center hosted Story Times and the Bookmobile to fill the void – activities that Paulina says she brought her children to attend while they waited for the library to open again.
“This neighborhood doesn’t have a lot of other options,” Miller says of South Park’s amenities.
But as soon as the branch re-opened, people returned to read books, send faxes, and, for some children, try out every new seat in the building.
“People were really happy when we opened back up,” Miller says.
In 2019, the Foundation committed $250,000 for capital improvements at branch libraries, an initiative known as “Reimagined Spaces.” The effort uses cost-effective and efficient strategies to update a branch location with minimal disruption to the communities they serve.
The South Park Branch is located at 8604 Eighth Avenue South.
In a world where kids can access infinite entertainment on screens large and small, The Seattle Public Library’s 100th anniversary Summer of Learning program asks Seattle’s youth to perform one seemingly simple task: look at the bugs.
The theme of this year’s Foundation-supported Summer of Learning program, which kicked off June 24, is “Explore Your World,” and programs will direct children and teens to use their power of observation to connect with nature.
And bugs are easy and plentiful critters that anyone can study, no matter where they live.
“Bugs are everywhere,” children’s librarian Jennifer Werner says. “They’re accessible. They’re a good tool to help kids interact with nature in a safe way.”
Children’s and teen librarians were trained at Woodland Park Zoo this spring to lead a program called Bug Safari, which engages youth in a process known as community-led science. Members of the public log their observations of plant and animal species wherever they are and add them to a global database that laymen and scientists can both learn from.
This summer, librarians will lead Bug Safari excursions throughout the city to teach children about scientific observation and show them that anyone can be a scientist.
The Seattle Public Library and Woodland Park Zoo partner with the California Academy of Sciences to offer this hands-on learning experience.
“It’s having kids slow down and take in the world around them,” says Werner, who has undergone Bug Safari training and will lead some of the programs this summer. “It’s empowering kids to see that science is an accessible field and a desirable field to go into.”
The Summer of Learning activity guide, now available at all branch libraries, incentivizes children not just to read, but to fill out a “backyard bingo” with natural sightings, try cooking and eating certain bugs, and take detailed notes of the bugs they encounter.
Kids and teens who meet their reading goals can be entered to win a family membership to the newly revamped Burke Museum. Additionally, all Summer of Learning participants can turn in their completed Early Learner’s flier, Summer Action Guide, or Teen Book Bingo card to the Burke Museum for two free passes when it re-opens in November.
Most importantly, Summer of Learning aims to combat summer learning loss and keep students prepared for the next grade level.
The Summer of Learning is one of the signature programs sponsored by The Seattle Public Library Foundation. Last year, more than 46,000 children and family members were engaged in the program. For more about Summer of Learning and all of its events, check out The Seattle Public Library’s page.
Also check out Seattle Public Library’s short video on this year’s theme:
Wella recently moved to Seattle from Kansas to seek a more robust queer community. And she found one earlier this month – thanks in part to the Library.
She says she’s still finding her place as a young queer woman in a new city, but after a friend invited her to Legendary Children at Seattle Art Museum, she found the first place that felt like home.
“I’m surrounded by people who are just like me,” she said standing next to the Jeffrey Gibson: Like a Hammer Indigenous-inspired art exhibit. “There’s a lot of love in this building.”
Legendary Children, a free event sponsored by The Seattle Public Library Foundation and SAM, is a sublime celebration of QTBIPOC communities (queer and trans Black, Indigenous, and people of color). Initially inspired by the house and ball culture featured in the 1990 documentary, “Paris is Burning,” the event features fashion, catwalks, dancing and thought-provoking performance art – a multifaceted joyful affair punctuated with social justice.
“Legendary Children is the centerpiece of Public Engagement programs on art, social justice, and civics,” wrote Davida Ingram, one of the organizers who works for the Library as the public service programs and events manager. “Community is in the driver’s seat. Art is at the center. And social justice rings loud and clear. We get to celebrate the brilliant civic leadership of Indigenous, Black and Brown people who are queer and transgender in museums and libraries and that is phenomenal.”
Wella’s friend, Reilly, said Legendary Children changed her view of the Library – that it’s not just a staid warehouse of books.
“This is my first perception of it being this active force in the community,” Reilly said.
This year, the event also allowed patrons to check out the last weekend of Jeffrey Gibson’s exhibit for free. His mixed media works – including glass beaded works, abstract paintings, and punching bags – explore Indigenous and queer identity and is influenced by popular culture, fashion, and design.
That was meaningful to Wella, who had never been to SAM before. She said that moving to the Pacific Northwest helped her learn more about Indigenous cultures and was glad to see that reinforced at Legendary Children, where hosts acknowledge that Seattle is built on Indigenous land.
Matt Lawrence, a Seattle hairstylist who grew up on the Makah Reservation on the Olympia Peninsula, styled an Indigenous-themed runway show featuring hair pieces made from cedar, representing cleansing and protection. The jewelry, clothing, and makeup were all made by Indigenous creators.
Matt said that Legendary Children not only offers a space for people who have historically faced marginalization to celebrate each other, but brings people to SAM that otherwise might not have access – and likewise exposes culture fostered by queer and trans people of color to SAM and Library patrons that might be new to such events.
“You’re kind of merging these groups and allowing them to enjoy each other’s presence and understand each other a little bit better,” he says.
Randy Ford, a dancer, choreographer, and actor who’s been involved in Legendary Children for four years as a curator and performer, recruited performers.
“It’s one of the only free queer-, trans-, nonbinary-, gender non-conforming-, Black-, Indigenous-, POC- inclusive spaces in Seattle,” she said.
And next to inclusivity, what’s top of mind when she’s shaping the lineup of performers: that people have a good time.
“It’s really awesome to know that people really did have a good time and felt seen and felt beautiful and amazing,” she said.
If you didn’t make it this year, get as close to the action as you can by perusing the photo booth shots on Facebook. Photographer Jessica Rycheal and designer Roldy Ablao made every attendee feel like a star.