Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.

Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle

By Dionne Foster

When Puget Sound Sage came together with Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, Community to Community, Got Green, El Centro De La Raza, Latino Community Fund, One America and Washington Community Action Network to create Front and Centered, we committed ourselves to forwarding the Principles for Climate Justice.

Our principles affirm that solving the climate crisis requires putting racial and economic justice in the center of policies addressing climate change. In order to build resilient communities, we committed ourselves to bringing both economic and environmental benefits to our communities and developing processes that engage community members in a just and transparent manner.

Seeking to put these principles of climate justice into action at the neighborhood level, last year Pugt Sound Sage and Got Green partnered on a community-based participatory research project (CBPR). We interviewed 175 people – predominantly people of color, people living in Southeast Seattle and people with low-incomes. We also interviewed 30 organizations with the goal of determining collective environmental priorities.
hodan jill climate report

Last month we released the findings of the CBPR in a report, Our People, Our Planet, Our Power – Community Led Research in South Seattle, detailing concerns about climate adaptation, decreasing carbon pollution and ensuring equitable representation from the perspective of our base communities in Seattle. Communities named housing, displacement, food access, transit and environmental related heath issues as top-priorities.

This report represents the direction we should be heading as a movement – both in the policy recommendations included in the report as well as the process by which those solutions were developed. What we learned during this process is that when we start policy development with our communities; they lead. And when our movement is led by and centered on the most impacted communities only then can we achieve real climate justice and resilience.

This post is part of a collection of stories keeping Communities of Color “Front and Centered” this Earth Day. To see more of the work our coalition is leading please visit

Sage’s 2015-2016 CLI Cohort Graduates at City Hall

Twenty leaders from underrepresented and communities of color graduate from Puget Sound Sage’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI) seeking placement on Regional Boards and Commissions to advance an equity agenda!

On Friday, March 25th at the Bertha Knight Landes room in Seattle City Hall, we honored our twenty graduates for their completion of the CLI and their continued commitment and leadership in driving equity on policy-making bodies as they move towards placement on local and regional boards and commissions.

Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez and Justice Mary Yu joined over 100 friends, family members, board and commission liaisons, partners and supporters joined the celebration.


“To have a program like this that is rooted in the concept of empowering communities of color through public service on board and commissions is really inspiring to me,” said City of Seattle City Council member Lorena Gonzales, first Latina elected to serve the Seattle City Council, and shared her wish to have had the opportunity to access this type of program early in her career.

Two graduates stepped up to the microphone to share their experiences as CLI fellows, and what it means to them in their policy and systems work moving forward.


Laurie Rocello Torres shared her experience in the program and the process of applying for placement on boards and commissions.

This month, I applied to the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee. Thanks to the support and knowledge given to me from our workshops and the opportunity to do a practice interview with Ubax and Giulia, I felt prepared and able to speak on how my analysis and experience would prove to be an asset to the Committee by helping make sure that the race and social equity lens would be applied to the decision making around funding transportation around the city. I really believe in transparency­­ and community accountability and am so grateful to have had the opportunity to develop skills that will help me work more effectively to ensure that happens.”


Abdirahman Yusuf used a powerful James Baldwin quote to tell his story of how he came to the leadership institute and the epiphany he got in wanting to create long systematic change in his adopted country instead of taking his brilliance back to Africa.

James Baldwin once said “To be black and conscious in America is to be in a constant state of rage.”  Now imagine being young, Muslim, black, refugee and conscious in America, it’s a mentally exhausting, very draining, and depressing state. That constant rage has become true to me after the murders of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson and Tamir Rice. They have changed my life, my plans and the way I see America.

I used to want to go back to Africa and become a humanitarian. I wanted to go to a familiar environment. I wanted to work with refugees but I couldn’t continue with that dream. It seemed a fantasy to me. Two things that I hated more than any thing; injustice and abuse of power were happening to us, right here, right now. I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could do was to get involved, and try to make changes not only by protesting, but also by influencing decision makers.

My quest to find a way to get involved led me to the CLI. I needed to learn more, I needed to gather as many tools as possible. CLI provided me with hands to grasp my goals. It is allowing me to thrive and pursue my dreams. CLI also gave me the confidence to take the necessary steps.


The Graduation featured keynote speaker Justice Mary Yu, the daughter of immigrant parents; who was the first in her family to receive a college education. She is the first Latina, the first Asian, and first member of the LGBTQ community to serve on the Washington State Supreme Court.

Justice Yu addressed the CLI graduates and said, “If you look the word cohort in any dictionary, you will find that it was a way to define a legion of warriors, defined by a number who collectively together were strategic in what they were doing and when you stop and think about it that is what you have become. A cohort developing strategic purpose and vision being strong in moving forward and for that reason I congratulate you.”

The CLI has prepared these leaders to serve as the next generation of appointed officials who are representative of and accountable to the region’s communities of color and other underrepresented populations. Each cohort member brought a different intersectional identity and approach to our common social justice work, which further strengthened the content of the program and the group’s framework for policy work moving forward.

Together, these graduates are the CLI’s first alumni cohort and embody the power of the equity movement as it continues to grow and shift. The power behind each of these twenty future advocate commissioners expands beyond their individual representation to a truth-telling voice of the communities from which they are rooted.


THANK YOU to our entire CLI family for the power and backing you bring to these individuals, to our organizations and to the social justice and racial equity movement.

Special shout out and thanks to our integrated knowledge partners, funders, trainers, issue series speakers and evaluators! Thank you for your commitment to leadership development of communities of color and our movement in general. Thank you for your amazing work and continued support in the development and implementation of the Community Leadership Institute. Successes like this only happen when we all work together to prioritize racial justice in our community work.

Check out the graduation photo gallery here.

Keep an eye out for the monthly issue series events that will be happening throughout 2016 and upcoming 2016-2017 important dates! For more information, Contact Program Director, Ubax Gardheere, or our Equitable Development Fellow, Myani Gilbert, at