Shelf Life Community Story Project
Amplifying community voices, learning from neighborhood stories, and interrupting narratives of erasure in Seattle's Central District.
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Neighborhood Schools were an Extension of the Community

Photo by Jill Freidberg

Photo by Jill Freidberg

vivian phillips

The schools in the Central Area were also an extension of the community. They were not these separate institutions run by a small group of parents who had the money and the authority to influence how the system worked. The system worked for us. And everybody who worked in the schools knew that. It's not to say that there weren't racist teachers. But I think I shared this, you know, Maxine Mims was a sixth grade teacher at Coleman, and when I was in sixth grade, I did everything I could to get out of her class. I succeeded. I did not land in Ms Mims' class, but...My class was in the portable next door to Ms Mims' class. And. She was an incredible role model. She wore suits and high heels every single day. Every day. And she didn't care if you were in her class or not; she knew that she was an African American female role model for all those kids, and so she was the safe person we could go to regardless. She took that on. 

 When I moved on to Washington Junior High School was when Black History was introduced into the school system. So I was in one of the first Black History classes. And I came home and cried probably all evening, because I came home and I said to my mom, "What are slaves? How come you didn't tell me?" You know I had no information about slavery, and it wasn't until Black History was expanded for me, at Garfield, that I understood that black people didn't come from slave. It's like nobody...I didn't understand anything about the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade until I read Before the Mayflower, which was in high school! And my teacher, one of my teachers, Sally Pangborn, she was a white woman. And she took a group of black kids and she told us the truth. She taught us from these books that were radical books. She taught us, you know, she taught about the Black Panthers, even though we most of us had already like joined the Panthers by the time we got to high school in some way. But she told the truth. And they fired her. She was fired. Because she felt it was important that we knew more about who we were. And so when they fired her she invited us to come to her house. She taught us at our house. And then they reinstated her. The schools were safe havens. People who lived in the neighborhood went to the schools.