“For the Imagine Us Award winners, we asked for nominations in the community of young equity and justice leaders between the ages of 15 and 35 years old who had performed acts of leadership that led to direct benefits for individuals and communities. We received 27 nominations for 16 candidates. Even though it was our first year, we received outstanding nominations of leadership from the sectors of education, environmental justice, labor and worker rights, housing access, and immigrant reform. These leaders were all “everyday leaders” making impact from direct access for individuals to statewide policy. From the list of 16, the selection committee narrowed the list to 7 winners, representing a tapestry of leadership across our communities.” -Imagine Us Awards chair, Susie Wu
Ariana Davis – It’s difficult to imagine that someone as young as Ariana Davis has accomplished so much in such a short period of time. This young labor activist’s vision is to build a powerful member-based union. As a mere 26 years old, Ariana is the youngest female executive board member serving United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21. Ariana has worked at Safeway since she was 16 years old, and is a dynamic leader and spokesperson for workers rights. On the ground, Ariana signed up over 400 members to Local 21’s active ballot club and gathered thousands of signatures for initiative 1433. She has organized grocery workers at Safeway and Albertson’s in Oregon, and worked on paid sick leave and minimum wage campaigns in Bellingham and Tacoma. As if that weren’t enough, Ariana has trained union members how to tell their stories to elected officials and the public, and run community forums, informational pickets, and rallies. She is also currently going through her first bargaining session as a lead spokesperson.
Edi Flores – Edi Flores is a young man who is passionate about serving the Latino community. He has 14 years of direct social service experience at Lifewire, Bellevue LifeSpring, and currently, Jubilee REACH, a Christian-based nonprofit partnering with Bellevue School District. Edi works tirelessly as a bilingual domestic violence child and youth advocate. Edi joined 21 Progress after learning that one of his families needed support with their DACA application. Rather than passing along information, Edi attended the Success After DACA program to educate himself and has now taken the lead at 21 Progress in reaching out to as many families as he can. His positive energy and willingness to help others are contagious, and he talks openly about his own life and the barriers he’s had to overcome, in order to encourage others not to be afraid to claim their rights. In his own words, Edi states, “As a DACA-mented young adult I have learn to be bold. I have to serve as a role model, sharing my personal experience with other undocumented students who find themselves in a similar situation. My hope is for 1079 students to continue leading with courage.”
Amy Kele – Amy Kele inspires us because of her spirit of leadership and perseverance at such a young age and with such responsibilities. She was born in the Fiji Islands and moved to Washington State when she was four years old. Amy grew up in a mixed-immigration-status family, within a community where opportunity was scarce, and gang violence was right outside her door. Separated from her parents for over seven years, Amy helped raise her three younger siblings and supported her elderly grandmother. Amy overcame great odds and at 19 years old, Amy currently attends the University of Washington, Bothell, being the first in her family to attend college. She is seeking an undergraduate degree in Biology and is a student advisor for incoming freshman and active member of a social justice student group.
This past year, Amy went on a 100 Women 100 Miles Pilgrimage to raise awareness for immigration reform. Upon returning, Amy has organized one-mile marches around the Everett community to keep the discussion of reform alive. Like Edi, Amy has taken that great leap of courage to share her own personal experiences to encourage others like her to access support in the DACA application process. Her ongoing and consistent work and dedication and commitment to her community is what inspired this award.
Samantha Keller – One of the descriptions that stood out to us on the Awards Committee was this statement about Samantha from her nominator: “Sam is an amazing leader – the kind of leader that does an incredible amount of work, but so rarely gets publicly recognized for all she has done to support workers and people of color.” As the program director at the Fair Work Center, Sam coordinates the Fair Work Collaborative, which conducts outreach and education on labor standards in Seattle. She is a strong community organizer who built intentional relationships with South Park and Georgetown residents in a study on of diesel exhaust pollution. Because these residents had previously experienced shoddy processes and reporting from other research agencies, Sam persisted in centering this study on the their needs and concerns. Her work resulted in a successful collaboration between citizens and researchers. Sam’s colleague at Puget Sound Sage describes Sam as a young leader who “is not afraid to challenge and speak up when inequity has been missed and is also able to hear and dialogue with differing opinions.” According to her colleague, it is Sam’s humbleness and humor which allow her to keep her activism fresh and energized.
Saraswati Noel – Saraswati Noel is a math teacher at Seattle World School, which is a 100% ELL school for newly arrived immigrants, and which annually graduates students who have been in the country less than 3 years. Her nominator writes, “Saraswati is innovative with her curriculum, because she takes a subject matter that is oftentimes not seen as applicable to real life, let alone social justice and racial justice, and shows them how to apply mathematics in these contexts.” For example, after Seattle World School had been passed over repeatedly by the school district for a new building, Saraswati showed her students how math can be used to advance social justice in their lives. Under her guidance, students designed math problems to investigate and show the added amount of travel time an average Seattle World Student took to get to their school. The students then presented these findings to the district. As a result of their efforts, Seattle World School will now be moving into a building specially tailored to their needs. Her principal credits Saraswati with the growing leadership developing among her students: “Our ASB presidents who are Winners for Life winners both noted Ms. Noel as the one teacher influential to them.”
Carlos Willcuts – Carlos Willcuts is one of the Area Directors for Jubilee REACH in Bellevue, and in this role has touched countless lives of the students and families at the schools in which he has worked. Carlos’ 12 nominations nearly overwhelmed the Awards Committee. Rather than summarize his contributions, it is more powerful for me to quote an excerpt from one of his nominators who spoke so deeply about Carlos’ impact on his life: “The thing that has inspired me to nominate Carlos for this award is the way he does things for others. His devotion for the greater good of others is what has gotten him so loved by everyone. When I was in Middle School and just got to this country, about 6 years ago I really struggled with self-esteem and tried to fit in with a crowd of kids to not feel lonely. And because I wanted to fit in with them I ended up misbehaving in school. This cycle continued and I kept feeling lonelier and not comfortable. It was because I didn’t have that role model to seek help with these problems. I felt desperate so I stayed in silence and I could not voice out my concerns to anybody. When Carlos showed up because of his constant pursuit, I was able to trust in him and tell him what I was going through. He helped me realize that being myself and being happy are more important than trying to impress or belong to a group of people.” This story is just one example of the first of many and different stories and impacts that Carlos has done in this community.
Brady Huang – Brady is the inaugural Maeda Award winner. He is a social justice activist focused on genderism, racism and accessibility issues, an artist studying ethical leadership, and a peacemaker. Brady, a scholarship recipient at the Bush School, has led efforts to make the school more accessible for all. While on tour of a historic neighborhood in Washington DC, he saw gentrification and displacement of a century-old African American community. He brought that learning back and was co-instructor of a leadership workshop, “What’s Good in the Hood? Understanding the Roots of Gentrification in Seattle and Beyond.” Brady received a $500 monetary award to use towards any of his many projects.
Congratulations to all our Imagine Us awardees!