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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Former School Board Candidate Emijah Smith Speaks Out Against Media Attacks, Lack Of Compassion For Her Family’s Safety

Former Seattle School Board candidate Emijah Smith. Photo/Aaron Allen.

Emijah Smith, who was a finalist for the Seattle School Board Appointment for District 7, had her candidacy derailed as two local media outlets published articles that negatively impacted her candidacy and questioned her reputation. Smith sat down with The Seattle Medium to set the record straight about the incident, her candidacy and how she and her family will move forward.

SM: Why did you decide to seek appointment to the Seattle School Board?
Smith: I have been engaged in numerous Seattle Public School (SPS) District advisories and committees since 2012- 2013. Given my working experience with SPS, I found it important to have a board member well-versed and experienced within SPS who could keep the momentum going towards real tangible outcomes of success for Black students and families. I do not want to see Seattle Public Schools say “we tried” and give up on the work needed to reverse the historic damage of neglect and mis-education of African Americans, children of color and other students who have been historically disenfranchised by SPS. The thought of this truly pains me, and that’s why I sought the District 7 School Board position.

SM: The School Board is a non-paid position that requires a lot of a person’s time in order to be effective, why put that type of time and energy in to what some people would describe as a thank-less position?
Smith: I believe in working and advocating for the well-being of our children, families and community. I believe that I am obligated, out of respect for those who worked and paved the way for me, to utilize my time, energy and skill-set to help improve the plight of our children, and to help provide access for those coming behind me. In my eyes, none of this is thank-less work. I feel truly blessed to be in a position to do this work.

SM: What type of advocacy/initiatives related to Seattle Public Schools were you involved with prior to the appointment process?
Smith: As a community member, I have consistently participated on various SPS advisories and committees, including the current 2019 – 2024 SPS Strategic Steering Committee. Prior to this, I was the catalyst to SPS requiring each school include academic achievement benchmarks for African American male students. I participated on the Welcoming School Environments Committee within African American Male Scholar Advisory, SPS School and Family Partnership Advisory Committee to the Superintendent, and more efforts within Greater Seattle that align with Seattle Schools, such as racial equity and school discipline policies.

SM: How did you become involved in these activities?
Smith: As a mother, I find it important to support my child in school and foster healthy partnerships with their teachers and school. I found volunteering in the classroom and participating in school leadership roles as a great way to help create a supportive learning environment for my children. Too often, the powers-that-be use the excuse for maintaining status quo by saying people do not show up or get involved in the solutions. Knowing this is not always the case, I made it my job to be a visible voice at the policy table. In 2012, I enrolled in a Parent Leader training program where I learned about the various ways to navigate schools and the school district, as well as learn about the vast advisory committees offered within SPS. I began joining advisory committees that I thought would be most helpful for SPS students and families. My understanding of the challenges underserved communities deal with everyday, helps keeps me at the table.

Media Attacks
SM: The night before the school board was going to make their final selection on who will serve on the school board, the local daily newspaper and the local NPR radio station, via their websites, both put out negative stories about a domestic incident that you were involved in 7 years ago. Do you feel that the portrayal of you and the incident by these media outlets provided the public with a true understanding of this incident and your personal character?
Smith: No, I feel that the story was incomplete, unjust and unfairly attacked my character. As a mother, I was trying to protect myself, my home, and my family. Although my value of transparency and strength as a mother was conveyed, the media, in my opinion, was irresponsible and haphazard in their coverage. They portrayed me as a perpetrator of violence rather than a victim of violence and harm. They re-traumatized my family who suffered from violence as it relates to a much larger perspective of the circumstances surrounding this issue. They (the media) supported the notion that my family and I were not worthy of protection from violence and harm. This incident took place at my house, and because I protected myself, my home, and my family I was characterized as a questionable candidate of questionable character. The need to cut quotes and lie is horrible and shows the need to push a stereotype and bias that non-Black folks use to normalize their dysfunctional reality that, in my opinion, is steeped in bias, prejudice, and racism.

SM: What disturbed you the most about the stories published by these media outlets?
Smith: I am extremely disturbed by the KUOW collage. It is re-traumatizing to my children. The collage impaired our sense of safety at our home, especially because it contained a picture of my porch and front door. The cut out and incomplete snippets from the police report were weird to see from a national media institution. The headline “reckoning with past demons” and full story was disrespectful and out of touch with the board process and circumstances of the 2012 incident. The disregard for my family’s safety and trauma requires a public apology from KUOW. I can no longer view them as a credible, unbiased media source when it comes to our community, and many of my supporters feel the same way. The way they presented the story indicates to me that they have no regard for Black children and families.

SM: Did you feel pressure to remove your name from the list of finalists for the school board position after the media began contacting you about this incident?
Smith: I was concerned about how this media threat would affect the well-being of my children and immediate family. I did not want my interest in serving on the Seattle School Board to be at their expense in the form of shame or trauma to my children. I felt it important to share this private matter with my supporters to prevent them from having any hardship in supporting my candidacy. I was more concerned about the negative impact on my family and supporters rather than myself.
I felt threatened by the media. Both reporters implied that if I did not speak with them, the information was going to come out in a worse way than how they reported It.

SM: You already had a protection order in place prior to the incident, correct?
Smith: Yes. There were two protection orders in place. As a teen, my oldest child was preyed on by an adult man and was a victim of domestic violence. My child was missing and held against their will. While missing, my gut told me something terrible was happening. I felt death. I called the police to report my child missing. When my child made it home, my gut feelings were right. At the hands of this adult man, my child survived a life-threatening experience. We called the police and had him arrested. The man in question continued to execute physical violence and verbal threats towards me and my children – two of which were under the age of 5 – so we filed for protection orders with the courts. I processed one for my family because my child was a minor at the time. Once 18, my child put one in place listing me and our home on the order to be protected.

SM: The incident in question stemmed from a woman associated with the man in question showing up at your front door allegedly trying to serve a protection order, a physical altercation ensued, and you were arrested by the police, based on a call to the police by the man in question, and later charged. What were your thoughts when the woman showed up at your door allegedly looking to serve protection orders on you/your family?
Smith: The woman did not say her name nor that she was serving a protection order when she first came to the door. I did not know she was serving a protection order until after what I experienced as a physical attack on me. My interest was for her to leave and get away from my property.

SM: Who was at your house at the time?
Smith: The woman and the man [in question]. I believe I saw the man drive off when I was on my porch. I knew he was nearby and was afraid he was turning around to come get me. I was fearful for my life.

SM: Did the woman ever attempt to leave?
Smith: Not in the beginning. I did request for her to leave on multiple occasions and she did not. When she realized I was serious about having her arrested and that the police were coming, it was at that time she wanted to get away from the premises.

SM: The police report indicates that you said that you had called the police. However, the charging papers in your case say that 911 records indicate that you did not call. But you have documentation from your cellphone provider showing that you did call 911. Why did you call 911? And what did they say?
Smith: I called the police because I believed the protection order was being violated and I wanted to know how to go about an arrest. According to the police report, the woman said I called with them saying the same thing. It all happened so fast. I was pretty sure that man was nearby, so I called the police and wanted them both arrested – the women for attacking me and the man for violating the protection order.

SM: Did you think the police arrived based on your call?
Smith: I thought they were coming as a result of my call. When they approached, I tried to explain how I was a victim. They ignored/dismissed my concerns. I didn’t know the man made the call until I had seen the police report.

SM: What were your thoughts when the police took you to jail?
Smith: I was confused and dismayed. I felt hopeless in trying to protect myself, my home and my family. It was very painful to feel like any and everybody can violate you and your family without protection.

SM: You entered into a plea deal. What were you charged with and why did you accept the plea?
Smith: The courts have dismissed the incident in question. With two small children and a teen, it was more important to me that I be available to protect and support them through our traumatic experiences. Eager to move forward with my life and family, I entered into an Alford Plea, which expresses innocence, yet accepting 12 months unsupervised probation for a misdemeanor, then a dismissal of the case.

Moving Forward
SM: Given all that has occurred (your name being tarnished by the media) are you still going to continue your advocacy efforts?
Smith: Most definitely! My candidacy represented transformational change and a challenge to institutional racism, and I hope that more people are empowered to help improve and change the system. One person can make a difference, but a collective effort by many individuals/ organizations can create real changes in a system that will benefit current and future students, teachers and parents.

SM: Given what you know about the appointment/political process for becoming a member of the Seattle School Board, what advice would you give other people who may be interested in serving on the board?
Smith: Good question. It’s important to remember more than anything else that it’s a political campaign for a prominent political position. Prepare at least 2 to 3 years in advance. Be in the community and do the work, so that the work speaks for you. Have a strong foundation with your children and family. Be authentic and stand firm in who you are. If I were not strong in my foundation as a mother, this process may have broken me. I smile and I am filled with joy by the fact that my children see me as their heroine/hero.

SM: At the end of the day, what do you want people to know and remember about Emijah Smith?
Smith: I am a mother who loves my children and family. With the best of my ability, I will protect their safety and keep them from harm. My life’s work is focused on making the world better than the way I found it, particularly for descendants of kidnapped Africans forced into enslavement. This experience has reminded me that I am not afforded the same protections provided for non-Black people. Nevertheless, I move with dignity and self-respect. My children love me and we are strong. For two powerful media institutions to attack me for protecting myself, home, and family, confirms that I may be seen as a threat to the status –quo. I will survive this media violence towards me and my family just as I survived past violence. I will continue to model positive leadership and will continue service to community and families.

Emijah Smith Represents More Than A Missed Opportunity By The Seattle School Board

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