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Saturday, July 2, 2022

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

Chris B. Bennett

By Chris B. Bennett

Two weeks ago, The Seattle School Board had a decision to make – who will be the next board member representing District 7, which encompasses Southeast Seattle.

The board vacancy came on the heels of Director Betty Patu announcing her departure from the school board, and without enough time to put the decision to a public vote the school board was forced to fill the vacant seat through an appointment process.

Out of twelve individuals who submitted their names for the positions, three finalists were selected – Brandon Hersey, Emijah Smith and Julie Van Arcken.

Smith, a single, African American mother of two school-aged children, was considered by many as the front-runner. While she was new to politics, Smith is a well-known champion for racial equality, academic achievement and discipline policies within the public school system. She served on various Seattle Public Schools (SPS) advisory committees, including the current 2019 – 2024 SPS Strategic Steering Committee, the SPS School and Family Partnership Advisory Committee to the Superintendent, and was a catalyst for SPS requiring each school to include academic achievement benchmarks for African American male students. In addition, Smith is a grassroots organizers who has the unique ability to work in the trenches and the executive suites – where she is able eloquently convey many of the issues facing everyday families within the District and help draft practical policies that will have a broad and positive impact on students and their families.

When you look at her resume and hear her speak there is not question that Smith is uniquely and highly qualified for the position, and the excitement surrounding her candidacy was apparent as she drew a significant number of supporters at most, if not all, public forums that were part of the appointment process.

However, Smith’s bid for the school board was not met with open arms by everyone. Instead of being embraced as a new voice of reason and change, Smith became the victim of what appears to be a digitally orchestrated attack on her character and candidacy. Much like the midnight marauders of the Jim Crow era in the South, who utilized the cover of darkness to intimidate, execute and/or make an example out of those who stepped out of place, not one but two major media outlets in the area published stories about a 2012 domestic incident involving Smith. Both stories were published the night before the school board was to make their final decision on who to appoint as the new director for District 7, giving no time for Smith or her supporters to respond to the stories.

While the accounts of the incident are open to public record, the outlets failed to provide a proper perspective of the entire situation that Smith and her family were dealing with at the time. Instead of portraying Smith as a single, mother of three who was trying to protect her family from a man with a documented history of violence, they portrayed her as an aggressive assailant who manhandled an innocent women who, under the direction of the man in question, was allegedly trying to serve a protection orders to Smith or someone at her house.

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

According to Smith, who had two very young children inside her house at the time, she asked the woman, who was standing outside her front door on the porch, to leave on more than one occasion, which she did not. The two engaged in an altercation, the police showed up and to Smith’s surprise they placed her into custody and took her to jail.

Now you might ask the question as to why she was taken to jail for what appears to be a situation where Smith was defending her home. Well, it turns out that the police were not responding to a call placed by Smith when the woman was on her porch, nor were they responding to calls from neighbors, but rather they were responding to a call placed by the man in question who was “worried about his girlfriend” who went to serve his ex-girlfriend with a court order.

During the current era of the #MeToo movement, you would think that all media outlets would be more sympathetic towards women who have been victimized and their families. But rather than sympathy and understanding from these digital empires, Smith, who now represents the failure of a system that was supposed to protect her and her family, has been punched in the gut by local story-tellers under the auspices of public disclosure.

Smith also represents a failure by the media to report all of the facts at their disposal, and to protect the innocent. A collage that accompanied the story by Smith on one of the outlet’s website showed Smith’s photo cropped and colored in a fashion that resembled a mugshot, along with cutouts from the charging papers against Smith and a photo of her front porch and door. First and foremost, Smith’s home is not a public place and to put it on public display is just wrong. Secondly, shouldn’t she and her children be afforded some sense of privacy and safety? Apparently, this is not the case for those who live in the zip code where she resides.

In addition, the same media outlet took an excerpt from the charging papers that said,” I would beat the sh-t out of you” and placed it in the collage as well. However, the full quote according the charging papers indicated that during the incident Smith said to the woman in question, “You’re lucky I know God, or I would beat the sh-t out of you.” Now if you are looking for sensationalism then the first version is more eye-catching, but also paints a much different and darker picture than the latter. I’m not condoning the words or actions of either of the women involved in the incident. However, I do believe that context directly relates to intent. And intent can fuel perceptions that can lead to stereotypes that allow people to see those that they can’t directly relate to as “other than.”

While there are other things that we could question about the media’s portrayal of Smith and the accounts of the incident, the fact remains that there are a lot of victims related to the exploits of one man. Those victims include Smith, her family, the women who she was in the altercation with and who knows how many others. Instead of providing the current school board members with an excuse for not seating Smith, I believe these media outlets missed a golden opportunity to talk about Smith’s accomplishment and what she has overcome to be in a position to make a difference in her community.

What a great story that would be to talk about someone, like Smith, who since the time of this unfortunate incident has been a catalyst for change, improvements in systems, an advocate for the overall well-being of all children in Seattle Public Schools, and has served as an inspiration to other parents to get involved in their community.

As the first person in her family to graduate from college, which includes the successful completion of a master’s degree, Smith represents the reality of a young, Black girl who believed she could achieve and do great things.

As a single mother of three children, she represents that struggle that single parents must overcome in order to keep their children out of harms way and provide them with a path to pursue their dream and be successful in their own right.

While we may never know how much of a factor the digital midnight slaughter attempt on Smith’s character had on the final decision of the individual members of the Seattle School Board, and not taking anything away from the person they selected, but I’m sure that a number of them will now agree that they missed a great opportunity to better serve the children and families of the district by not appointing Emijah Smith to the school board.

Through the eyes of an ink barrel, may peace be unto you!

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

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