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Centering Racial Equity in Economic Recovery

December 10, 2020

To say the least, 2020 has been difficult as we all struggle to respond to and process simultaneous public health, racial justice, and economic crises. The COVID-19 global pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to our entire region, and the communities the farthest from opportunity are experiencing the most harm. In our region, workers with a high school degree or equivalent education, between the ages of 16 and 24, living in south Seattle and the south King County area, and workers of color have the highest number of unemployment claims per capita.

In response to the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on youth of color in our region, the Port created the Opportunity Youth Initiative. Beginning in July, the Port partnered with four local non-profit organizations — Seattle Goodwill, Partner in Employment, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle, and Seattle Parks Foundation — to provide youth of color and low-income youth with professional training and employment opportunities. 

The Opportunity Youth Initiative was an unqualified success. The $1.5 million investment in the community provided nearly 200 youth with paid learning opportunities designed to build skills to succeed in the workplace, create learning opportunities that connect young people to a long-term career path in a port-related industry, strengthen community, and support young people and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Partner in Employment (PIE)

PIE, in partnership with Forterra and Mid-Sound Fisheries Enhancement Group, employed 33 youth of color in South Seattle and South King County. The youth employed through this program worked at job sites located within City of Tukwila Parks, City of Burien Parks, and City of Seattle Parks to conduct park forest restoration. Participants also work along the Green River on the City of Auburn’s Park properties engaging in salmon habitat restoration. 

“The Opportunity Initiative has helped PIE to expose and spark the interest of refugees and immigrants to work in the environmental and sustainability sector and by doing so, we are increasing the diversity of those doing this type of work. Without this opportunity, youth of color — especially from refugees and immigrant families — will not be able to gain understanding and explore the possibilities of careers in this field.  The program has also allowed PIE, a grassroot organization, to enhance our youth program by creating employment opportunities for youths during the health and financial crisis we are currently in,” said Hien Kieu, Executive Director of PIE. 

Youth working at a park

Seattle Goodwill

Through their Youth Maritime Program, Youth Aerospace Program, and Youth at Work Program, Seattle Goodwill employed 70 youth, developing their skills in areas such as: STEM, native marine life, environmental sustainability, and shipping repair and maintenance. Participants also received guided in-person and virtual industry tours, career readiness workshops, Aerospace OSHA-10 certification, and had opportunities to learn from industry experts. 

“The Port’s Opportunity Initiative allowed Seattle Goodwill’s Youth Maritime Program (YMP), Youth Aerospace Program (YAP) and Youth at Work (YAW) Program to connect our students to valuable work experiences that will directly lead to strong outcomes of college enrollment, and obtaining internships or employment,” said Huan Do, Director of Budgets and Contracts, Seattle Goodwill.

Students working with a robot
Seattle Goodwill Interns working in the STEM field.

Seattle Parks Foundation

Seattle Parks Foundation partnered with Duwamish River Cleanup Coalition and Friends of Georgetown History and Industry (FoGHI) to provide 17 youth with internships and training for green job careers. The training covered topics like historic preservation, environmental and economic health and well-being, and habitat restoration.

Avery Brown and Jake Bookwalter interned with FoGHI, and during their internship, they learned about the history of displacement, gentrification, and industrialization in their neighborhood of Georgetown. Avery and Jake then created a short video about how this history has marginalized the members of this community, especially in terms of disparities in health outcomes and access to the Duwamish River.

Speaking about their video, Avery said, “Our goal was to highlight that in all of this change [of the Seattle area] and in everything that’s happening, Georgetown is part of the Duwamish Valley, and we want river access. We are a part of the Duwamish community and the river is important to us.”

Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle (ULMS)

ULMS, along with Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Employment for Women (ANEW) and the Low-Income Housing Institute (LIHI), educated and mentored 76 youth to receive hands-on construction readiness training, preparing them for a living-wage career in the construction trades. Their youth interns built tiny cottages for the homeless. This project had immediate impact by creating shelter for unhoused people, and in the long run, this project added skilled labor and diversity to the construction trades workforce, which underrepresents people of color. 

A participant of ULMS’s program commented, “I like that I’m building something positive for the community. I’m giving back to those people in need who need help right now. Another thing I like about this program is that I’m building up skills that are going to help me for my future career, and that’s general carpentry.”

Of the 196 youth that participated in the Opportunity Youth Initiative, 78 percent were between the ages of 16-19, 22 percent were between the ages of 20-24, 93 percent identified as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, and 32 percent identified as women. Additionally, participants shared the following in a post-program survey:

  • 89.5 percent learned new skills to help them be successful in finding a job
  • 80.6 percent gained understanding of their future career and/or educational goals and how to reach them
  • 86.5 percent felt more knowledgeable about job opportunities in the industry (aviation, maritime, environmental, green jobs, or construction)

In a year that has meant pain and struggle for so many, the young people who participated in this program are truly a bright spot and a hopeful inspiration. With ties to all of Washington’s key economic sectors, the Port stands uniquely positioned to help lead our region’s economic recovery, and this is one example of how the Port is helping to lead that recovery by centering equity and providing opportunities and training for those who have historically be left behind.

As Jake Bookwalter, who interned with FoGHI, said, “The Port should do everything they can to make sure these internships keep happening. I have friends and family in the area who saw what we were able to do and the training we got, and there’s a real noticeable benefit.”

Graduate showing off his certificate
ULMS Intern celebrating their graduation from the program.
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