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Marcus Green is giving South Seattle a voice

Marcus Green is the recipient of Crosscut’s 2015 Courage Award for Culture. This year’s winners will be honored at the annual Courage Awards Breakfast on October 29 at Benaroya Hall. A limited number of tickets are still available through Brown Paper Tickets.

If you want to get a sense of what Marcus Green is made of, take 15 minutes and listen to the sermon he delivered to a mostly white congregation at Westside Unitarian Universalist church in September. It’s about what it’s like being an African American kid growing up on Seattle’s Southside. It’s about wanting to believe that you live in a world where racism, as Green puts it, is “nothing more than a personal prejudice relegated to a few ignorant rednecks who have not gotten the memo that the 21st century has arrived.” And it’s about being proven wrong on that point.

Green’s sermon is among the clearest explanations of racism today in Seattle — and America — as you’ll find anywhere. He describes a system “that harbors racial bias in its series of policies and practices — a legacy system that spits out racist outcomes with no need for input from racist people.” It’s a system, he says, that we all have a responsibility to fight, because, with its misallocation of resources, its built-in favoritisms, it “punishes” all of us. And yeah, there are some ignorant rednecks out there as well.

Marcus Green grew up “working-class poor” in South Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. A smart kid, he went to private school, and from there to California Lutheran University, in a part of the country where the unofficial slogan, he says, was, “Reagan, Money and God — in that order.” He was used to being the token black guy in a mostly white world, and he continued down that path after graduating, going to work for a small investment company and then a hedge fund in L.A., where he was soon making six figures, he says, driving nice cars, hanging out with beautiful women.

But all was not well. He remembers sitting in a theater, watching the movie Scarface. Toward the end of the move, Al Pachino’s character, Tony Montana, a Cuban refugee who rose to become a powerful Miami drug kingpin, finally bottoms out. “Is this it?” Pachino asks, looking around at his life of incredible wealth and unbearable waste. “That’s what it’s all about, Manny?”

“I just had this feeling of incompleteness,” Green says. “I just knew, I’m nowhere near where I want to be.”

And so, in his late 20s, he came home, moved in with his parents, worked odd jobs and took up his real passion: writing. In April 2014, he started the South Seattle Emerald, a community news website that is dedicated to the notion that the Southside, as Green puts it, “is more than just the crime section in the Seattle Times.”

Running on a shoestring built mainly on reader contributions and Green’s own savings, the Emerald has become a lifeline for many residents. Stories have ranged from thoughtful commentary on Rachel Dolezal’s racial identity crisis, clear-eyed coverage of the fight against King County’s plans to build a new, $210 million juvenile detention facility, and writing by a whole range of community members, including many young people.

“He’s helping expand who we think has license to help build community,” says Gregory Davis, the co-chair of the Rainier Beach Action Coalition who is known as the “Mayor of Rainier Beach.”

The Emerald covers a whole range of issues, from politics to sports, but it shines the brightest light on issues of race, equity and justice. “It’s a narrative that has lain dormant for a long time,” says Dustin Washington, director of the Community Justice Program at the American Friends Service Committee. “In a city as liberal as Seattle, that we like to think is so progressive — you dig beneath the surface, and you find the same narrative” as anyplace else.

Tony Benton, local radio personality and founder of Rainier Valley Radio, a community radio station that focuses on Southeast Seattle, says Green is among a new generation of African American leaders who are more inclusive and collaborative than generations past. “As we shift from ideas of what was effective and impactful during the modern Civil Rights era, Marcus is doing some trail blazing,” says Benton, who is also a Crosscut board member. “He knows that it’s important that we build multiracial leadership toward equity and justice. … At the end of the day, these things impact all of us.”

The third annual Courage Awards will take place on the morning of October 29. This year’s event will feature a keynote address from New York Times columnist Tim Egan, as well as a panel discussion with the Courage Awards winners and Crosscut’s own Knute Berger. A limited number of tickets are still available through Brown Paper Tickets. Every dollar donated at the Crosscut Courage Awards supports Crosscut’s in-depth, quality coverage of critically underreported local and regional issues.

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