In the summer of 2020, after the killing of George Floyd and the upheaval that followed, Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (RARE) was formed by a multiethnic group of Roosevelt High School alumni to discuss racism in America and in Seattle. We realized anew that, while some progress had been made since our own tumultuous times in high school, there is still a long and challenging road ahead to achieving racial equity. This became the main topic of our discussions, and we found it inspiring and strengthening to reconnect with each other across the decades since high school as well as across our differences in ethnicity and experiences. Conversations were enlightening, honest and accepting.
As our Zoom gatherings progressed, the group expanded and formalized itself as Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (RARE), inclusive not only of all RHS alumni and the RHS community, but of schools and communities throughout the Seattle area and beyond.
We began with two specific projects: annual scholarships for students of color at Roosevelt High School to honor our late classmate James A. Davis, Jr, and the production of a documentary film. The 30 minute film, Roosevelt High School: Beyond Black and White, which explores the past and present of racial equity issues at Roosevelt and other Seattle schools and communities, is based largely on interviews with former and current students and staff. It has been shown and discussed in many Seattle schools, communities, and other organizations, and has been screened four times on PBS television.
RARE has continued its commitment to honest conversations about race and education through its Open Discussions programs, inviting experts, educational leaders, staff, students, and the broader Seattle community to take part. RARE has also launched Connections and Restorative Practice initiatives, both aimed at improving racial equity and the racial atmosphere in Seattle schools through deeper experiences and knowledge of racial issues and how they might be overcome.
Meanwhile, RARE itself has become a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, able to accept donations with potential tax benefits for its wide base of donors.
It has developed a diverse and highly capable Board (see below), and is staffed by over 40 volunteers.
Those wishing to donate can do so through RARE’s website.
Those interested in volunteering can easily reach out to RARE to determine the most suitable area to work in.
RARE also maintains a How Can I Help page to guide those looking for ways to contribute to racial equity.
There is lots of work to be done together, so let us hear from you!!
RARE Board of Directors
Joe Hunter Jr., Chair
Joe was born and raised in Seattle’s Central Area and currently lives in the Beacon Hill area, which ranks 18th of 14844 communities in the country based on its racial diversity.
In 1968, Joe and ten of his classmates were asked by a counselor to attend Roosevelt High School as part of Seattle’s voluntary transfer program. His attendance at RHS was meaningful and helped in his early development in learning how to navigate America’s racial culture.
RARE has given Joe an opportunity to collaborate with his high school classmates to change the racial climate at RHS and hopefully to make meaningful change toward racial equity.
Joe has a BA from WWSU in Business Administration and has held several executive level management positions in Merchandising, Operations and Human Resources. In the past, he has served on the boards of the Orange County, CA Urban League and the University of Illinois School of Business. Early in his career, he was instrumental in establishing a Minority Networking Conference in the western part of the country for his former company.
In his retirement and before the Coronavirus, he was a volunteer basketball coach at Seattle’s High Point Park Dept.
Michelle Hightower, Vice Chair
I was raised primarily in Seattle, WA and lived in the north-end Seattle, WA throughout my childhood; eventually I relocated to Houston, Texas.
I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Studies with a minor in Geography; as well as, Masters, Information Technology, Software Engineering. My career combines all my studies.
I’m compassionate about youth and education; mental health; advocacy in domestic violence; those in need, e.g., food and clothes; and more. Except for a couple of nominally paid positions at non-profit organizations, I’ve volunteered and continue to volunteer at various organizations. I served on the Seattle Mental Health board and now I’m a board member for RARE.
Why RARE? I’m from Seattle and attended the Seattle Public Schools; 1982 Roosevelt Alumni. One of my classmates shared about the RARE organization. I later saw the documentary film and unfortunately could relate to it; honestly surprised to see similar racial inequities 40+ years later. I want to add value and be a vessel to institute change that eventually and positively impacts the country. This hits home even more as my husband and I, raise our delicate daughters.
Bruce Williams graduated from Roosevelt High School where he played football with James Davis, the namesake of RARE’s scholarship. After graduation he and James worked together on a summer job. Bruce graduated from Stanford University and the University of Washington Law School. He served in the US Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa, teaching at a rural college where he was one of only two white men on the college campus. He worked as a lawyer and at HomeStreet Bank, where his positions ranged from co-chair of the Diversity Committee to CEO. He currently lives in Leavenworth, Washington with his wife, Gro Buer, a Norwegian immigrant. They have one daughter and one grandson. Bruce currently is a hospital commissioner for Leavenworth’s public hospital and serves on multiple community boards.
Tony is a 1971 graduate of Roosevelt HS, where he played varsity sports and made many lifelong friendships. He has been concerned about racial issues since his high school years when unrest was widespread and racial injustice became glaringly apparent to him. Tony took a high school class in Afro-American history and became a history major in college. After a career in business, he became a high school history teacher, and made the history of slavery and race a central part of his curriculum. In 2020, during the racial upheaval that followed George Floyd’s murder, Tony contacted Joe Hunter, his high school basketball teammate. They started a discussion group on racial issues which grew into RARE. Tony calls creating RARE “one of the most rewarding and meaningful experiences of my life — especially the talented, diverse people I get to work with and learn from.“ Tony currently lives on Guemes Island, WA, and is married with three adult children.
Robin Uchida Lange
Robin Uchida Lange is a 1971 graduate of Roosevelt High School and University of Washington graduate from the College of Forest Resources. She spent 7 years working at Mt. Rainier National Park and 2 years at Crater Lake National Park before taking seven years to have kids. After Crater Lake she and her family moved to Glacier National Park and have lived in the area for the last 40 years. Robin spent 13 years teaching remedial reading, 20 years as an Executive Assistant for the regional hospital while simultaneously teaching piano lessons for 45 years. As a woman of color in a very homogenous state, she is interested in bringing forth the stories, truths, and power of racial equity.
Najja’s early years started in the Central Area of Seattle, WA, where most Black families resided. In 1963 her parents moved to the Montlake District, a predominantly White and Jewish neighborhood. During k-12, Najja attended Black and White schools with a mixture of ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic student populations.
In the latter 1960s, as a Voluntary Racial Transfer Student (VRTS), Najja transferred to Nathan Eckstein Junior High and Roosevelt High School (RHS). This journey was bitter-sweet, requiring a whole lot of giving and taking. Najja gave of herself as a proud Black Student Union and band member. But, a rich cultural experience in Blackness was removed. Redlining housing practices were obvious in the north end. And, career counseling at RHS screamed the age-old message that Black students were destined for subservient careers. That was the catalyst for getting to the table as a voice advocating for marginalized populations.
Najja graduated high school in 1972 and pursued a B.A. in Economics, a Master’s in Public Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Human Resource Management. For 50-plus years, Najja worked in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, including retail; direct sales; insurance; housing; social and human services; transportation; and healthcare. She characterizes her career trajectory as one of advocacy, fairness, objectivity, holding people accountable, and delivering consequences. Before retiring in 2015, Najja investigated workplace discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.
Najja is passionate about racial equity and social justice, hence the reason for her involvement in RARE. Her humble beginnings as a VRTS, a career advocating for others, and lived experiences, fostered relationships with people of all races, colors, religions, gender, national origins, and disabilities.
On a grander scale, Najja’s aware that our Nation has a lot of work to do starting with admitting to injustices perpetrated against Black and Brown people. The struggle at hand is dismantling structural and systemic racism. On a smaller scale, Najja has the “tough” conversations complemented with a listening ear and compassionate heart. Hope in action allows her to be part of the solution, not the problem.
The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson jolted me back to some personal experiences with racism in the South in my early twenties. I was both shocked and outraged that 50 years later policing in many ways still did not value the lives of nonwhites. It was probably all there to see if you looked hard enough- but I hadn’t been. Then RARE came along and gave me a way to participate to help advance the cause of true equality.
Jane Harris Nellams
Jane was invited to join RARE at the suggestion of one of her Roosevelt classmates. She has always valued equity and was happy to work on the issue with people she knew in high school.
Tim is a software entrepreneur specializing in automated publishing solutions. He has years of experience on non-profit boards, most recently with the Cascade Bicycle Club and Washington Bikes. He was born and raised in Seattle and graduated from Roosevelt High in 1971. He received his bachelor’s from Evergreen State College and master’s from Duke University. He gets outside and enjoys biking, hiking, cross country skiing, and sailing. Tim lives in the Methow valley with his wife Catherine. He has three grown children and seven young grandchildren.
Allan L. Bergano, DDS
Allan was born and raised in Seattle, Washington. He is a product of immigrant Filipino parents. His father came to America as a teenager, worked as a houseboy and graduated from Franklin High School in 1928. He worked his way through college and graduated with a BS in Pharmacy from Oregon State University. On a trip to The Philippines, he met his wife, a third-grade teacher who taught in the “jungle” hiding from the Japanese in WWII. They married and settled in Seattle.
Allan was raised in the predominantly Black Central Area neighborhood of Seattle. He helped desegregate all-white Roosevelt High School as a member of the city’s Voluntary Racial Transfer program. In college, he benefited from the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) and affirmative action and became the first Filipino American to graduate from the University of Washington School of Dentistry in 1981. In 1983, he became the first Filipino American to practice dentistry in the Commonwealth of Virginia. He and his wife, Edwina, founded the Hampton Roads Chapter of the Filipino American National Historical Society (FANHS) in 1989. Programs created by FANHS-HR helped students of Filipino ancestry embrace their personal journey by embracing who we are and what we can become. When it comes to racial equity as a Filipino American, Allan knows the way, goes the way, and continues to show the way in the making and shaping of a better America.
Judith (Jude) Anderson Fisher
Jude was motivated after George Floyd’s murder to engage and support RARE’s educational, scholarship, and connections programs.
Steve Fisher is a Seattle native and graduated from Roosevelt High School, as did his father 30 years before him. He is also a graduate of Whitman College and has a law degree from Seattle University. Steve’s mentor responsibilities during the last 20 years have focused on supporting young associates of color, mostly women, all of whom continue to practice law today.
Bruce is a second generation graduate of Roosevelt High School, he in 1971. He earned a BA in History at the University of Washington and returned to the UW a year afterwards in the Teacher Certification Program at the College of Education. He did his student teaching and his initial year of teaching at Garfield High School. Bruce spent most of his career teaching Language Arts and US History at Whitman Middle School in northwest Seattle. He retired in 2016 and was doing occasional substituting until Covid hit.
Like millions of Americans, Bruce was sickened by the police murder of George Floyd, but heartened by the worlds’s and the nation’s long-overdue outrage and call for change that followed. RARE was part of that reaction, and Bruce is proud be part it.
He stays involved with RARE because the work in interesting, and it is an effort for good in the world. RARE has been a positive endeavor in striving towards racial equity. It has also been a pleasure to work with a dedicated group of folks.
Bruce is married and has two grown sons. He lives in northeast Seattle with his wife Janine and their dog Stella.
Les attended Roosevelt High School as a participant in the Voluntary Racial Transfer Program.
His positive experience at RHS via academics, music, and varsity athletics inspired him to attend Western Washington University – College of Humanities & Social Sciences (BA).
After college, Les spent the next 36 years simultaneously following two career paths: with the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and with U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command. He was graduated from the FBI National Academy and attended the Princeton Theological Seminary.
“RARE is giving us the opportunity 50+ years after our RHS experience to build the kind of relationships and address the issues of inequity and fundamental fairness that must be met head on if we are going to make a positive difference for all who are victims of injustice.”
Along with RARE, he is a volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association and participates in S.E.R.V.E. (Stafford Emergency Relief for Volunteer Efforts).
“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
James Baldwin (1962)
Hillary graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1998 and went on to receive an undergraduate degree in studio art from Scripps College, and a Master’s in Education with a focus on curriculum and instruction from the University of Washington. With fifteen years of experience as an administrator for education focused non-profits, Hillary uses her values of creativity, compassion, and curiosity to work toward equitable education for youth. She currently works as the grants manager for Arts Corps, a youth arts education organization focused on Seattle and South King County, and she is passionate about leveraging funding to close race and income-based opportunity gaps for youth.
A Midwest transplant, I moved from suburban Chicago to Seattle to attend the University of Washington in 1980. I graduated from the UW with a BA in business administration and a minor in Russian language and history. I worked in US-Soviet and US-Russian commercial joint fishing operations for two decades and travelled extensively in the Russian Far East. I then transitioned to a second career as a tax advisor and partner in a small CPA firm specializing in commercial fishing, working there until early 2022.
I have long felt that race is an undercurrent in many of our most pressing problems, and I’m excited to work with RARE to promote and support racial equity.
Michelle Osborne RHS ’75 came to Seattle as a 6th grader and immediately began navigating the racial politics of the city and its public schools during the era of voluntary busing. Every school she attended was virtually all white – McGilvra Elementary (her neighborhood school), Wilson Junior High, Thompson Junior High, and Roosevelt. She had some great experiences at RHS, making friends for life, doing well academically, becoming a staffer on the literary magazine, and running cross country and track. But she also had experiences that were harmful and overtly racist. One a serious example occurred in the spring of her senior year: her high school counselor admitted he had never bothered to send the required high school counselor forms to the colleges she’d applied to – because he didn’t think Michelle was college material. A graduate of Princeton University, Michelle received her law degree from UCLA. She is a former trial attorney who practiced in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and was a state court prosecutor who specialized in crimes of sexualized violence. She has served as the Race and Social Justice Manager of a large non-profit in Seattle, and directed a rape crisis center in California’s Silicon Valley. Michelle has chaired the boards of several nonprofits, and was an appointee to the Santa Clara County Commission on the Status of Women and to the State Bar of California’s Committeeon Women in the Law. She is now a board member of a Seattle-based law center which represents sexual assault survivors in court and administrative hearings. anecdotes about life at college in New York state.
Nilu Jenks was born in Oklahoma to Iranian-American immigrants, and at almost 8yrs old, her family moved to Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Wellesley College, which is where she started to learn some of the language and words to help her process and understand the marginalization she experienced in her childhood years. She has spent most of her adult life working with students, teachers, and schools in various capacities, as well as being a fierce community activist. Along her journey, Nilu has acquired a great deal of training and experience in racial justice work, so she could understand her own life better and help bring that same understanding to others. Nilu joined the RARE Connections team in November 2021, and she has really enjoyed helping it grow into the curriculum and program that it is today. Nilu is a proud mother of two, a guitar student, a member of the Seattle Iranian Choir, a pet-lover, a happy book club organizer, and a climate emergency advocate.
I am passionate about promoting equity and justice in our society, particularly in my own community and my alma mater. I believe that joining RARE is one of the ways for me to contribute to this important work already happening in our communities. I want to be part of a community of like-minded individuals who are dedicated to creating real, systemic change that will benefit future generations in our community, locally and globally.
Through my work with RARE, I hope to further hone my skills as an advocate and ally to advance the needs of our marginalized communities. I am committed to listening and learning from those whose experiences differ from my own, and I am eager to engage in meaningful dialogue with people from all walks of life. Ultimately, my goal is to help build a more inclusive and equitable world with a strong sense of belonging, and I hope to bring my experience and skills to help further the mission of RARE.
Jessamyn Reichmann is a second generation Roosevelt Alumni (’16) and a native from the Central District of Seattle, Washington. With a background in Criminology and Justice, Jessamyn believes in the restorative power of relational justice. This belief led her to join Roosevelt Alumni for Racial Equity (RARE); a community space where she can help build racial equity on the foundation of relational justice.
What first drew me to RARE was the plan to produce a documentary on voluntary busing. My own reflections from that time more than 50 years ago left me feeling unsettled as I remembered my lack of reaching out to the first African American girl who joined my 6th grade class in elementary school. Later as a teacher who taught in highly diverse, low-income schools, I gained a greater understanding of the challenges faced by students of color. Working with RARE has given me a place to put my efforts towards increasing racial equity in our country alongside other people with whom I have some shared RHS history.
Al Herron is a Particle Physicist, Electrical Engineer, numerical analysis specialist, and Serial Entrepreneur, currently pursuing a PhD in Business Management, Strategy and Innovation. He has spent his career pushing the boundaries of Compact Linear Accelerator Technology, driving new business development opportunities, and working with business owners and entrepreneurs for educational and economic equity in the BIPOC and other under-served communities, with a particular focus on STEM Curriculum and Program Development. Mr. Herron is currently serving on several state level committees on education policy and the response to COVID19, the Lake Washington School District Equity Team, the Breakfast Group Advisory Board, the Board for the Seattle Universal Math Museum, the Board for Stemtac Foundation, and the Board for the Black Education Strategy Roundtable.
Racial equity throughout our community, our city, and our country. Every person is accorded dignity, respect, and the opportunity to reach their full potential.
We advocate for racial equity for students who are furthest from educational justice. We raise awareness among students and those who impact their lives about educational inequities through partnerships, networks, and inclusion-centered practices. We promote actionable steps by providing tools, resources, and opportunities to learn and grow.
VALUES AND PRINCIPLES
- Racial equity: a culture of care and respect for the dignity of every person.
- Education and open communication: the key processes of change and empowerment.
- Truthfulness and honesty: the values that underly all our communication and dealings
- Humility: a willingness to recognize the racism in ourselves.
- Inclusion, collaboration, connection and appreciation: our attitude when listening and engaging the diverse voices in our community.
- Curiosity: a willingness to constantly learn more about systemic and less visible systems that place barriers to racial equity, and the challenges that we face in overcoming them.
- Passion: in pursuit of justice, fairness and equity.
- Creativity: tested and supported by research, critical thinking and analysis, in the search for solutions that work.
- Wisdom: a willingness to admit when we are wrong, and the courage to change our views.
- Accountability: a promise that we will follow through on our commitments
We agree with James Baldwin that “Not everything that is faced can be changed; but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” (1962) We are attempting to change the things we cannot accept.
RARE Land and Labor Acknowledgement
We would like to show our respect and acknowledge the Puget Sound Coast Salish peoples, past and present, on whose lands we gather today. The Suquamish Tribe and Muckleshoot Indian Tribe are the federally recognized Indian tribes of greater Seattle, under the treaties of Point Elliott and Medicine Creek.
In recognizing the history and respecting the sovereignty of Washington’s Indian Nations, RARE honors the heritage of Indigenous communities and their significant role in shaping the course of this region.
Further, we respectfully acknowledge the millions of enslaved Africans who provided exploited labor on which this country was built, with little or no recognition. Similarly, we acknowledge the labor of other peoples who, while not enslaved, were exploited, and whose labor also contributed to the building of America.