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11 Questions With Community Leadership Team Member Mary Fertakis


The Road Map Project recently announced its first-ever Community Leadership Team, a group that will provide visionary leadership and community accountability for improving education results and closing achievement and opportunity gaps. Over the next few months, you’ll get to learn more about each of the 13 new members through this series.

Mary Fertakis is longtime community leader in Tukwila and recently retired from the Tukwila School Board after serving for 22 years.

  1. In one sentence, how would you sum up your day-to-day work? 

I provide consulting services for any group or organization, but especially in the education sector, that wants to increase their ability to view their work through a race and equity lens.


  1. What do you want people to know about the community or communities you are a member of? 

Basically that I, like the other members of the Community Leadership Team, are a part of many different communities which provide us with a variety of life experiences and perspectives that we are bringing together. Communities I am a part of: my large, extended family in the US and Senegal; Tukwila; school board colleagues across the state and country; the P-12 education sector; a faith community; the Peace Corps; social justice advocates; a sorority; sports fans (Seahawks, UW Huskies, Mariners, Sounders, and yes, the Sonics); the arts (especially music, dance and theatre); and the many people who have been a part of my education journey from kindergarten through a master’s degree.


  1. Tell us about a time when an educator or educational experience made a big impact on you.

When I was in high school, my favorite social studies teacher challenged me by having me read a different book than the class and do an oral book report with him that was actually a conversation about social justice. The book was Honorary White by E.R. Braithwaite and was a description of his 6-week trip to South Africa during apartheid and needing to be granted the title of “Honorary White” as a Black man so that he could stay at hotels, eat in restaurants, etc. that only Whites could enter. That book and conversation was a powerful learning experience for me, and was a significant moment I can point to on my personal journey to understand racism and the need for social justice. Mr. Braithwaite died in 2016 at the age of 104.


  1. Who’s your favorite social justice advocate, living, dead or fictional?

I can’t list just one. I have had the privilege of meeting and having conversations with two of them: Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West. Both are powerful, articulate speakers and writers who speak truth to power and have challenged me to speak up and work within my sphere of influence to eliminate structural and institutional barriers for scholars.


  1. If you can make one immediate change to the education system, what would it be?

I would change the funding system to one where dollars are distributed in a weighted-student, or student need-based method that drives an adequate amount of resources to the students and schools serving the highest need children.


  1. What are your hopes for the Community Leadership Team?

My hope is that this incredible group of individuals will be able to bring the full force of their life experiences, skill sets, and passion for social justice together to significantly increase the opportunities and outcomes for all children in the Road Map region.


  1. Finish this sentence: Equity is …

… the unequal treatment of unequals. This is necessary in a world of inequities in order for people to have what they need to be successful.


  1. What was the last thing you read, watched or listened to? Would you recommend it? Worked to the Bone: Race, Class, Power & Privilege in Kentucky by Pem Davidson Buck. This was an enlightening book (that I was reading in conjunction with Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance) that helped me understand the culture of white, generational poverty, and the history of how this came about. I would recommend it for anyone who is trying to understand the historical roots of the current culture divide we are seeing in the US.


  1. Where is your favorite place to go in the Road Map Project region (South Seattle and South King County)? 

If we’re talking about food, it has to be La Teranga, a fantastic Senegalese restaurant in Columbia City. That’s where I go whenever I feel the need to connect with my second home (where I served in the Peace Corps). I can converse with the owner in Wolof and French, experience Senegalese hospitality (teranga), and enjoy some of my favorite dishes. If we’re talking about a specific space, it’s Tukwila. I love living in a community where I can interact with the world’s cultures on a daily basis.


  1. What is one of your most cherished family traditions?

Sharing meals with family during any holiday or birthday. Thanksgiving holds a special place in my heart as that has been a time when we have invited people who are not near their own families, or who are new to this country, to join us. We always incorporate some way to share what we are thankful for, and watch football (which sometimes involves explaining the game to newcomers).


  1. What inspires you?

I am inspired by all the amazing young people I meet and have the privilege of interacting with as a school board director. So many of our scholars have and are dealing with tremendous obstacles to getting an education. Hearing their stories and listening to their experiences inspires me to continue pushing against the existing systems that are the source of these barriers so they have the access and opportunities they deserve.