The Road Map Project Community Leadership Team provides visionary leadership and community accountability in guiding the Road Map Project to ensure the work is community led and conducted through a racial equity lens. Learn more about each of the members through this series.
The daughter of Seattle Public School educators (and a former Seattle Public Schools student herself), Alison Gazarek grew up observing the inequities inherent in the system which inspired her commitment to free and equal public education for all students. She taught students in the South Bronx in New York City for a decade before relocating back to Seattle, the community she calls home. Alison currently serves as the Regional Director at Equal Opportunity Schools, a national organization working to ensure students of color have equitable access to America’s most rigorous high school programs. Alison also brings research and teaching experience from Rainier Scholars in Seattle, where she facilitates annual Leadership Retreats.
1. In one sentence, how would you sum up your day-to-day work?
Desegregating public schools by using data and coaching to help adults identify and dismantle the systems, structures, and mindsets that act as barriers for Black and brown students in what should be free, equal, and rigorous public spaces.
2. What do you want people to know about the community or communities you are part of?
I want people to know that Rainier Beach and Skyway have always been robust, community-oriented, incredible communities that are integral to the larger culture of Seattle and the surrounding area. The narrative of these communities being “less-than” misses not only the systemic inequities and historic under-serving of these neighborhoods by our city, but also the powerful and successful communities and community members that have always existed here.
3. Tell us about a time when an educator or educational experience made a big impact on you.
Teaching high school for a decade in the Bronx made a huge impact on me generally. I learned the importance of small, community-centered schools where pedagogy and student experience is based in trusting relationships and engaging, real-world curriculum. The ability to teach history on the ground in a place like New York also cemented my belief that a classroom isn’t (and shouldn’t be) confined by four walls, and that students have the opportunity to learn, make change, and develop their viewpoints in the real world rather than on a worksheet.
4. Tell us about one social justice advocate who has influenced the work you do/the causes you champion?
Fannie Lou Hamer is my hero and absolutely influences my work. Rather than rely on the existing systems or structures of power to speak for her, she truly believed that the best person to speak on her and her community’s behalf was herself. She did not compromise her language, her identity, and certainly not her message as she spoke truth to power, ran for public office, and generally made plain what exactly was at stake and how to address it.
5. If you can make one immediate change to the education system, what would it be?
Public schools should be truly free and equal. If I could make one immediate change to our education system, I’d get rid of gerrymandering school assignments, leveled or neighborhood-based funding, and standardized testing. Our city needs to view our district as a whole and address school needs equitably rather than allowing different schools to receive disparate funding and services, and differing levels of resource and rigor. Drop our obsession with treating all students “equally” and truly commit to “equity”.
6. What excites you about being part of the CLT?
I’m excited by the opportunity to systematize community involvement in a community-based organization. It excites me to be part of a group that truly allows for a layer of community insight for an organization that serves the community. It’s a rare structure for a local non-profit and I’m grateful for it.
7. Finish this sentence: To me, anti-racism means…
Anit-racism means acknowledging that racism is a system that won’t be dismantled without an active – rather than passive – orientation. Passively attempting to “not be racist” is simply not enough if we are serious about liberating our systems, and the human lives impacted by it. I am increasingly interested not just in anti-racism, but also other ways of laying out what an ideal, liberated future would look like. In other words, how do we dismantle racist systems and actively work against racism, while also de-centering whiteness (which is inextricably tied to racism and anti-racism) and center afro-centric, native-oriented, Black and brown-rich futures?
8. What was the last thing you read, watched, or listened to? Would you recommend it?
I love great literature but I’m going to be honest: a new pandemic indulgence has been romance novels, specifically Jasmine Guillory books. I’m still waiting on the next great Netflix reality show that we can all watch together from home.
9. Where is your favorite place to go in the Road Map Project region (South Seattle and South King County)?
I have lots of favorite places in the Road Map region. I love Boon Boona coffee both for their espresso and for the incredible community feel. I always see someone I know there, and there are always folks planning the next great art show, the next activist event, the next policy proposal. I love Freedom Schools at Rainier Beach High School in the summer, especially the opening. I love my friend Trey’s backyard when he rents out the karaoke machine. I absolutely love the old cars cruising the lakefront when it’s hot out, and the party feel in the Mount Baker boathouse parking lot.
10. What is one of your most cherished family traditions?
This is a little strange, but I love Christmas stockings in my family. We put all sorts of weird gifts and candies into each other’s stockings now that we’re adults, things like hot sauce and liquor and vitamins. I’m pretty sure it drives my sister-in-law crazy.
11. What inspires you?
Always and forever, students inspire me, in particular high school students. I love their genius, their insight, their innovation, and their constant surprise when adults are impressed by them. They deserve literally everything we have to give.
Posted in: Community Leadership Team