Article and photos by Matt Mills McKnight
Marcus Harrison Green ’05 is back in southeast Seattle’s Rainier Beach/Skyway neighborhood as a journalist and publisher who reports on the same streets where he once played with childhood friends. In April 2014, he founded the South Seattle Emerald, a community news service dedicated to arts, sports, poetry, ideas and grassroots politics in this often ignored section of the city.
Proof that the Emerald fills a need is easy to find – in the Emerald. Green’s publication was about the only one to notice, for example, when Ethiopian Orthodox Christians opened a church in Skyway, buying and converting a former library for the purpose. When Black Lives Matter protesters interrupted a Bernie Sanders rally last year, the Emerald responded straightaway with three commentaries by Seattle members of the nationwide movement. Every day in March, for Women’s History Month, the website published essays about revolutionary women by local citizen journalists.
And when a local movement rose up to oppose the construction of a new jail for juveniles in King County, which has its seat in Seattle, Green himself reported extensively on it. Responding to protests, county officials would reduce the number of beds in the proposed facility, and a city council committee later passed a resolution to eventually end the practice of youth detention, which hits poor and minority communities hardest.
“When I was younger, I really didn’t have a vocabulary for it, but you obviously saw the impacts of the school-to-prison pipeline: children of color expelled at higher rates than their white counterparts, harsher prison sentences, as well as a lack of resources and education,” Green said.
Moving from this environment to Cal Lutheran was an adjustment for Green, even though he was prepared academically. His parents had worked two jobs each to send him to a private high school just outside of Seattle.
“It was definitely a culture shock going from a pretty liberal and racially diverse place in the Rainier Valley to a place that was a little more conservative and homogenous racially,” Green recalls. “The class difference was also very apparent. I came from a place where you see, ‘We now accept food stamps’ on the window to a place with vast wealth.”
He studied finance partly because he was unsure who he “wanted to be,” he said, but also because he was good at it. In his last two semesters on campus, he had the highest final exam scores in two classes focused on quantitative, analytical skills, according to Paul Williams, an associate professor of finance. Green still remembers how demanding those courses were and also hearing from his professor that his aptitude for finance was unusual.
After graduating with his degree in business administration, Green first went to work for an investment management firm in Southern California, a lucrative job. But a few years passed, and he began to realize he wasn’t getting the gratification that he had hoped for.
“As corny as it sounds, I wanted to do something that made a difference, and simply making money for people who were already rich wasn’t it,” he said.
It cannot hurt today that Green – as the executive director of a journalism startup that stays healthy and seeks to grow on a diet consisting mainly of reader contributions – has money-management skills. As he points out, some community resources like the Emerald have been forced to shut down in a couple of months.
But the most important lesson that he took from those finance courses, he says, was about “integrity, what it means to be a good person, what it means to give your all to something that you are passionate about and really love doing, which for [Williams] was finance.” Green also credits staff members Juanita Hall, now the director of multicultural and international student services, and Michael Fuller, M.S. ’97, a former associate dean of students, with guiding him to become the person he is.
“I can’t say someone told me to go directly into journalism,” said Green, who was all-SCIAC in track as a sprinter and who served two years as president of the Black Student Union. “But I did have people who left a huge impression on me, and I from time to time find myself going back to advice they imparted.”
On the Friday before Martin Luther King Day this year, Green gave the keynote speech at Mount Zion Baptist Church in Seattle’s Central District, a 1,000-person venue that was packed beyond capacity for a celebration of the civil rights leader’s life. Other speakers at the event included Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.
The keynote theme “Are We There Yet?” referred to stirring lines in the Rev. King’s final speech, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop: “I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land!”
In his speech, Green recounted stories from his life, including the last cautionary words spoken to him by his grandfather Jimmie Green, who had grown up a sharecropper in segregated Arkansas. Green’s emotional delivery concluded with a call to action, “…we have climbed far, but we have farther still to rise, so go now, reach up and pull us higher. You rise up and you pull us higher.”
The Emerald is an expression of that hard reality and that hope. It has cost Green some of his own money and has also brought satisfaction. It has, at any rate, the unreserved support of his mother, Cynthia. Mother and son recently co-authored a commentary for the Emerald on the fatal shooting of a South Seattle man. In the piece, they take the Seattle Times to task for an article that in their view exemplifies the failure of mainstream reportage to portray the humanity of murder victims who are not white.
“You realize how much of a service you actually do,” said Marcus, “when a 10-year-old comes up to you and says thank you for writing the true story about how my father died.”
According to Cynthia Green, her son launched the Emerald because “he felt the way we did that our people in the South End were too often displayed as drug addicts, gang members, welfare recipients not wanting to work, and black-on-black crime. But not often enough did you read about the community that comes together and supports one another. What about the artist that no one ever hears about that lives here, the young that are working hard daily to see change, the students who graduate at the top of the class and receive four-year scholarships?”
To put members of the media in conversation on just such concerns, Green, who serves on the board of the western Washington chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, organized a forum this April in the Columbia City neighborhood called JournalismSoWhite (a variation on the OscarsSoWhite hashtag used in social media commentary about race and this year’s Academy Awards).
Along with the vice president of the Emerald’s board, Devin Chicras, Green hopes to see the publication expand to various platforms, including podcasts and print.
“South Seattle Emerald has been a megaphone for the voices of those oft overlooked or chronically misrepresented, and has many, many more stories yet to tell,” Chicras said.
For his first year of work covering South Seattle, Marcus Harrison Green ’05 won the 2015 Crosscut Courage Award for Culture from Crosscut.com, a nonprofit news source in Seattle. To read his work, visit YES! Magazine and www.southseattleemerald.com.