The Mayor and Seattle City Council recently announced the initial 13 appointees selected to serve on the City of Seattle’s new Community Involvement Commission (CIC). The CIC will ultimately be comprised of 16 equity champions who will work to ensure that our City departments are creating and implementing equitable engagement strategies that lead to more relevant and impactful public participation. They will also provide feedback on the development of City departments’ community involvement plans. All the appointments are subject to City Council confirmation.
Mayoral Appointee: At-large Member
Julie Pham is co-owner of Nguoi Viet Tay Bac-Northwest Vietnamese News, the founder of Sea Beez, a capacity-building program for Seattle’s ethnic media, and the VP of Community Engagement and Marketing for the Washington Technology Industry Association. Julie graduated magna cum laude from the University of California, Berkeley. She taught History at UC Berkeley, managed the Journal of Vietnamese Studies, and earned her PhD in History at Cambridge University as a Gate Cambridge Scholar. She volunteers on the board of directors for the Seattle Chapter of Social Venture Partners (SVP) and previously served on Seattle’s Economic Development Commission. In 2011, she was named to the “40 under 40” business leaders list by Puget Sound Business Journal and voted as “Innovator” in the Verizon Wireless Asian Pacific American Heritage Community Roast Awards.
What inspired you to serve on the Community Involvement Commission?
Having grown up here and gone away for ten years (1997-2008), I’ve seen Seattle change A LOT. Through the changes, one thing remains true: Seattle is full of smart people who want to reach the same destination–living the values of equality, inclusion, and openness. But we are not always rowing in the same direction or at the same time of day. From my experience, I think collaboration is hard because different groups don’t know how to talk to each other. They have different priorities, perspectives, and approaches. They are not only speaking in different languages, but in different verb tenses. I often watch leaders from tech companies and social justice non-profits talk past each other. My hope is that this Commission will help figure out how to get our diverse communities to row in the same direction.
Often, when government provides forums for public feedback, the groups that respond are those that are available and capable of engaging. Already, many groups don’t participate. Of those groups that do, they don’t converse with each other beforehand. In public forums, community leaders are expected to speak on behalf of their own groups, not to try to find ways of collaborating with other groups to find new solutions. As a result, the groups with the loudest voices get heard in influencing policies.
We’ve taken to calling our Community Involvement Commissioners “EQUITY CHAMPIONS!” Do you accept this superhero moniker and what does it mean to you personally?
Yes, I accept the challenge. I went from working in a dying industry to the fastest growing industry—from newspapers to tech. I believe our region is so rich in resources and our economy is so diverse that we can all prosper here and achieve equity. But we need to find ways to get different parts of our community to co-create solutions. Creating a formal Commission is one step toward building those bridges.
What is your unique real-life superpower?
The unique quality that I am most proud is my ability to connect with people of all ages and different professional, national, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic class backgrounds. I feel equally comfortable convening small business owners of color in Rainier Valley as I do with tech and government workers in downtown Seattle. Because I know the pain of having to whittle away employees’ hours to save $100 in payroll a week to make ends meet (from when I ran my family’s Vietnamese newspaper), I can relate to entrepreneurs. As both a board member of Social Venture Partners and an executive at a non-profit, Washington Technology Industry Association, I understand the tricky dynamics of granting and asking for funds to do mission-based work.
What do you hope the Community Involvement Commission will bring to the City?
My hope is that we move beyond just representing our own communities’ interests. My desire is to learn about other communities from the other Commissioners and to build trust with one another. My interest is in helping the City expand its listening systems so they don’t just exist as a channel from the City to individual groups that City departments must manage, but can evolve into a self-sustaining network across different communities.
Which local organization or person do you consider to be a true superhero and why?
This is your hardest question because there are so many great organizations and super hero leaders. I’m going to say the civil rights activist Al Sugiyama, who just passed away in January at age 67. People say he empowered the Asian American community, but I think he empowered all communities by connecting people. He was the first Asian American to serve on the Seattle School Board, he founded the Center for Career Alternatives, and he generously mentored many people. He was a bold and fearless voice for social justice. At the International Community Health Service Lunar New Year 5k Walk, many of us wore Superman capes in honor of Al. He really was a super hero.
Learn more about the Community Involvement Commission at seattle.gov/neighborhoods/community-involvement-commission.