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.
City Council Appointee: District 6
Ben Mitchell works at Social Venture Partners (SVP) where he oversees SVP’s grantmaking program and facilitates the selection of nonprofit organizations for multi-year funding. Ben moved to Seattle in 2014 by way of Washington D.C. where he spent 3+ years working in international development and foreign aid program management. His work included extended field assignments in the Philippines and in Kyrgyzstan where he spent 18 months working on an economic development program. Prior to his work in DC, Ben was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Albania and also worked for a nonprofit consulting firm in Philadelphia. Ben grew up in Ann Arbor, Michigan, attended college in Ohio, and earned a Master’s degree in International Policy Studies from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. He is a fellow in the 2017 class of the Institute for a Democratic Future and, in his free time, has volunteered with the Greenwood Community Council and FareStart.
What inspired you to serve on the Community Involvement Commission?
My interest in the Community Involvement Commission comes from a few places. I’ve been fortunate to have people in my life that push me, and I remember a recent conversation with a colleague who challenged me to do more when it comes to working to advance racial equity. It’s invaluable to be pushed like that. I’m committed to working to build and deepen relationships with folks and communities that I don’t typically encounter in my day-to day motions. It means a lot to me that I continue to stretch myself and deepen relationships, across races in particular.
I’m also really excited about the vision and goals for the Community Involvement Commission. I’ve followed the development of the commission and, while I’m sure this group will have its growing pains and challenges, I’m coming in with a great feeling of optimism and excitement around our work together.
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?
I really am grateful and humbled to be a Community Involvement Commissioner. For me, accepting the Equity Champion moniker means keeping that humility front and center and not seeing myself as any kind of superhero. I think that I can be a constructive presence on the Community Involvement Commission for sure, and I think that I’m knowledgeable about a host of city issues. But as a white man I think that the most fundamental things I can do to advance equity are to stay humble, listen to and learn from my Community Involvement Commission colleagues, and work to distribute power towards folks who have traditionally not experienced the access and deference that I experience just by virtue of my gender and race.
What is your unique real-life superpower?
Oh boy, well my fiancée would kick me for not saying this: I’m a fairly good long-distance runner. I’ve run a bunch of marathons and in my faster days I had some pretty speedy times. Outside of that, I once worked night shifts at a bakery where I learned to roll out, boil, and bake some pretty mean bagels. I don’t get a chance to show-off this bagel making “super power” – and let’s be honest, it’s a real stretch to call this a super power – too often though. The only way I know how to make bagels is with an industrial-sized boiling pot of water and a humongous oven.
What do you hope the Community Involvement Commission will bring to the City?
My hope is that the Community Involvement Commission will be part of more and more intentionality around creating structures and processes that yield authentic civic engagement and participation from diverse demographic and identity communities. I mentioned in a previous answer my personal interest in building relationships across races, but I think the disparities in community engagement with the city cut along all sorts of lines (income, home-ownership status, work-status, etc.), and my hope is that the Community Involvement Commission can help to break down these disparities in engagement.
Which local organization or person do you consider to be a true superhero and why?
I’m a big fan of the work of journalist Erica Barnett who writes the blog “C is For Crank.” I think that Ms. Barnett provides our community with indispensable news and reporting, and she consistently makes space in her work for stories around people and communities that are often narrowly covered in other outlets. The writing that she has done around homelessness and addiction, in particular, has had a huge impact on me and taught me a great deal about the complexities of those issues. I think journalism like this is critically important to our community.
Learn more about the Community Involvement Commission at seattle.gov/neighborhoods/community-involvement-commission.