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Hey Neighbor: Meet Colleen Fontana

The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods’ Hey Neighbor! series introduces you to the people behind the scenes working to build, strengthen, and engage the communities of Seattle.


Colleen FontanaMeet Colleen Fontana

Colleen is an alum of the Spring 2018 session of our People’s Academy for Community Engagement (PACE). She works at a Seattle non-profit in outreach and education on worker rights and is continually interested in learning more ways to be engaged, to learn and to connect with others.


What inspired you to join the People’s Academy for Community Engagement (PACE)?

I am still young and new to organizing work and feel that I have a lot to learn from those around me. The PACE program seemed like a good way to connect with and learn about my city, but also develop relationships with other creative, involved, and curious folks.

 What is one lesson you learned in PACE that has stuck with you after completing the program?

In one of the classes, we talked about urban and city planning and how it is rooted in colonialism. The creation of cities, zoning, land distribution, red lining—all the ways we separate and divide and dictate who can live where and how, has life-long impacts on our communities and cities. Before we can disrupt and heal and move forward to create a more inclusive and equitable city, we need to understand how we got here. This message has stuck with me.

In what ways have you used the lessons you learned in PACE in your civic engagement outside of the program?

PACE helped me to look at situations by asking myself “who has the power?” If we are able to identify the many pillars that give someone power, then we can more effectively find tangible and accessible ways to influence that power from a grassroots level. PACE has given me tools in order to analyze the power structures in our city, communities, and world.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about applying to join PACE?

Go in with an open mind and a willingness to participate. It might not all be totally new information, especially if you already feel pretty connected to your community, but you can learn a lot from your peers, your own reactions, and the guest speakers. Take advantage of this opportunity to learn with other creative leaders!

What is one thing you love about Seattle, and one thing you’d like to see change?

I believe we live in one of the most beautiful places. From sound to mountains, we have a little bit of everything. The lakes, rivers, and valleys, and even the rain constantly amaze me. Having the expansive outdoors really allows communities to meet and share and flourish.

I would like to see us have more respect and acknowledgement of the origins of this land, and of the native peoples who have been forced out, abused, and forgotten. The development of this city was at the horrendous cost of life and resources of our Duwamish brothers and sisters. We need to demand more equity, land restoration, and recognition of our history in all our decisions, laws, building projects, and events.

Learn more about the People’s Academy for Community Engagement.