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ChrisTiana ObeySumner, Affordable Housing and Homelessness Advocate
November 9, the day after the 2016 general election, re-ignited something within my soul. A drive for justice, equity, and bringing the voices of those who are most affected by the failures in our system to the forefront.
When I was a child, I was always standing up for what was right. I stood up to bullies when they picked on others, often taking the brunt of the violence myself. I spoke out against perpetuation of harmful rhetoric and stereotypes in the classroom. And, I have organized rallies in response to problematic behavior within school administration. I always wanted to be the President of the United States, but like many other children of color, I was cautioned that--while the dream is possible--it had never been achieved before.
That is, until 2008, when President Barack Obama was elected. By that time, I had already begun my career journey into psychology and social services.
My aforementioned identity also intersects with my own experience of chronic homelessness for over 17 years of my life. I first became homeless at eight-years-old when my mother was fleeing domestic violence. I’ve experienced the gamut of housing instability and homelessness: sleeping in motels, cars, friends and families homes, at workplaces, and outside. We’ve experienced being priced out, having our home sold from under us, and being asked to leave by others who took us in for a variety of reasons. We survived the predators and pitfalls that creep in when two young women, (or at one time, a mother and a mentally ill teenager separately,) do not have the safety and security of housing. Most importantly, I have seen how integrated homelessness and housing instability truly is. In fact, I believe it is a symptom of a host of other injustices experienced by anyone at any given time: economic injustice, racial injustice, gender injustice, criminal injustice, environmental injustice, labor injustice, the list can go on and on. It has been my own lived experience, my 10+ years of civic engagement and social justice organizing, as well as my training through the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, has shaped me into an ally for all people facing realities that are traumatizing and painful.
It was actually Alouise (now former organizer at the Housing Alliance) who suggested I run. Advocate Nancy Amidei had the idea to elevate housing instability as an issue by having an EAP graduate throw their name in the hat, so Alouise sent me a note. She assured me that the combination of my professional and personal experience with housing instability and homelessness would make for some powerful testimony, even though it was not expected by any of us that I would do so well.
The night of the candidate forum, I was nervous. I was up against 13 other people who also wanted to get their passions out in public. But once I started answering the questions, I realized that I was getting snaps and applause! Many folks have asked me how I prepared for that night, and the truth is that I spoke from my heart, and allowed it to guide me throughout the event. At the end, those who watched the forum were asked to vote for who they wanted to see appointed to the position, and I came in second--even beating out former council member Nick Licata!
Even though I didn’t win, it did open my eyes to world I didn’t think I was qualified to enter. As a result, I am in the process of changing my career from direct service to legislative advocacy and social organizing. It wasn’t just something I did, it was transformative and has shifted my path towards the meso/macro level of change-agency.
If I had to give any advice, it would be to refuse to allow the internalized stigmas of our past to hinder the progress we can make in our present, or dictate the successes we can achieve in the future. It was difficult for me to do something so large and public, to allow myself to be raw and tender with the populace of Seattle. Honestly, there were several moments during the ten-day process that I broke down with anxiety and fear. That said, I am so glad I allowed myself to exercise the courage needed to grow into who I am today.
And this is only the beginning. You haven’t seen the last of me fighting to address the inequities in Seattle, King County, Washington State… or maybe even in the USA. Stay tuned!