Explore Race and Social Justice through Literature Out Loud

“We are human only if I see myself

in you and if you see yourself in me.”

These lines are from a poem called “Dialectic” by Quenton Baker, one of eight literary artists selected to present their work to King County employees in a series of symposia in 2016 called “Reflecting on Race and Racism through Spoken Word, Story, and Conversation.”

The presentations offer King County employees the opportunity to explore equity and social justice issues through the personal and intimate art of “literature out loud.” Writers will read or perform their work and briefly explain its genesis and inspiration. A facilitated question-and-answer session between audience and artists will follow.

Poets Quenton Baker and Casandra Lopez will appear in the first symposium on January 12 from 1-3 p.m. in the eighth-floor conference at King Street Center.


Quenton Baker (left) is a poet, teacher, and former hip-hop artist. Washington State Poet Laureate Elizabeth Austen recently said that “Baker peels back layers of language to reveal the ways both blackness and whiteness are racialized in his chapbook Diglossic in the Second America.”


Casandra LopezCasandra Lopez (left) was the 2013 winner of the Native Writers Chapbook Award from the Sequoyah National Research Center for When Bullet Breaks. In an online essay, Lopez says, “I write because my mind refuses to quiet… I write because I am witness… I write because poetry saved me.”

The project is made possible by the Equity and Social Justice Opportunity Fund. The project committee consists of Wastewater Treatment Division employees De’Sean Quinn, Debra Ross, and Cathie Scott, and Solid Waste Division employee Donna Miscolta.

King County employees can sign up on online for the January 12 symposium. Early registration is advised since seating is limited. Online registration will also be available for all subsequent presentations in this series, each of which will take place in a different location.

The complete schedule of artists and locations is below:

Reflecting on Race and Racism through Spoken Word, Story, and Conversation – A symposium featuring local literary artists

January 12, 2016, 1-3 p.m., 8th floor Conference Center, King Street Center, Quenton Baker and Casandra Lopez

Quenton Baker is a poet, teacher, and former hip-hop artist. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Measure for Measure: An Anthology of Poetic Meters and It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip-Hop. His chapbook, Diglossic in the Second America, is forthcoming from Punch Press. He has an MFA in poetry from the University of Southern Maine and a BA in creative writing from Seattle University.

Casandra Lopez is a Chicana, Cahuilla, Luiseno, and Tongva writer raised in Southern California. She has an MFA from the University of New Mexico and has been selected for residencies with the Santa Fe Art Institute and Hedgebrook. Her poetry chapbook was published by the Sequoyah National Research Center. She is a Canto Mundo Fellow and a founding editor of As/Us: A Space for Women of the World.

April 7, 2016, 10 a.m. – noon, Alvine Room, King County Elections Office, Renton, Troy Osaki and Hamda Yusuf

 Troy Osaki writes to honor his family’s history of social resistance and community activism with the Japanese American and Filipino American communities. Troy won the 2012 Youth Speaks Seattle and University of Washington Poetry Grand Slam, and represented Seattle at national events in Berkeley, New York City, and La Verne, CA. In 2015, he was Rain City Slam Poetry Champion. He attends Seattle University Law School and facilitates monthly legal presentations at King County Youth Detention.

Hamda Yusuf is a Somali Muslim woman who turned to storytelling to find her voice. She began writing about the everyday microaggressions in her high school honors classes and the Islamophobia she faced playing soccer with a headscarf.  She began performing at Youth Speaks open mics and won the Grand Slam on Team Seattle in 2013. She was invited to speak at TEDxRainier and was awarded a fellowship in 2014 to go to Wales to connect with other young Somalis living in the diaspora.

June 15, 2016, 1-3 p.m., Room 123, Chinook Building, Anis Gisele and Shin Yu Pai 

Anis Gisele is a queer, immigrant (from Manila, Philippines) person of color who learned to value all her selves through spoken word. Her poetry draws together personal narrative, intergenerational pain, and identity politics. Her writing has been published in Salon, The Feminist Wire, and Black Girl Dangerous. She works as a writing coach for high school students with learning differences and volunteers as a creative writing instructor in the women’s prison.

Shin Yu Pai is the author of several poetry collections, including AUX ARCS (La Alameda, 2013), Adamantine (White Pine, 2010), Sightings (1913 Press, 2008), and Equivalence (La Alameda, 2003). Shin Yu has read her work for national and international audiences at the Geraldine Dodge Poetry Festival and Montreal Zen Poetry Festival, as well as at colleges across the country. She was a Stranger Genius Nominee in Literature.

September 13, 2016, 10 a.m. – noon, Conference Rooms A and B, Seattle-King County Public Health, Eastgate, Kiana Davis and Djenanway Se-Gahon 

Kiana Davis is the author of Digging for Roots and From These Roots Up. She was born and raised in Richmond, CA.  She began writing poetry at the age of twelve to grapple with growing up in a low-income community and to help her develop her identity as a young black girl in America. For the past ten years, she has worked as an educator teaching at-risk youth in Washington state.

Djenanway Se-Gahon first performed a spoken word poem at a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day assembly at her high school. She now spends her time writing prose, poetry, and songs, and performs quarterly at the Santa Clara University talent shows hosted by the Black Student Union. She is collaborating with a professor on a grant to explore social justice in the U.S. penal system and to advocate for restorative rather than punitive justice.