Sheley Secrest wants marginalized communities to do more than just testify at council hearings—she said she is going to shift power and bring their voice to policymaking.
“Because I’m an activist, I am able to bring folks to the table,” she said. “A lot of communities feel that they’ve been left out.”
Secrest, who’s running for Seattle City Council’s open at-large seat, is an attorney and local NAACP vice president who serves as an “intake for the African American community,” collecting stories from people who have felt that their rights had been violated by officers. She's raised over $15,000, according to the Ethics and Elections Commission.
She has legally represented families who lost loved ones to police deadly use of force, including the relatives of Che Taylor. Now she wants more done on police reform—and to push for better de-escalation training for officers, which she said is long overdue.
“Being a black woman with three black children, I want to make sure Seattle is safe and everyone feels safe with law enforcement,” she said.
Secrest, 42, was a founding board member of the Central Area Collaborative and joined the Black Community Impact Alliance. The groups helped create affordable housing in the historically black Central District, like the public housing project on 14th and Yesler for people making less than $19,000 a year, with rent for as little as $250 a month. Her plan is to continue working with nonprofit organizations and the Office of Housing under HALA to create public housing opportunities on the city council.
Her father lived in the Central District, where Secrest said he worked three jobs while her mother was disabled and struggled with her mental health. Secrest's family became a strong motivator for her to get involved in the fight for Seattle’s minimum wage increase, she said. She spent her childhood splitting time between Seattle and Puyallup, and then attended Seattle University to study law in 2001, and moved back to Seattle in 2012 after a few years in Cleveland. She now lives in South Seattle.
“I saw firsthand what it's like to work three jobs and still not have enough money at the end of the day,” she said. “I saw the struggle firsthand of wanting more, working hard for it, and it still coming up short.”
Secrest helped lobby for the “ban-the-box” ordinance on employment applications, which prohibits both job denial based solely on an arrest record and employers from inquiring about criminal history until after the applicants have been screened for their qualifications; she wants the bill to go further to apply to housing applications.
Secrest supports most of the HALA recommendations but opposes the Grand Bargain, and remains concerned about economic segregation in the urban villages. She also supports pursuing single-family duplexes and triplexes.
Secrest strongly supports the Navigation Center and said she wants to address the “couch surfers” in Seattle, which she feels is a group being overlooked in the homelessness epidemic. She said those staying with friends, family, and loved ones are just as in need as those on the streets. She said she believes the housing crisis will improve by continuing to enforce the Housing Choice Vouchers, and said she wants funding to come from progressive taxes like the income tax and impact fees on developers. And Secrest said her race makes her uniquely qualified to address inequities in housing and homelessness.
“I’m not reading a book or coming up with policies based off of what another city is doing,” Secrest said. “I eat, breathe, I live this. Every single day of my life.”