By Ryan MacDonald
Recognizing the brave and tireless work of artists, business owners, civic advocates and city employees, the Crosscut Courage Awards shine a light on a handful of Seattleites who are striving to make their communities a better place for everyone. Not just a select few.
These annual awards were presented recently by Crosscut, a reader-supported news site that believes “an informed public is essential to solving the challenges of our times” The awards create awareness around the lives of communities and populations often overlooked.
And to one of this year’s honorees, this mission is something that must be done.
“I definitely feel that I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, and that there’s no question that the work needs to be done,” said David Harris, this year’s recipient of the Courage in Tech Award, a specific award sponsored by Comcast.
“I don’t wake up every day and think, ‘Oh wow I’m courageous for this.’ But I do understand that it’s not easy, and I understand that there are obstacles, sometimes intentional, but also I’m not alone.”
As the Startup Advocate for the City of Seattle’s Office of Economic Development, Harris supports programs like StartupSeattle and the initiative TechHire which serves to connect women, people of color and the formerly incarcerated with training and jobs in the tech industry.
By working with employers and training providers in coding boot camps and accelerator training providers, Harris is instrumental in assisting potential candidates as they pursue professions in a field where the full-spectrum of representation is often limited.
“I’m really excited about finding new innovative ways for people to find career pathways,” he said, about the City of Seattle’s regional goal of training and placing 2000 individuals in tech related jobs by 2020. “More and more options are emerging.”
But his work didn’t just start there.
In a previous role, Harris led the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) where he mentored a student group to the Kyoto International Middle School in Japan. There, his students took part in a weeklong immersive education experience.
“In the past year I’ve been able to help be a part of securing millions of dollars worth of funding and resources and I’ve received awards and spoke at different events, but seeing the students I worked with really evolve right in front of my eyes were definitely some of my best moments professionally.”
The person who presented Harris with his “Courage in Tech” award was Diem Ly, Director of Community Investment and Philanthropy for Comcast NBCUniversal, The have two formed a professional partnership over the last few years, as they both continue to work on similar goals for their respective communities.
“You’ll often see us in the back of the room at a conference having a candid conversation,” said Ly, before presenting Harris with his award on behalf of Comcast NBCUniversal.
“Maybe(we’re talking) about the lack of diversity and perspectives there, or counting on one hand the number of people who look like us, reflect our generation, or, more importantly, have the courage to say and do something different.”
Ly herself is no stranger with fighting for diversity inclusion. From 2007 to 2012, she worked at the International Examiner, the long-standing newspaper based in Seattle’s International District, and served as the paper’s editor –n-chief.
The compliments flow both ways. “The principles she maintains and holds, and holds other people accountable to, is another thing I respect,” said Harris about Ly.
“I feel like I have a comrade in the struggle and I’m able to bounce ideas off of her,” he said. “She’s a valuable asset, not just to the community, but to me personally.”
— Courtney Wallace (@agentcj) October 12, 2017
With some of the top tech titans in world, and leading the industries of cloud computing and virtual reality, the city of Seattle must work to provide digital access to everyone and work on closing the digital divide, Harris says.
“As more and more great world-changing things happen here, in Seattle, that means that the harder we have to work to make sure everyone can take advantage of the benefits.”
Harris was joined by Pat Graney (for her work in arts & culture), “The Gang of Four,” aka Bob Santos, Roberto Maestas, Bernie Whitebear and Seattle City Councilman Larry Gossett (for their respective work in public service), Doris Koo (for her work in business), Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson (for his work as an elected official) and Bill Ruckelshaus, who was awarded the lifetime achievement for his distinguished career in politics and environmental protection.