The Pacific Northwest has rarely suffered from a shortage of committed political activists or spirited community leaders, but longtime Seattle organizer Yalonda Sindé remains one of the most effective of recent decades. A homegrown treasure, she has effectively carved out a reputation as an inspiring public speaker, cogent essayist, successful grant writer, valued educator, and community outreach specialist. More formally, Sindé has served as the executive director of the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice, as executive director for the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs and the related National Environmental Health Science & Protection Accreditation Council, and as principal of Yalonda Sindé Consulting, where her award-winning talents as an expert in organizational development and nonprofit management have kept her on the forefront of numerous important social issues.
Just Us -- and Justice
Though far from being an ordinary person, Yalonda Sindé was born in Seattle under quite ordinary circumstances in 1963. At the time, still, two common occupations that promised African Americans a possible path from working class up to middle class status were railroad work and hairdressing -- and those were the jobs her parents held. Her mother worked in a salon and her father was employed as a steward on Amtrak. But having a good job was one thing and receiving respect was entirely another. Sindé and her two younger sisters were witnesses to the injustice their father faced in his workplace:
"Watching what my father endured as a black man in the 1960s and 1970s as a kid, I learned to stand up for what is right. My dad, like many black men, endured a lot of racial harassment on the job, and he dealt with it so he could feed his family" (Charles).
In 1982 Sindé graduated from Renton High School (400 S 2nd Street) and, after receiving a Regents Minority Scholarship in 1992, she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and a master's degree in Non-Profit Leadership from Seattle University (900 Broadway). In the early 1990s she attended an environmental issues conference organized by a new grassroots group, the Community Coalition for Environmental Justice (CCEJ), and was invited to join their board. From 1993 through 1996 Sindé -- who became widely known for her effective leadership and inspiring speeches -- served on the board before beginning a 10-year stint as the CCEJ's Executive Director.
That decade saw the CCEJ (1620 18th Avenue, Seattle) -- whose approach was to organize people in Seattle's "poorer, nonwhite neighborhoods" (Parrish) -- successfully establish itself as an influential, multiracial, and multilingual community-based environmental coalition. Indeed, it successfully forged alliances with concerned communities all across the nation. And if it surprised anyone to see a young African American as a leader in the environmental realm, Sindé rejected that notion: "Environmentalism gets lumped in as a white, middle-class movement ... . People of color have been organized on environmental issues since the mid-'80s, along with economic justice. You can't separate the two" (Parrish).
Battles and Victories
With Sindé's interest in a broad range of issues -- including children's health, welfare reform, low-income housing, and economic and environmental justice -- the CCEJ had no shortage of battles to choose from. But her focused leadership saw the organization join, and prevail in, at least two major environmental skirmishes whose resolutions gained national attention. In 1998 the group campaigned successfully to halt the installation of an in-city medical waste incineration facility at South Seattle's Veterans Affairs Medical Center (1660 S Columbian Way).
Another, somewhat less-decisive, win saw Sindé helping to solve one of Seattle's longest-standing industrial pollution problems. For a quarter century, the region's largest painting (and sandblasting) firm, the Long Painting Company (8025 and 9530 10th Avenue S), had aggravated its South Park neighbors with toxic fume emissions, ear-shattering noise, and dusty environmental contamination. But then in 2001 -- and in the face of concerted pressure by South Park residents and the CCEJ -- the company finally announced that it would be packing up and moving southward to a site (21414 68th Avenue S) in the nearby city of Kent. Although Sindé must have been proud of the successful effort to rid South Park of one pollution source, she responded with this thoughtful closer: "Is it a victory if they move to another community and pollute there?" (Anderson).
"Other major accomplishments," of the CCEJ, according to its website, "include promoting pipeline safety and supporting the passage of the Washington State Environmental Justice Act in 2002, mentoring the development of new youth environmental justice leaders, and educating thousands of people in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest about environmental justice issues at numerous conferences, workshops and events" (CCEJ).
Yalonda Sinde Consulting
In 2006 Sindé launched her own consulting business, Yalonda Sinde Consulting, which states that it "can help non-profits with strategic planning, board development, public speaking training, fund development, meeting facilitation, work planning, grant writing and more" (Yalonda Sinde Consulting). In the years since, her firm has assisted various clients including nonprofit organizations and government agencies in both Washington and Oregon. Among those who have benefited from her efforts are the Health Equity Initiative, Justice Works, the Pride Foundation, the Washington State Prevention Summit, the NE Coalition of Neighborhoods, the Multnomah County Health Department, the Urban League of Portland, and the International Center for Traditional Childbearing.
The Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP -- 8620 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle) and the related National Environmental Health Science & Protection Accreditation Council are other organizations where Sindé -- as executive director (and board co-chair) -- has done important work. AEHAP's goal is to increase diversity in the environmental health profession and there, as elsewhere, Sindé's efforts have been welcomed.
Accolades and Honors
Currently a resident of Portland, Sindé has been honored with numerous awards over the years. They include:
- The Washington Health Foundation Award for Community Health Leadership (2002)
- El Centro De La Raza Leadership Award (2002)
- Samuel B. McKinney Award for Peace and Racial Justice (2002)
- Environmental Education Association of Washington President's Award (2002 and 2003)
- Leadership for a Changing World Award Nominee (2003)
- American Friends Service Committee leadership Award (2006)
- Martin Luther King Jr. Distinguished Service Award (2007)
- UW Warren G. Magnuson Health Sciences Center and UW Medical Center Award (2007).