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We STILL Can't Breathe: Systemic Issues at Seattle Parks and Recreation negatively impact Black Men

Updated: Jun 21, 2023

Dear BUILD 206 Community,

2022 has ended, and I hope you enjoyed some time with your loved ones for the holidays. I would love to be coming to you with a positive update about my employment situation; things still have not improved. This past year, I’ve endured additional challenges with Seattle Parks and Recreation related to my job that has contributed to the continued deterioration of my mental and physical well-being. Below is a high-level summary of some of the situations I’ve experienced; they are:

  • Ongoing systemic issues at Seattle Parks and Recreation negatively impacting Black men.

  • Continuous patterns of discrimination within hiring, promotion, compensation, and disciplinary processes.

  • Leaving half my salary and reducing my hours to protect my mental and physical well-being in 2021.

  • 70+ emails to the City from community members to support my situation with no accurate response.

  • Multiple requests for support from City Leadership: Mayor’s Office, City Council, Seattle Parks, and Recreation, etc., with inadequate response.

  • Forced to return to work Full-Time in May of 2022 in the same unhealthy working conditions.

  • No response from HR and management related to the job's impact on my mental and physical well-being.

  • Unknown changes to my FTE in Dec of 2021 (Full Time down to Part-Time) without formal communication.

  • Continued failure to address unhealthy and unsafe working conditions.

  • Overlooked for promotional opportunities and disregarded my skills, experience, and tenure.

  • Forced into FMLA in Nov of 2022 to prevent further impacts on my mental and physical well-being.

Actions steps you can take to support my struggles and help shed light on my and the experiences of other qualified, skilled, and overlooked Black employees within Seattle Parks and Recreation. Share this information with your networks, Media Outlets, Civil Rights Organizations, Employment Lawyers, Labor Rights Organizations, etc. that may be willing to help and support. Please feel free to share this letter with them, or they can email, and I’d be happy to meet with them.

To understand in more detail the issues, I encourage you to read more below:

Once again, thank you for supporting me on my path in search of change with the City of Seattle and Seattle's Department of Parks and Recreation. If you’ve been following along as I navigate this situation. In that case, you know that this entire process has been an attempt to make the City of Seattle a better place, not just for myself but for others who may not have the same access to resources, knowledge, and understanding that I do. If you are new to this and want more about the backstory of this struggle, you can read more in these past updates from Aug 23, 2021, and Oct 25, 2021.

This journey, unfortunately, received a lackluster response from City of Seattle elected officials and leaders. The response came only because of the inclusion of a Public Disclosure Request. 70+ emails were received from Black-IPoC community members, and they still failed to answer the request accurately. Their responses provided no clear, actionable steps to meet with me or desire to find a solution. Worse, our newly elected Mayor failed to respond after many attempts and requests to meet. Unfortunately, the City of Seattle Mayor's Office has a long history of being non-responsive and misplacing requested records around issues that impact the Black-IPoC community. In search of a solution, I followed up with the Mayor's Office directly, using personal connections and relationships forged throughout my tenure with the City of Seattle. I still have not been offered an opportunity to meet with Mayor Harrell or anyone from his office in person or virtually. See the email communications between Mayor Harrell’s office and me HERE.

With no response received and to remain in compliance with demands being made by Seattle Parks and Recreation, I was forced to return to work full time on May 25, 2022, into the same position, the same toxic environment, dealing with the same issues that started this process. Even after multiple requests to my supervisor and human resources, no time was made or offered to discuss options for change. Knowing my role with BUILD 206 and its partnership with Acts on Stage, Seattle Parks and Recreation also tried to force me to supervise Isiah Anderson Jr. and oversee the operations of the Teen Summer Musical along with Citywide Late-Night Programming with no discussion around changes to my role or increased compensation. I voiced my concerns about this request, which were again disregarded until I pointed out that Seattle Parks and Recreation was putting me into an unethical situation based on the memo that I worked in partnership with the Seattle Office of Ethics and Elections in 2019. Seattle Parks and Recreation received a copy of this memo on March 13, 2019.

As Black people, we are often forced to create our own solutions or remain resilient while dealing with an issue. As a potential solution, I applied to open leadership positions within Seattle Parks and Recreation. Why would I want to stay, you ask? To create real change and to help other Black people in similar situations. With my inability to get answers, support, or assistance, I can only imagine what others in similar positions or below my pay grade are forced to experience. If able to move into a higher level of leadership, I could directly impact the change that needs to occur. Again, what I experienced during these hiring processes was another direct reflection of why immediate change is required within the City of Seattle and Seattle Parks and Recreation.

I applied for the Recreation Teen and Youth Development Manager and the Recreation Equity and Engagement Strategic Advisor. To start, I met and exceeded all the qualifications for both positions and was offered an initial interview for both positions. After that, the hiring process became marred with issues and inconsistencies that felt intentional and targeted.

The first issue was that the hiring process for the Recreation Teen and Youth Development Manager was canceled immediately after I became the top candidate after the 1st round of interviews. The job was reposted months later with minuscule changes and updates, none of which included any substantial operational or structural changes (you can see the updated job posting HERE). Sticking with the process and believing that I was a great candidate for this role, I resubmitted my application when the position was reposted. I was again offered an initial interview but did not receive any follow-up communication or the information needed to join the virtual interview. I had to follow up with the Director of Recreation and Human Resources to ensure I was interviewed. Human Resources informed me that due to “multitasking,” someone forgot to send me the link to join the virtual interview. This response and the action, or lack thereof, felt targeted towards me, but I moved past it and was able to reschedule my 1st round interview and made it to the 2nd round of interviews.

During this time, I was profoundly impacted by the loss of D’Vonne Pickett Jr., who had been tragically killed in front of his business. His death significantly impacted me as D’Vonne was a former youth in my Seattle Parks and Recreation programs and currently participated as a BUILD Black Wealth Incubator grant recipient. Staying connected and watching D’Vonne grow, build a family, build successful businesses, and become a pillar of hope among the Black community and his generation and then lose his life due to senseless violence directly impacted my well-being. It was also at this time that the interviewing process for the Recreation Teen and Youth Development Manager continued without my knowledge.

The 3rd round of interviews was scheduled, and no notice was provided to me that I was no longer being considered after two interviews. I was informed of my removal from consideration through an impromptu conversation with the Recreation Deputy Director while I was working to secure resources for staff and participants who may have been impacted by the death of D’Vonne. I found out the 3rd round of interviews was taking place on the same day. Seattle Parks and Recreation’s decision to move forward without any communication prevented me from questioning the process. From Stopping the original process, faulty interview scheduling, and lack of communication or follow-up, this entire hiring process felt targeted to eliminate me. I also shared my connection to D’Vonne with the Recreation Deputy Director and my Manager. No one from Seattle Parks and Recreation has checked in on me to see how I am doing or if I need any support.

The more significant systemic issue is that for over a decade now, a Black man has not been selected as the top candidate in the hiring process for a Manager or Strategic Advisor position within the Recreation Division of Seattle Parks and Recreation. Two other Black men and I, all long-term Seattle Parks and Recreation employees, were all qualified for the Recreation Teen and Youth Development Manager position. The candidate that Seattle Parks and Recreation hired was a white man who was an external candidate with little to no knowledge of internal systems or operations. The external white candidate was chosen over three highly qualified Black men, who combined have over 40+ years of experience with Seattle Parks and Recreation. This is another clear example of how opportunities to gain access to leadership positions within the Recreation Division of Seattle Parks and Recreation have been denied to Black men. Even with years of direct experience, the needed skills, and the ability to perform the roles and duties without issue, Black men are still left out of final consideration for senior-ranking positions within the Recreation Division. Black men need to be represented in leadership roles in the Recreation Division.

Many Black men who have obtained senior-ranking roles in the Recreation Division at Seattle Parks and Recreation have done so through reorganizations, reclassifications, or being selected as a backup only after the chosen candidate, often non-black, is unable to fulfill the duties of the role. This long-standing hiring discrimination pattern proves that the Recreation Division of Seattle Parks and Recreation only sees Black men as fit to operate in positions of service or supporting roles but lacks the trust in the skills and abilities of Black men to be leaders. It also highlights Seattle Parks and Recreation's failure to follow through and embrace current social justice, equity, or diversity during its hiring processes. Seattle Parks and Recreation lacks a fair system for evaluation and promotion in their hiring processes, especially regarding senior leadership positions in the Recreation Division for Black men. Black men are also the most underpaid and highest disciplined demographic within Seattle Parks and Recreation. The pay inequities are outlined in this 2021 article by the Seattle times.

I wish my issues were only related to me, but sadly they are not. My workplace experience within the Recreation Division of Seattle Parks and Recreation is not specific to me and plagues other Black employees. The relationship between the leadership and Black employees is often performative and transactional, and Black employees who share their experiences fear negative consequences. Hiring, performance management, and promotions are far from fair. Black employees work just as hard, if not harder, than their non-Black counterparts but are considered the least for overdue or well-deserved promotions. These feelings of being an outcast or treated differently have an “emotional tax” that I’ve been directly impacted by through my deteriorating health and wellness.

So, once again, I determined that my mental and physical well-being was more important than forcing myself to exist in a toxic work environment. I decided in November 2022 to take a temporary Family Medical Leave from my role. Like other past experiences, I continue to deal with poor communication and nuances that feel targeted toward me. As I remained on leave, I noticed that Seattle Parks and Recreation Payroll changed my pay for holiday hours on my timesheet. After reaching out to Payroll I found out that my position had been reduced from full-time (40 hours a week) to part-time (20 hours per week) without my knowledge. This change was implemented from my request to work 20 hours per week back in February of 2021 and was approved by the Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation and implemented on December 8, 2021, with no communication to me whatsoever. Even with this change, Seattle Parks and Recreation still forced me to return to work FULL TIME in the same environment with the same ongoing unaddressed issues on May 25, 2022, while trying to give me added duties without any added compensation.

This pattern of interaction has been going on for several years and, unfortunately, continues. The City of Seattle's Leadership response to the community or me has failed to be timely. No one has tried to address the complaints or grievances close to the lowest level possible, which has always been my intended goal. I have exhausted every viable option in resolving this through my supervisor, their supervisor, and even working with the Superintendent of Seattle Parks and Recreation and the current Mayor and City Council members.

The lack of action and inadequate response that has been taken or received from all parties and the inability to operate equitably in their hiring procedures highlight some reasons I have chosen to continue to share this situation with the community. While I do not wish to advance this issue further than needed and continue to re-traumatize myself, I feel that the City of Seattle has left me with little to no choice. The physical, mental, and psychological effects on my family and I have forced me to temporarily take Family Medical Leave from my role to protect my mental and overall health and well-being. I did not arrive at this decision easily. I have always taken great pride in my work and enjoy creating safe, supportive spaces and opportunities for my team and the Black-IPoC youth and community we serve. I have devoted nearly 20 years of my life to this work through the City of Seattle, but I was unfortunately forced into protecting my well-being .

In the future, I plan to continue sharing my struggles and shedding light on the experiences of my and other qualified, skilled, and overlooked Black employees within Seattle Parks and Recreation. I am also exploring the option of connecting with media and other outlets in the hope of them seeing the benefit of helping us amplify our voices to achieve the change needed. I am also researching legal remedies to resolve these issues. If you know of any media outlets or lawyers that may be of help and support, please feel free to share this letter with them. Or they can email, and I’d be happy to meet with them.

I am determined to prevent any impacts from my time with Seattle Parks and Recreation from impacting my continued desire to serve our community through BUILD 206. The pride and happiness felt by providing Black joy-filled events, capacity-building, support, mentorship, education, and relationship development continue to motivate me. Again, I am grateful and appreciate every community member that has sent an email, supported me through social media, reached out to provide their support, or even taken the time to read and understand my situation. Trust that this is not the end, but hopefully, the beginning of a significant shift in how Black employees are seen, heard, and treated. Stay tuned for more.

Once again, I am truly thankful for the support my community has continued to provide, but I am saddened by where the situation stands.

André Franklin, #BUILD206 it’s a lifestyle 💯✊🏽

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