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caption: King County Council Member Girmay Zahilay and former Council Member Larry Gossett
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King County Council Member Girmay Zahilay and former Council Member Larry Gossett
Credit: Courtesy of Girmay Zahilay

When two civil rights eras collide: The stalwart and the newcomer

This conversation is part of KUOW's Beyond the Protest series, led by people involved in the struggle for racial justice, from different generations and viewpoints, from protesters to police.

Last year’s King County Council race between Larry Gossett and Girmay Zahilay might have highlighted a generational divide in the Black community, or, it might have built a bridge.

Gossett grew up in Seattle, graduated from Franklin high school, and helped start the Black Student Union at the University of Washington, and went on to join the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. He served for 25 years on the council, where he was recognized as a defender of civil rights and a perennial force in local politics.

Gossett: “I think comparatively speaking, that the movement today is much, much larger; that the multiracial nature of the movement is much broader.”

caption: Aaron Dixon (left), Larry Gossett and Carl Miller (right) talked to news reporters after they were arrested for unlawful assembly at Franklin High School. They received the maximum sentence—six months in jail. But
their convictions were later overturned on appeal.
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Aaron Dixon (left), Larry Gossett and Carl Miller (right) talked to news reporters after they were arrested for unlawful assembly at Franklin High School. They received the maximum sentence—six months in jail. But their convictions were later overturned on appeal.
Credit: Courtesy of Washington Secretary of State

Zahilay was born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents. His family immigrated to Seattle when he was 3. They lived in public housing in South Seattle, and a homeless shelter downtown at one point. He went on to graduate from Franklin High, then Stanford University. He became a lawyer, worked as a White House Counsel intern during the Obama administration, and started the non-profit Rising Leaders, which provides mentors to underserved students.

Zahilay was the first candidate to challenge Gossett in 14 years. His platform to expand public housing options and rethink youth incarceration garnered wide support and a win last January.

caption: King County Council’s newest member, Girmay Zahilay, is sworn in by Judge Richard Jones, the brother of Quincy Jones. Zahilay invited all the youth in attendance to join him in taking his oath of office on December 22, 2019.
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King County Council’s newest member, Girmay Zahilay, is sworn in by Judge Richard Jones, the brother of Quincy Jones. Zahilay invited all the youth in attendance to join him in taking his oath of office on December 22, 2019.
Credit: Courtesy of Chloe Collyer/South Seattle Emerald

We asked the two era-bridging council members to have a conversation about how they see the protests this summer, and where they may take us.

Zahilay: “Larry, it almost feels like in Seattle, people will worship and glorify civil rights movements of the past, but when it's happening in the current moment, people don't appreciate it as much …How do we make this a multi-generational coalition as well?”

Gossett: “I might be a particularly unique character to be asking that question. I got my start in what was considered a very radical atmosphere … We made a lot of mistakes in the 1960s. We have to find things that everybody can do, all toward the goal of making this a much more inclusive, much more democratic environment than it's ever been.”

Larry Gossett and Girmay Zahilay recorded this conversation for KUOW's Beyond the Protest series. To suggest someone for our next conversation, email us at engage@kuow.org.