Growing up, Federal Way native Shyan Selah was sure he was going to be a professional athlete.
The 1993 Federal Way High School graduate played three sports and got a full ride scholarship to play football in college. Then he blew out his knee.
“It sent me into a whirlpool of confusion and not really knowing what my future would entail,” Selah said. “So it left me feeling like my choices were a bit marginalized, if you will.”
By just focusing on sports, Selah said he didn’t shine the light on his other talents, which largely centered around music. It wasn’t until he was a student at Central Washington University that he saw his opportunity to start embracing academia and choreographing what he wanted to do in school.
Now, a successful singer-songwriter, producer, activist, poet, entrepreneur and founder of The Brave New World Global Entertainment Company and founder of The Shyan Selah Foundation, Selah can also be described as a community advocate. Through his community partnerships, largely with Federal Way Public Schools and Communities in Schools, Selah is trying to give back to his community and reach students, primarily middle schoolers, and help broaden their horizons.
Selah said, with his projects and partnerships, he wants students to not feel marginalized or like they have limited opportunities, but instead see they can rise and become whatever they want, whether they are rich, poor, loved, unloved, black, white, etc.
“I want to get them to see certain aspects of themselves and get them to shine the light within themselves and get them to see they can do it,” Selah said. “It shows that you really can do anything, by accepting things in yourself that you might be overlooking.”
Already a regular speaker in the Illahee Middle School’s Manhood Life Skills Class, which is filled with many young black students, Selah began another project last year, Coffee with the Principal.
“The spirit of everything that I try to do from the community level just comes from one simple question. It’s a personal question: What do I wish I would have had the opportunity to do when I grew up?” Selah said.
Selah said his upbringing and the city itself afforded him wonderful opportunities to do some of the things he’s done. Still, he often wonders what role programs such as the ones he is building would have had in his life if they were available when he was growing up.
Coffee with the Principal, an event held once or twice a month, celebrates enthusiastic readers at the middle-school level and brings them together with families, other readers and their school principal at a special location.
It started at a local Starbucks, but after it gained popularity and more schools joined, a new location had to be found; now it is hosted at Barnes & Noble. During the event, the different students from all backgrounds get up in front of the group of parents and talk about a book — any of their choice — they have read and why they liked it so much. They also talk about what they want to do when they grow up.
In addition to shining the light on themselves, Selah said he is trying to create a moment for these students.
“Reading is a very cool, intelligent and imaginative thing to participate in, but it doesn’t really get its credit,” Selah said.
From reading stop signs to brand names when shopping or video games, reading is an activity people do every day, but it is easy to overlook how important it is, he said.
“We are constantly in a state of reading, but it’s so subtle that it’s not appreciated I don’t think,” Selah said.
He said his grandmother, Goldia Brinson, a civil rights activist and community advocate, is one of his inspirations for all he does, but especially the reading program. She introduced him to poetry, music and literature in her own basement. He said, in a way, he has come full circle with the Coffee with the Principal event.
Even if students aren’t at the top of their class academically, many love to read, and “they are imaginative and colorful and artistic,” and deserve to be recognized and have the spotlight shined on them, Selah said.
It also introduces them to public speaking, as well as the different aspects of any type of production and what goes into creating it, as well as the people involved.
“The focus isn’t about celebrity,” he said. “Not everybody is going to have that, but the one thing that is for sure is no superstar has ever been made without large groups of people behind them performing those roles. We want to put that in front of them.
“Lastly, and maybe most importantly, it’s an opportunity for the child to hang out with their parents or guardians and school principal at a neutral place,” Selah added. “It’s not on a school campus, it’s in the community. It’s in a fun environment. It creates kind of a moment, if you would. The families are having a really fun moment, and I love that.”
The moment doesn’t stop there, however. Selah and his team make it even more special by using his own production equipment to videotape the event.
“Our kids are growing up in a rapidly advancing multi-media society, and collecting moments does not appear to be as important as they once were,” Selah said.
One lesson he hopes students learn is they will become stronger because of their experiences.
“…how you see your parents, or your coaches or your teachers isn’t always supposed to feel good or even be a happy story, but it is a lesson of survival and how to get through the lessons of life respectfully,” Selah said.