Federal Way’s Progress Pushers, which supports youth who have been impacted by the incarceration system, is one of 24 local community organizations that recently received $200,000 each from King County to help the county shape anti-racist policies and determine budget priorities.
King County Executive Dow Constantine started “an ongoing, multi-year effort to shift resources from systems that cause harm, to upstream programs aligned with racial and social justice,” prompted by the county’s declaration of racism as a public health crisis on June 11.
For the changes, King County officials “developed anti-racist policy agendas and biennial budget priorities based on demands from Black, brown and Indigenous people of color.” As a show of investment and support, King County awarded $200,000 to 24 organizations on Nov. 19 to “engage members of their communities, and provide meaningful feedback with input directly from the communities most harmed by systems of oppression and racism.”
The funds will be distributed as $100,000 for this year and another $100,000 in 2021.
The grant funds provide community engagement funding through January 2021, after which the recipients will provide summary reports of their findings to King County. These reports will then be used by the Public Health Crisis Core Team to “further align policy and budget priorities toward an anti-racist agenda, including accountability and identifying any missing pieces based on community feedback.”
Among the 24 awardees are Coalition of Immigrants, Refugees, and Communities of Color (CIRCC), Freedom Project, Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle and Progress Pushers.
A higher purpose
Progress Pushers was founded in mid-2018 by resident Eddie Purpose (previously Howard) as a way to connect with local youth who have been impacted by the criminal justice system in some way, shape or form.
Purpose, now 36, spent 12 and a half years in prison. He left Decatur High School at age 16, committed a home-invasion armed robbery, was a fugitive at age 17, and became the youngest person at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla at age 18.
Before prison, he never had a job or even attended a job interview. Since his release, he’s never been without a job.
While incarcerated, Purpose took a class called Ready for Release by Augustine Cita, who is now the vice president of Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. He then had the opportunity to teach that class the final three years of his prison time, and continued to teach incarcerated individuals after he was out.
On Nov. 21, Purpose celebrated his five-year anniversary of being released from prison.
Based on statistics, Purpose said he was supposed to be back behind bars within a year of his release. Now he’s a homeowner, a husband and a new father, working to change the lives of local youth.
Progress Pushers hosted two-hour group meetings twice a week at Truman Campus in Federal Way, which had the attendance of 27 youth from throughout the area. Purpose said nearly all of those youth had been impacted by the incarceration system in some personal way.
Due to the pandemic, group meetings are no longer possible and the organization has shifted to one-on-one mentoring. But, Purpose said, it isn’t the same.
“With the population of youth that we service, shifting to virtual groups just did not work,” he said. Some of the participants did not have access to technology, or simply weren’t comfortable sharing while at home.
Now, Progress Pushers has hired a navigator, Lovell Sykes, to assist about 22 youth in Federal Way and directly connect them to resources, address needs, link to educational opportunities, help with life skills and more. This strategy is modeled after their work with youth in Seattle.
“The overall process we provide is for empowerment and for creating self-sustainability in our youth,” Purpose said. The organization is affiliated with the national organization Credible Messengers, after Purpose completed a 40-hour training in 2017.
Though Progress Pushers is a relatively new organization, the need has been prevalent in Federal Way for years. Many of King County’s juvenile referrals are coming from Federal Way and yet, Purpose said, Progress Pushers is one of the only organizations providing direct services to these young people.
Groups are powerful because of the peer learning dynamic. Purpose, and the other staff members who have all been directly impacted by the criminal justice system, create a space for young people to discuss their vices and values, talk about their needs or generational curses, learn life skills and learn how to become the person they want to look at in the mirror.
There’s a “no eject, no reject” policy and Progress Pushers teachers youth how to think for themselves — not what to think.
“The successes are detailed in the small victories,” he said. “And what I mean by that is: you’ve got a youngster who’s been disengaged with school. Just by him coming to the group every time we have the group is a victory. You’ve got a youngster who smokes weed all day every day, but respects the group enough to not come high during group … that’s a small victory because awareness is beginning to kick in.”
Funding is an important catalyst of bettering their lives because of the consistency.
“It’s one thing to de-toxify the youth, to address his or her traumas and to begin to get that youth thinking in an effective, productive and progressive way when they’re with us, but it’s an entirely different thing when you de-toxify that youth and then put that youth right back in the same toxic environment that he or she came from without helping the family or the environment they’re in.”
This is where the county’s funding, which seeks community feedback, can help allocate money into the communities that need the most help.
“To be able to beat the statistics, but to flourish and to establish an organization that’s really doing some wonderful work in the communities, especially the community that I came from and that I helped to destroy, definitely provides me with a sense of purpose,” he said.
That purpose is also the reason for changing his last name.
“I feel I do have an actual purpose, that I’m pursuing relentlessly … what better person than myself, or another person who’s been a part of the cycle of incarceration to give that message to the youth and young adults,” Purpose said.
Federal Way is seeing a large push of people out of Seattle and into the suburbs, but the funding isn’t following the gentrification train, Purpose said.
“A lot of people who aren’t from here will see Federal Way and say ‘oh, this is a beautiful place,’ and it is. But we can’t overlook the gaps, we can’t overlook the areas that never received any help,” he said. “We need to look at the local grassroots organizations, who’s actually doing the work in the community.”