Mary Mitchell: Steeped in Race and Social Justice
In late April, Aging and Disability Services (ADS) welcomed Mary Mitchell as interim director following the departure of former director Cathy Knight, who continues to support the Aging Network in other ways. Mary is on loan from the Seattle Department of Finance and Administrative Services’ Consumer Protection Division, where she serves as deputy director.
“Mary brings a wealth of management experience and is steeped in race and social justice work at the City,” said Helen Howell, Seattle Human Services interim director, in announcing the transition. ADS is a division of Seattle Human Services that serves individuals and families countywide.
“I’m so impressed with the commitment, passion, and years of experience among ADS staff, which we need and want,” said Mitchell following her first week. “As interim director, I don’t expect to make programmatic changes but absolutely look forward to using my position to highlight intersectionality.”
Intersectionality is a term coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw three decades ago to describe intersecting identities such as race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School and a civil rights leader, writes and talks about the double bind of racial and sexual discrimination.
“More and more, people talk about unconscious bias—discrimination based on long-standing and largely unconscious stereotypes about people who aren’t white, who may not speak English well, who are not heterosexual, who live in poverty,” said Mitchell. “Shining a light on these intersections can help us reach out and serve older people, adults with disabilities, and caregivers even more effectively.”
In May, Mitchell sent a message to ADS staff about accessible communications. “With disability and accessibility awareness, we often see compounded impacts among Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, among people who identify as LGBTQIA+2S, among people living in poverty, and among others who are experiencing oppression,” she wrote. “Intersectionality is the term that describes the intersection of race and oppression.”
Mitchell’s direct reports have incorporated racial equity training into their regular staff meetings. “A video, discussion topic, or project related to race and social justice helps us keep equity front and center,” she said. “HSD and ADS staff have a long history of involvement with race and social justice issues and have been very open to this ongoing conversation.”
“We look at data about our service area and we name disparities when we see them,” Mitchell said. “When you name a problem—as Professor Crenshaw did in defining intersectionality—you have a framework for addressing it. We lead with race and our community is stronger for it.”
A full and inclusive search for the next permanent ADS director will be announced soon and posted online here. Seattle Human Services and the Seattle Department of Human Resources will engage Area Agency on Aging partners, our Advisory Council, staff, and community stakeholders in the process.
Contributor Irene Stewart manages communications for Aging and Disability Services and serves on the Seattle Human Services Department’s External Affairs team.