With the raising of our 12 Flag this season, we continue to honor and celebrate the organizations and members of our community who are helping make a positive difference for others during the challenging circumstances caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seattle-based nonprofit CHOOSE 180 is an organization that makes a difference year-round, pandemic or not. Established in 2011, CHOOSE 180 works to productively enrich local youths "by partnering with institutional leaders, connecting them with community, empowering them with choice, and teaching them the skills necessary to avoid engagement with the criminal legal system."
"We do that by engaging in intentional relationships with folks like prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, judges, superintendents, to change the way that they administer justice and discipline while supporting the young people who are disproportionately harmed by those systems," said Sean Goode, Executive Director of CHOOSE 180. "At our core, we're an organization that believes that all young people are possibilities to be developed and not problems to be solved, and our success is predicated upon the fact that we believe grace is a far better motivator than guilt."
Goode's childhood was a tumultuous one. He describes the relationship between his parents as "challenging," and his veteran father returned from the Vietnam War with a drug addiction and mental health issues that made him become abusive. After being driven away by the abuse, the family moved from Tacoma to Des Moines, Wash., and while Goode says he lived in 12 different places for 12 years of school, he eventually graduated from Mount Rainier High School in Des Moines.
Goode's first exposure to the criminal justice system happened when he was a six-year-old boy. He was visiting his 13-year-old brother at a juvenile detention facility.
"I have this memory of my brother at six years old, visiting him at 13, going into this facility," Goode said. "And the guard at the post is excited to see me, because my brother had just recently left and spoken at a school similar to this, and they had written an article celebrating him.
"But it wasn't lost on me the fact that my brother could be outside of this space and do so much good, but have to come back to this place because of a poor decision he made as a 13-year-old-boy."
CHOOSE 180 uses a series of programs and workshops to engage young people and teach them about their options when it comes to avoiding the criminal legal system. They have a Felony Intervention Community Navigator to help guide participants through the court process, and use Success Coaches to help participants identify and stick to a plan for progress.
Since 2011, the CHOOSE 180 team has grown to include 25 full-time staff members from different backgrounds, ensuring that they're always able to meet people's needs in a well-suited and relatable manner.
"Out of the 25 of us, many of us are reflective of the population we serve, which means everything to me" Goode said. "We're employing people with non-traditional backgrounds that get it — because they've lived it, and they truly know how to engage young people because they've been in those positions, they've seen life through that lens, and they understand how to approach them in a way that sees them as a possibility instead of stigmatizes them as a problem."
The criminal justice system takes a massive toll on marginalized communities on a daily basis, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that. Like many organizations in 2020, Choose 180 has had to rely on its surrounding community to step up its efforts, something that Goode believes is paying off in the grand scheme of things.
"When the pandemic hit — things that impacted our families, the impact only increased. Folks that were marginalized already were further marginalized, folks that were furthest from access to opportunity, access to education, access to wealth, were only pushed farther away," Goode said. "Which meant the need for services and organizations like ours only increased."
With social justice already being the nature of their work, Goode says that the death of George Floyd and the ensuing nationwide protests and calls for justice made organizations like CHOOSE 180 that much more significant. "There was a rallying cry throughout our community to uplift our cause, our collective effort on this journey towards justice, to really begin to see large systemic change," he said. "And as a result of the community support — who I've affectionately referred to as 'the collective us' — we've been able to see some pretty cool things happen here in our region, and are excited for the blueprint we're creating for the rest of our country."
Chris Carson represented CHOOSE 180 on his cleats during Week 12's My Cause, My Cleats game. His story isn't exactly similar to that of a CHOOSE 180 participant, but the running back is no stranger to tough setbacks, on and off the field.
"Just based off of my growing up, we didn't have every opportunity that other people have, so I wanted to give back, and I can relate to a lot of these kids," Carson said. "When my house burned down and having to go from place to place for a while, I knew what it's like not to have a place to stay. So I wanted to give back to kids who are also going through things like that."
CHOOSE 180 is also partnering with a number of other organizations to create Restorative Community Pathways, a program that has an ultimate goal of diverting 400+ misdemeanor cases from the traditional criminal justice system to more community-based solutions. A documentary on the effort is set to be released next Friday, December 18 as part of our Social Justice Month.
With everything he's gone through in his life, Goode takes comfort in knowing that the tough times we're experiencing now are just temporary.
"One thing that my life has taught me, through the many levels of trauma that I've had the privilege to navigate through, is that epic high and epic lows are just moments in time," Goode said. "So what we do is we fixate on the possibility instead of the problem, and we allow grace to lead the way. And [with] grace as our North Star, we know that even in what may appear to be the most hopeless of circumstances, that there is a possibility just waiting to be born out of that."
Admittedly, he isn't a day-one Seahawks fan the way some others are, but Goode's fandom stretches back decades nonetheless. "Forever," he said about how long he's been a fan. "Not as forever as some of the fans, but I do go back. Like, Rick Mirer, Brian Blades forever. Like Chris Warren forever. Those are some of my earliest memories of Seahawks fandom."
An honorary flag raising was held at Goode's alma mater of Mount Rainier High School this week. Like any Seahawks fan, Goode realizes the significance of raising the 12 Flag. And like many flag raisers before him, he's doing it for the community and those around him rather than for personal glory.
"In earnest, this platform that I get to stand on is one that's been lifted up by many people," Goode said. "People who have spoken into my life, people who have poured into my life, people who prayed over me, believed in me, and created the space for me to serve the community in this way.
"So being able to lift the flag, it feels like I'm able to lift my community, and elevate our causes and our concerns, and the shared conviction of how we honor each other at the same time as we raise that 12. So for me, it means everything to be able to lift us up that way and to raise the flag in honor of all those things."
CHOOSE 180 was selected as the honorary 12 Flag raiser for Week 14 vs. the New York Jets in recognition of their work with local leadership, law enforcement, and schools to help keep youths from engaging with the criminal justice system. To celebrate, a 12 Flag was raised at Mount Rainier High School, the alma mater of Sean Goode, Executive Director of CHOOSE 180.