The Seattle Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) is a citywide effort to end institutionalized racism and race-based disparities in City government.

RSJI builds on the work of the civil rights movement and the ongoing efforts of individuals and groups in Seattle to confront racism. The Initiative's long term goal is to change the underlying system that creates race-based disparities in our community and to achieve racial equity.

In 2014, RSJI completed a three-year plan that broadened the scope of the Initiative beyond Seattle City government.

In 2015, RSJI embarks on a new chapter in our work to advance the movement for racial equity.

The 2015-2017 RSJI Three-Year Plan is now available.

View RSJI Timeline

RSJI has begun to create fundamental changes to achieve racial equity in the City's services, operations, and the broader community. For example:

  • The RSJ Community Roundtable is working for racial equity across the region. Members from community organizations and public institutions have joined together to end racial inequities in education and address institutional racism within their own organizations.
  • The City has doubled its contracts with women and minority-owned businesses in non-construction goods and services. Targeted outreach and other strategies have helped small businesses compete for contracts more effectively. A 2010 Mayor's Executive Order strengthened the City's commitment to utilize women and minority owned businesses, and outlined specific steps for departments to ensure more equitable contracting results. The work ahead
  • To update neighborhood plans in Southeast Seattle, City staff dramatically expanded engagement with historically underrepresented communities. Hundreds of residents who had never attended a public meeting helped write new development plans for their communities. The effort received the Governor's Smart Communities Award for outstanding achievement in creating livable and vibrant communities.
  • All City departments now provide essential translation and interpretation services for non-English speaking customers, strengthening immigrant and refugee communities' access to government.
  • The City's Neighborhood Matching Fund has awarded over $1 million in grants to community efforts that address race and social justice at the neighborhood level.
  • Across City government, over 7,000 employees (more than three quarters of the workforce) have received training on ending institutional racism. Departments are using a Racial Equity Toolkit to conduct comprehensive reviews of their programs, policies and budgets, resulting in hundreds of changes to increase racial equity.

  • We will end racial disparities within City government, so there is fairness in hiring and promotions, greater opportunities in contracting, and equitable services to all residents.
  • We will strengthen outreach and public engagement, change existing services using Race and Social Justice best practices, and improve immigrants' and refugees' access to City services.
  • We will lead a collaborative, community-wide effort to eliminate racial inequity in education, criminal justice, environmental justice, health and economic success.

Institutional racism is when organizational programs or policies create inequity along racial lines, usually unintentionally. Until the Civil Rights Movement, housing and employment policies in Seattle, like elsewhere in the U.S., were explicitly racist. We have made progress in addressing individual discrimination, but the effects of institutional racism still shape public policies and create race-based inequity across our community.

To challenge institutional racism, we have to look beyond individual acts of prejudice to the systemic biases that are built into our institutions. We are not to blame for what happened in the past, but we are responsible for eliminating racism today. We can end this legacy of inequity. The Initiative is working to eliminate institutional racism and create a community where equity in opportunity exists for everyone.

Examine any key societal indicators of life in Seattle: all of them reveal stark race-based disparities:

  • Income and poverty: People of color comprise a relatively small percentage of Seattle's population, yet they account for a disproportionate number of those living in poverty.
  • Education: Seattle's public high school completion rates vary based on race. Discipline rates also are racially disproportionate in Seattle high schools.
  • Criminal justice: People of color make up a disproportionate number of those incarcerated in Washington State.
  • Health: In Seattle-King County, race-based disparities exist in key measures of health such as diabetes, asthma and HIV/AIDS.

Disparities 2011

For more information about the Race and Social Justice Initiative, contact Elliott Bronstein at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, elliott.bronstein@seattle.gov or 206-684-4507.

Click here to view RSJI documents and resources.