Coalition Builder, Danni Askini
For Danni Askini, once a transgender homeless teen living in Portland, Maine, personal outreach from a number of social workers made all the difference. “Those helpers were very connected to my story,” she says. Askini, 34, also a social worker, brings that same type of connection to the communities she serves as executive director of the Gender Justice League.
Askini works to build coalitions among advocacy groups that tackle social welfare and justice issues from different perspectives. She’s waged a number of successful legislative battles, including blocking attempts to prevent transgender people from being allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms based on their gender identity. She also successfully lobbied for a bill prohibiting licensed medical professionals from practicing gay conversion therapy on minors in Seattle, which was signed into law August 3.
Askini began a run for a seat in the state House of Representatives last spring, only to pull out of the race to raise funds to combat Initiative 1515, another anti-trans bathroom law. Her efforts prevented it from being placed on this November’s ballot. But Askini says the fight is far from over. Now, she’s focusing her efforts on grooming a new generation of transgender leaders and ensuring the sustainability of the Gender Justice League. “I know firsthand that a smart government that uses money wisely and makes meaningful investments can change people’s lives.” ALISON KRUPNICK
Writer, Feminist, Fat-acceptance Activist, Lindy West
Lindy West believes in the power of words. As she explains in her 2016 debut book, Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, she doesn’t like the word “big” when used as a euphemism for “fat.” A former witty film critic for The Stranger, West, 34, landed on the national radar in 2011 when her “Hello, I am fat” blog response to editorial director Dan Savage’s negative comments about overweight people struck a nerve. “I reject the notion that thinness is the goal, that thin = better—and that my life can really start when I lose weight,” she wrote. It resonated.
West moved on to the online feminist magazine Jezebel, where her outspoken comments about comedians and rape jokes made her the victim of Internet trolls, including one who impersonated her late father. West confronted the troll, first in her writing and later on the National Public Radio program This American Life, during which he apologized on the air. The incident inspired Twitter to establish anti-bullying measures.
West, a 2016 Stranger Genius Award winner, also founded a Tumblr site for victims of sexual violence called “I Believe You/It’s Not Your Fault,” and helped launch the #ShoutYourAbortion campaign in the midst of attempts to defund Planned Parenthood. While reluctant to call herself an activist, West tries to use her platform to make the world better. “I would like everyone to be kinder to each other and to themselves.” A.K.
Community Voice, Marcus Harrison Green
“South Seattle is the new Harlem,” says Marcus Green, referring to the cultural and artistic diversity of this neighborhood. And like Harlem in the ’20s, Green believes, it’s ready for a renaissance; he’s on board to help make that happen via the South Seattle Emerald, a nonprofit, community-operated and -supported online news service. Tired of reading only bad news about his neighborhood, Green, 35, launched the Emerald in 2014 to help tell a different story. He’s emerged as a new voice speaking out about race, social justice and democracy, and has won coveted awards, including the Crosscut Courage Award.
The Emerald features community events, commentary and arts coverage, along with comprehensive pieces about issues that affect the area, such as affordable housing and a proposed King County youth prison. Although the news site operates on a shoestring budget, financed and written via community contributions, it has enjoyed explosive growth, averaging 100,000 page views per month. Now, it’s poised to grow into a multimedia operation, with plans for a monthly print publication and a weekly radio show.
In an imperfect world, where institutional and legacy racism persists, Green says he is inspired by his mother’s guiding principle: “It’s not your fault that you’re born into this the world as it is. It is your fault if you leave it that way when you go.” A.K.
Resale Tech Titan, Nick Huzar
Is there a better way to sell used goods than on Craigslist or eBay? Bellevue’s Nick Huzar thinks so. In 2011, he and cofounder Arean van Veelen took on the titans by launching OfferUp, an app enabling users to turn their trash into someone else’s treasure—$14 billion this year alone. OfferUp customers snap a pic of stuff they want to sell and then post it directly from their smartphone.
Huzar, a 1999 Washington State University grad, former T-Mobile product manager and startup veteran (he also cofounded the social media platform Konnects), remains mostly mum about OfferUp’s development and financing. The business was built with minimal marketing, advertising or PR. The company recently closed a $119 million funding round led by noted private equity firm Warburg Pincus. Its reported valuation of $1.2 billion makes OfferUp a true Seattle tech “unicorn,” or a privately held company worth more than $1 billion.
Huzar and what he calls his crew of 80 employees are working to expand internationally, since the app has already begun to infiltrate attics and storage units across all major cities in the U.S. ROBIN ANVI
Entrepreneurial Mentor, Julie Sandler
Julie Sandler doesn’t mind being called a geek. In fact, she embraces the term. Being selected as GeekWire’s 2014 “Geek of the Year” is just one of many accolades Sandler, 33, has received. A top venture capitalist at the Madrona Venture Group, she guides entrepreneurs in how to sell and market their ideas, expand their customer base and prepare for rapid business growth.
Along the way, she’s become a role model for the Seattle startup community, women entrepreneurs and youth. She launched the Seattle Entrepreneurial Women’s Network (SEWN) to give female entrepreneurs more networking opportunities, and helped create a “Women’s Edition” of the Seattle Startup Weekend, a startup accelerator through which she serves as a mentor. Recently, she was appointed to the governing board of the Washington State Opportunity Scholarship, which supports educational opportunities for low-income students in high-demand, technology-related business sectors.
Sandler believes startups are thriving in the Pacific Northwest and that we are a startup epicenter. Passion, she feels, is key. “Believe in the power of your ideas and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want.” A.K.
Music Magician, Quinton Morris
It’s been quite the year for Quinton Morris. He circled the globe on a concert tour, released his first film, Breakthrough (about Chevalier de Saint-Georges), and got married.
A concert violinist whose Carnegie Hall shows have sold out three years in a row, Morris, 39, is director of chamber and instrumental music at Seattle University, where he’s the first music professor in more than a quarter century to get tenure and promotion.
Besides earning accolades from Seattle to Sicily and performing, teaching and lecturing on five continents, Morris won a 2016 Washington State Arts Commission Governor’s Arts and Heritage Award. In January, his nonprofit foundation will launch the Key to Change violin studio in Renton, “to bring the music to students of color and students from low-income areas who can’t afford to come to Seattle and take music lessons,” he says. The Renton resident and graduate of Renton High, Xavier University, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Boston Conservatory and the University of Texas–Austin says his true passion is to instill in young musicians the need to be creative entrepreneurs. His students study business as well as art.
“The starving artist mentality must die,” Morris says. “Today’s young artist, if you want to be successful, you must be entrepreneurial.” Or, as his website and hashtag so boldly state: #Create Your World. R.A.