Most Influential Seattleites of 2017: Nikkita Oliver, Dominique Davis and Anne Levinson

Seattle Magazine presents the Most Influential Seattleites of 2017.
From left: Fighting for justice, accountability and equal opportunity, Dominique Davis, Nikkita Oliver and Anne Levinson with the King County Jail in the background.

Fair Player: Nikkita Oliver

Many Seattleites first became aware of Nikkita Oliver as a candidate for mayor who ran a campaign that emphasized racial justice, an end to police brutality and concerns (shared by many in southeast Seattle and the Central District) that the city’s rapid economic growth is leaving many people of color behind. 

Oliver’s impressive third-place finish, in a field of 21 candidates, is a testament to the broader movement she represents: activists, writers and organizers who are fighting to increase police oversight, provide bulwarks against economic displacement in communities of color and end the practice of jailing juvenile defendants, who are disproportionately children of color. 

As a candidate, Oliver advocated for rules requiring developers to provide more affordable housing, greater civilian oversight of the Seattle Police Department and an end to “sweeps” of homeless encampments across the city. As an educator for the Creative Justice program, which offers mitigation to juvenile defendants who agree to participate in a 12-week art program, she works to keep kids out of jail and eliminate the need for youth incarceration. -Erica C. Barnett

Second Change Champion: Dominique Davis

Adrug dealer by 15, Dominique Davis knows the value of a second chance. The cofounder and CEO of the nonprofit group Community Passageways had a football scholarship to junior college, but had to stop going to school; he was on track to end up like so many young black men in his South Seattle neighborhood—incarcerated or dead. 

But about 20 years ago, he decided to do a 180 with his life. Today, he runs the same streets he did as a kid, but in an entirely new capacity. His pioneering work includes cofounding the 180 Program, a juvenile criminal justice diversion program that allows kids accused of misdemeanors to get their charges dropped in exchange for attending a four-hour workshop with formerly incarcerated people who have turned their lives around. 

Two summers ago, after three kids were shot in one week on the same block in South Seattle, Davis decided to take on tougher cases and started Community Passageways, which focuses on helping youth who have entered the criminal justice system or been incarcerated. Sometimes, an intervention can be as simple as paying a young person to tell his story at a public meeting or to show up at school and finish her homework—a powerful incentive for kids who may be drawn to the street by the promise of easy profits. 

Since starting Community Passageways last year, Davis has established an eight-week, culturally relevant summer school that kids attend in exchange for dropped or dismissed charges, and started holding “healing circles” with students and teachers to reduce the number of kids being sent home or suspended from school. He also volunteers with many local organizations, including serving on the Mayor’s Youth Opportunity Initiative Justice Advisory Committee; is part of the planning committee for the Mayor’s Youth Opportunity Summit; and coaches in his “free” time. It’s all in a day’s work for a guy whose enthusiasm and optimism seem to be boundless. -E.C.B.

Reformist: Judge Anne Levinson

Anne levinson hadn’t even graduated from college when she took on her first effort for complex system reform. A retired municipal court judge and former deputy mayor (to Norm Rice), Levinson was a student-athlete in the late ’70s, when her university cut support for all women’s sports except basketball. Her response? Filing a Title IX complaint with the U.S. government. The challenge took years, but resulted in a significant settlement, Levinson says. And she learned important skills: how to overcome challenges and barriers and work collaboratively to effect change. “It taught me a degree of tenaciousness and commitment to long-term results that better serve the public.”

Levinson used those skills as the civilian auditor (from 2010 to 2016) for the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability, which provides outside, independent oversight of the police accountability system. Police reform recommendations were embedded in the multiple reports she generated in that role, and many were incorporated into the landmark police accountability ordinance passed earlier this year by the Seattle City Council. “What is unique about Anne is that she consolidated a lot of the prior insights and packaged them in a way that was concise and very persuasive to a number of the council members,” says former City Council member Nick Licata, who calls her a savvy but practical voice in the police reform conversation.

The legislation still faces hurdles—including successful negotiations with Seattle police unions (pending at press time). Just as important, says Levinson, are leaders—in the mayor’s office and the police department—who are committed to the reforms. But she’s sanguine about the possibility of success. When all those things are in place, she says, “I will be optimistic.” -Virginia Smyth

Read about the rest of 2017's Most Influential Seattleites here.

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