A Leader Growing Leaders: Marja Brandon
“You look lean,” I say, opening our conversation with an observation of her fitness. “It’s been a lean year,” she exhales, noting the compliment and coupling it with the realities of running a not-for-profit school in a challenging economic time. But challenge is no stranger to Marja Brandon, it is something she seeks; it becomes her inspiration, her friend.
Marja Brandon is the headmaster of Seattle Girls’ School (SGS) located in the Central District of Seattle. She moved from Boston in 2000 in response to the “education hungry” parents wanting a girl’s middle school as bold and impactful as their daughter’s potential. Since the schools’ inception, Marja has dedicated herself and her staff to living up to this challenge and mission: to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.
The school serves 5th-8th grade girls. To date SGS has graduated over 200 students--the initial two classes have completed high school with 100% of them attending college. Sure this all sounds good and the early statistics back it. But is their proof that this girl-power challenge and school mission that Marja leads are working?
Well, there is plenty of proof – look at the leaders SGS is producing
• Let’s start with Dana. Dana's "Pay it Forward" concern was voting rights, and she - perhaps more than any student before or after - tried to tackle the problem of low voter turnout on many levels. Recognizing that homeless people lack a home address and thus can't vote, she tried to raise awareness of this issue and wrote to members of the WA State Legislature to urge them to address it. The other root cause of low turnout she became passionate about was among the young. She created an informational display and put it at the downtown YMCA, urging young people to use their right. She attended rallies of high school students on the issue when she was the youngest one there.
• Kayla worked with Lilly, and the problem they chose to address was pollution. They realized Seattle parks did not recycle, and that this might be a good root cause to focus on. They did an audit of the trash thrown away at Flo Ware Park (nearest to SGS) and determined that many recyclable containers were being regularly thrown away there. They created a PowerPoint and persuasive speech, and made an appointment to go to David Della's office (on Seattle City Council) where they met with his chief of staff (and an assistant) and expressed their concerns. The Councilman's office agreed to pilot recycle bins in at least 3 parks close to SGS, where the girls could monitor progress on recycling. This number grew to all city parks by summer's end.
• Uriah chose to take on HIV/AIDS in the black community in Seattle. She created a brochure and small cards (business card size) that described the "Top Ten Things You Should Know about HIV/AIDS." These were placed at health clinics in Seattle's Central District.
• Jessica continued to work on an effort she began in 6th grade, when she founded a group called Richard's Rwanda. The name comes from Richard Kanaga, a young man from Rwanda who their family hosted for a week that year. After he told the story of the genocide, and the resulting number of orphans in Rwanda, Jess resolved to help girls who were orphaned. The group began fundraising activities: bake sales, car washes, etc. More recently, they have also received funding from various foundations and other organizations interested in supporting young social entrepreneurs. The group continues to exist at SGS, headed by Kiki, whose Pay It Forward project last year was also in support of Richard's Rwanda. The group has also expanded to Garfield High School (where Jessica chairs a chapter of 20 students - many new members, and now including 2 boys). Chapters have also been initiated at Roosevelt High School (by SGS alum Ellie Nielson) and Seattle Prep (by Indigo, another SGS grad). The members of RR have attempted to maintain communication with 22 girls in Rwanda (albeit infrequently) via letter writing. Richard's Rwanda helps support the cost of school fees, school uniforms, shoes, and school supplies for these girls. These girls live in Nyamata, a rural village outside Kigali. These original girls were selected by Richard almost three years ago based on input from Richard¹s colleagues in the Nyamata area. Girls were chosen primarily based on financial need and frequently because they were orphans of the genocide. The girls range in age from 9 to 14.
Challenge and inspiration are now synonymous to SGS students. It is Marja Brandon's leadership tenacity and “can do” attitude that birthed a school that brings forward young, ready and contributing leaders. SGS offers girls a chance to gain confidence, test their ideas, and ignite a life-long desire to learn and be agents of change. Marja's exemplary role modeling and the school’s challenging and unique curriculum designed by a creative and caring faculty and staff has created a ripple effect that will benefit communities near and far, now and later.
Marja Brandon fits the definition of a community leader. She is fostering the next generation of women leaders. Her leadership, community spirit and her raw and engaging energy is what moved us to apply for this scholarship.
Thank you for supporting and honoring community champions, Brotherton Cadillac.
Leader growing Leaders - Marja Brandon
A Leader Growing Leaders: Marja Brandon