Sharon Maeda is the epitome of a community activist — passionate, outspoken, politically savvy, and tenacious. Her life has been a series of change of address cards — born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; growing up in Portland; high school and college in Seattle; with employment stops in Berkeley, Washington D.C., and New York, but always returning back to Seattle.
Sharon has worked in many settings: the classroom (a middle school arts teacher who got into trouble for talking about the Vietnam War to her class), public media (radio and television), government (Deputy Assistant Secretary, US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development), the church (Director of Communications, United Methodist Church), the unions (Director of Special Projects, United Food and Commerical Workers Union) and when she couldn’t find a job, her own business, Spectra Communications.
Her activism has had an impact: locally, nationally and internationally. Here are a few examples:
Civil Rights — In the early 1970s, Sharon was the Student Activities Advisor at the UW where she mentored minority student groups — the Black Student Union, MECHA, and the Asian Student Coalition. Minority students were finding and asserting their ethnic identity, demanding equal rights on campus and in student government, supporting causes off campus like the United Farmworkers, the preservation of the International District, and black power. Sharon’s job was to get them to demonstrations and keep them out of jail. She co-founded the Third World Coalition, an organization which crossed racial lines to bring activists of color together for the first time to find common ground.
Women — Sharon taught Women’s Studies courses and co-founded Third World Women, an organization which brought female activists of color together for the first time to organize around issues which affected them, not only as feminists but to challenge sexism in the civil rights movement.
Media — Sharon dedicated herself to making media more accessible to communities of color. In 2004, Sharon formed the Youth Media Institute. The Youth Media Institute gave youth the skills and opportunites to use the media to tell stories about their communities, cultures, and themselves. While intended as a temporary summer program, the Youth Media Institute is today a non-profit organization. Sharon has served as its Board President.
Peace/International Relations — As the Executive Director of the Pacifica Radio Network, Sharon managed a network of public radio stations. At the time, public radio did not take positions on political stands. But in 1986, on the 10th anniversary of the Soweto (South Africa) uprising, Sharon learned that the South African government was going to crack down on protestors. Under Sharon’s urging, Pacifica took an editorial stand for the first time, demanding that President Reagan tell President Botha to stand down. Public pressure prevailed and a bloodbath was avoided.
Human Rights — In 2000, while serving as the Director of Communications for the United Methodist Church in New York, Sharon took a phone call. It was from the Cuban government seeking help for Elian Gonzales. Elian was caught in an international custody fight between his father in Cuba and his mother’s Miami relatives. Elian’s mother had drowned trying to enter America. The Church took a stand that Elian should be with his father. It was an issue that Sharon got deeply involved with, working with Elian’s grandmothers, and travelling to Havana. Elian was reunited with his father.
Sharon has been an advocate for the preservation of the International District and formed the Seattle Community Development Partnership, managed political campaigns, worked to improve the infrastructure of non-profit organizations, and has been a mentor and confidante for many past and present community activists. She has made a career of battling injustice, breaking down barriers to equality, and being in the right place at the right time.
Join the country’s only non-profit Pan-Asian American news organization in honoring our community’s unsung heroes: Outstanding Organization – the Asian Pacific Islander Community Leadership Foundation (ACLF); Vu Le who is earning the Tatsuo Nakata Youth Award; Cassie Chinn who is honored for her work at the Wing Luke Asian Museum; and Sharon Maeda for the Lifetime Achievement Award. These deserving individuals are testament to the on-going sacrifice and courage it takes to preserve a people, uplift its community and advocate for its needs. The IE shares in this celebration and hope you’ll join us in this month of May which serves as APA Heritage Month – a time of commemoration and honor. Purchase Tickets Here