As part of Women's History Month, throughout March we're getting to know the six new women of color in Washington state's legislature through music. Today we meet Melanie Morgan, Democratic member of the Washington House of Representatives, representing District 29a.
Representative Melanie Morgan is an Army veteran who raised her kids in her district. She was active in the PTA and served as school board director for Franklin Pierce schools. She was also homeless, and issues of homelessness and housing are something she's been working on for years. She sat on homeless boards and spent nearly a decade as commissioner for the Pierce County Housing Authority. Here's the conversation I had with her last month about her life, politics, and music.
Melanie Morgan: I just think that the work that I have been doing all along continues, and that is making sure that people of color, especially black people, and that underserved communities have a voice. And so that's not changed. Serving as a school board director has really highlighted for me the disparities that people of color face, especially black children. We still have not solved the achievement gap. We still need to work in terms of equity and I am ecstatic to be able to serve the people of the 29th legislative district to ensure that our voices are heard and to ensure that whatever meaningful bills are passed that the impact is considered in my community.
KEXP: What is one main issue you want to tackle in state government?
The main issue is equity and diversity and inclusion. Without all of those pieces, everything underneath is pretty much futile for my community. So I'm here to ensure that all of those areas are included in every policy and every meaningful legislation that we pass.
Do you have a favorite song?
I do not. It just depends on what I need for the day. You know, it always starts off with gospel music to strengthen my spirit to do this work, first of all, and then coming into higher beats to get me pumped up for the day.
Can you give me an example of a gospel song that you really love or a song that you kind of turn to sometimes to pump you up?
One of them is — especially when you ask the question in terms of my homelessness — a song called "Hold On" by a group called Sounds of Blackness.
Can you talk a little bit more about that experience and why that song might represent that?
Well, I am still homeless doing this job and have been homeless for probably about 23 months. And what really keeps me going is my faith. That's waking up every day in my faith. And so that's why that song would be pertinent. It's about, yes, we're moving through a struggle, but hold on because the light is at the end of the tunnel there. This is temporary and it's meant to be used as motivation and inspiration. And I'm looking forward to the end. So I'm holding on in the meantime.
What does homelessness look like for you? I know people in Seattle, they might think of people in RVs or in tent camps, but what does homelessness look like for you in your life right now?
So, let's know that homelessness is not something that is — I guess the word is, "static." I mean, it changes day to day. You wake up with that in this situation every day. It's not a situation that you were in yesterday and tomorrow is solved. It's every day waking up to the realization. Do you have a house key in your pocket? My answer would be no. So it started off with couch surfing with friends and family — living out of my storage unit, living out of the trunk of my car, and sleeping on family and friend's couches. My sister finally bought a home in my district and now I live with her when I'm back in the district, but I stay down here in Olympia in temporary housing.
Do you think that you would still be in this situation if you hadn't run for office?
Yes. Obviously. Being a state representative has not affected my housing situation. It's not made it any easier. The law is still the law. So that's why I'm here to make sure that I affect meaningful legislation that affects the real problems of homelessness in terms of high rent spikes. We've seen a study done just a couple of weeks ago that the real reason for homelessness is rent spikes that lead to eviction which in turn ends up in homelessness.
This is an issue across the region and especially in Seattle, we're seeing how expensive it's gotten, especially in the past five years. Do you think we can get there? Can we tackle this issue of affordability and homelessness? Because this is a huge issue in our region.
Well, I'll tell you what I know, that the Democrats are definitely putting their best foot forward to ensure that there will be change. We are united together as Democrats to ensure that all of our communities across the state are served well in terms of housing. The number one thing for safety and security is housing. And that's why we are all working very hard to make sure that all of the housing bills are passed through for legislation.
Sound & Vision airs Saturday mornings at 7 AM PST. Hosted by Emily Fox and John Richards, the show "uses interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter."
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