Environmental Justice

Seattle Kraken’s ‘One Roof Foundation’ Begins Environmental Justice Push

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Off the ice, Seattle’s Kraken have taken the NHL by storm in their maiden season, garnering outsized attention for two main reasons:

1.    Their really cool name and uniforms to boot.

The club’s commitment to climate action goes beyond the construction and operation of the building in which they play. Tackling climate and environmental injustice has been a hallmark of One Roof Foundation (“One Roof”), the Kraken’s affiliated public charity.

2.   They play in Climate Pledge Arena, the first ‘net zero carbon’ sports and entertainment venue to be so certified by the International Living Future Institute.

GSB spoke with Mari Horita, the Kraken’s VP of Community Engagement and Social Impact and Executive Director of One Roof, about the strategies and tactics that could help make a positive difference on the environment and climate — which will in turn improve health and economic conditions — in marginalized communities in the Seattle area.

GreenSportsBlog: Mari, it’s great to talk to you. Before we get what the Kraken are doing and planning to do on climate and environmental justice, I’m interested to know your path to the club and your very important position.

Mari Horita: Well, Lew, it’s been quite a circuitous route to this job, but a constant for me has been a commitment to social justice. This was instilled in me in large part because of my mother’s experience during World War II.  She was an 11-year-old American citizen but forced to spend the duration of the war in a U.S. incarceration camp because of her Japanese ancestry.  

I started out as a commercial real estate lawyer and then transitioned to the nonprofit sector to serve as the President and CEO of the Arts Fund, which is akin to a United Way for the arts in the Seattle area. A key part of my remit was to help transition a 50-year-old organization for the future, with an emphasis on inclusion and representation.

Of course, raising money and meeting C-Suite types was an important part of the job as well. It was in that role that I met Tod Leiweke, CEO of the Kraken, in 2018.  He was in the process of building the team. I was impressed with how committed he was to the Kraken becoming a major engine for community good.

Tod’s deputy called me a week later and offered me a job with the Kraken to lead their social impact work, build and run its foundation, and help create a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) program.

Mari Horita (Photo credit: Alan Alabastro)

GSB: WOW! What a story and what did you think of Leiweke’s offer? And are you a big hockey fan?

Mari: At the time I knew almost nothing about hockey, but it was clear that Tod and the Kraken were building something special and different.  And it really was an opportunity of a lifetime to get in at the ground floor and be part of building a new enterprise committed to community building, on and off the ice.

One Roof Foundation represents both Climate Pledge Arena and the Kraken. We envision a more equitable society and a healthy planet where everyone can realize a brighter future. We are advancing that vision via three primary impact pillars: 1) helping to end youth homelessness in our region, 2) increasing access to hockey, sports, and life, and 3) advancing environmental justice.

GSB: How are you going about doing that?

Mari: Regarding youth homelessness, we’ve developed a holistic, long term, $10 million partnership with local nonprofit YouthCare to provide funding, fundraising support, marketing, advocacy, and most importantly jobs and job training.

Number two, we’re helping to increase youth — in particular BIPOC[1] youth — access to sports, with a focus on hockey, which is an expensive sport. So, our funding means equipment, coaching and transportation for kids to our facilities, as well as bringing different forms of hockey, like ball hockey, to kids and families where they are. 

Finally on environmental justice, our approach, in partnership with Climate Pledge Arena, is to elevate the voices of people most impacted by climate change and environmental issues like lack of clean air to breathe and clean water to drink. We have engaged a group of subject matter experts from academia, the public sector, foundations, and community organizations to help us gain a real understanding of environmental and climate justice because that was not our expertise.

GSB: Who are some of the experts?

Mari: A key contact is Paulina Lopez of the Duwamish River Community Coalition (“DRCC”). There are serious environmental problems in the Duwamish River Valley, in particular the South Park neighborhood on the west side of the river. They are exacerbated by the fact that the 70 percent of the population, which is 70 percent BIPOC, are below 200 percent of the federal poverty line. Life expectancy there is 13 years shorter than in more affluent Seattle neighborhoods. Residents of South Park are also three times more likely to get asthma than the average.

GSB: Why is that the case?

Mari: Let me count the ways: It’s in the shadows of industrial plants, it’s adjacent to a former Superfund site, it’s near the airport and major freeways, and even more traffic was diverted there when a main artery was determined unsafe and temporarily decommissioned.

GSB: That’s a recipe for disaster. What can the Kraken and the One Roof Foundation do to try to begin to turn this around?

Mari:  First and foremost, we are working closely with and listening to DRCC and the community to understand what would actually be helpful to them.  One way we’ve engaged is working with the youth group affiliated with the DRCC, to introduce them to hockey, to keep them active, and to make sure they know they are part of the Kraken family. 

The city of Seattle’s parks department manages the South Park Community Center, which is the only place for kids to gather. It’s being renovated with a hoped-for reopening this year or early 2023. We’ve raised funds to invest in equipment for a multi-sport court so kids can play ball hockey as well as futsal[2] and basketball. 

GSB: That’s great of course from a public health perspective. What are you working on regarding the environment?

Mari: Again, we’re doing a lot of listening and learning. 

There are major systems and policy issues that will take years and cross sector collaboration to resolve, and there are also ways to provide immediate support, such as purchasing air filters and inhalers, participating in clean ups, donating to local community based and run nonprofits, and elevating awareness of the plight of South Park.

We are also working with Kraken partners like Amazon, Tegria, Pepsi and more — who understand the importance of this issue and are trying to make a real and lasting impact.  

And like I said earlier, we will not just buy things, donate them, and then disappear. Staying, listening, and building programs that will slowly start to address these issues is not glamorous or splashy. But that authentic relationship building is what will lead to long term success and real change.

Kraken employees pitch in during South Park environmental clean up day effort (Photo credit: DRCC)

GSB: What might long term success look like, environmental justice-wise for the One Roof Foundation and South Park?

Mari: The issues South Park faces are not unique to this neighborhood, and if we are successful, we will develop approaches and solutions that can be replicated in other communities. 

Our goal is to understand what the actual needs are, and then look to the causes — upstream and downstream — and address those in partnership with the community, the public sector, and our corporate partners. DRCC has stressed the importance of focusing on the youth in this community – so that they feel informed and empowered to shape their environment and their future rather than be controlled by it.  What does success look like?  When everyone has clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and clean and safe places to gather and play.  And success is also the measurable positive progress we achieve as we work together toward that goal.

Seattle Kraken radio play-by-play announcer Everett Fitzhugh, the first African-American to have that role for an NHL team, speaks to area youth at the South Park Community Center.

GSB’s Take: Kudos to the Kraken, the One Roof Foundation and corporate partners for committing to make a real difference on environmental injustice, among other serious issues, for residents of the South Park neighborhood. And as this video from one of those partners — Tegria — shows, action has begun to follow those commitments. Which is a great start.

But these are early days. Neighborhood cleanups and ball hockey programs are certainly worthwhile, but the intractable environmental injustice challenges in South Park enumerated by Mari Horita — from through-the-roof asthma rates to reduced life expectancy — demand much more. Some of the potential prescriptive actions will end up in the political arena. This will require thick skin, an ability to adapt, and staying power.

All of those qualities are endemic to hockey so I think that the Kraken-One Roof Foundation team, along with their corporate partners, are well-positioned to provide the resources, do the work, and earn the trust of the South Park Community over the long haul to make a real difference. GSB will circle back over time with Horita and Co. to see how things progress.

Watch this space.

Photo at top: Aerial view of the South Park neighborhood (Photo credit: Jovelle Tamayo)

[1] BIPOC = Black Indigenous People of Color

[2] Futsal is a type of indoor soccer


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