SEATTLE -- When Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole got a personal invitation to President Obama’s State of the Union address last week, she had to decide on a plus one.
O'Toole met with Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, who had an idea.
“What he represented for us is a young man of color in Seattle who’s actually succeeding, and that is a story we need to tell,” Mayor Murray said of DeAndre Coulter, a University of Washington senior who was shocked to see the invitation in his inbox.
"At first, it kind of took me a minute to comprehend what was going on,” he said.
Coulter is one of hundreds of Seattle youth and young adults who are part of the city’s Youth Employment Initiative, a public-safety program designed to give jobs and internships to at-risk young people.
“I think it’s very important for people to realize that policing is not simply about the police versus young, particularly African-American males, but it’s also about things like summer jobs for youth that really do help young people get on the right track and not be victims of crimes, much less commit a crime,” Murray said of the program, which employed nearly 2,000 people last summer. With the help of private businesses, he hopes to expand it to 4,000 jobs this year.
Coulter has been on the right track for some time. Growing up near White Center, he said his mom taught him the importance of hard work at an early age and kept him out of trouble.
“She always kind of told me, you know, 'make sure you choose wisely who you hang out with,'" he said.
"You can either choose to go with the wrong crowd, or you can choose to study a little harder and better yourself,” said his mother, Tara Eckman Scott, who used to bring him to help out in restaurants when he was young. She now owns Taradise Café in White Center.
Coulter, 22, grew into a standout athlete and student at West Seattle High School. From there, he enrolled at the University of Washington and will graduate this year with a degree in communications.
“No matter your surroundings or your environment, you find a way if you work hard enough,” he said.
Over the summer, Coulter applied for an internship through the city’s Youth Employment Initiative, helping with communications in the Office of Economic Development.
He said he never expected that the job would lead to the State of the Union invitation, or a trip to the White House.
“Still to this moment, I'm still trying to find the words to describe it,” he said. “I’m so grateful to the mayor and everyone.”
"No matter your situation, you can really do something special and get opportunities like I just experienced these last three days. It was a historic moment, and for me to get to witness it in that environment, in that setting, I couldn’t ask for anything better.”