Mount Baker Neighbor Passionate About Protecting Diversity

Mount Baker Neighbor Passionate About Protecting Diversity

University of Washington Advancement Director and Rainier Valley native Rhonda Smith-Banchero is all about walking her talk.

Passionate about the diversity that characterizes her community, and keenly aware of the inequalities facing many of her neighbors, she spends her days out and about meeting and forging connections with others who are also eager to provide access to higher education for under-represented minority groups at the University of Washington.

“I am passionate about access and fair treatment,” she says.

Her family owns and operates a third-generation Rainier Valley business started more than 80 years ago when the area — known as “Garlic Gulch” — was filled with Italian immigrants. Farms and forests dotted the landscape, Italian shops lined Atlantic Street and a streetcar ran down the middle of the valley.

Meat wholesaler Mondo and Sons — a Rainier Valley institution — opened in 1932 when neighborhoods all over Seattle were restricted to “whites and Caucasians only,” and blacks were forced to live south of Madison Street.

Now, as the Rainier Valley undergoes yet another massive transition with thousands of newcomers flocking to the area and all sorts of new development on the horizon, Smith-Banchero wants people to remember those who helped make the south-end what it is today.

“I am passionate about protecting the diverse culture that Rainier Valley is known for,” she said. “I truly feel we are blessed to have the type of environment we have in Rainier Valley, and our diversity is what makes us desirable. I don’t want to lose that in the mad dash for property and new residents who don’t quite understand the history of the valley.”

She’d like to see preservation of Rainier Valley history, with some modern twists — a “real community within Rainier Valley, a mixture and respect of both old and new. I believe they can co-exist in a healthy way,” she says.

To that end, Smith-Banchero hopes to help organize a community conversation on race, where south-end residents can come together to discuss challenging and complex issues in a safe place.

This week, she was kind enough to answer a few questions for your RVP’s People in Your Neighborhood column, a space dedicated to highlighting the unsung heroes of the southeast Seattle community.

Rhonda Smith-Banchero


Mount Baker

How long in Seattle’s south-end?
35 years

Where from originally?
Right here in South Seattle.

Day job:
Advancement Director at University of Washington

What do you like most about your day job?
I get out in the community and meet people who are passionate about providing access to higher education for under-represented minority groups at the University of Washington.

What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My three kids!

Tell us about your work in the community.
I have participated in neighborhood clean-up projects, back to school drives, food drives for Rainier Valley Food Bank, former member of the South Seattle Crime Prevention Council.

What are your hobbies?
Reading, shopping, spending quality time with friends and family.

Tell us about your family:
My husband and I have three children (12, 10, and 7) and a 17 yr. old female cat named Spike. We were both raised in Rainier Valley. We are avid Huskies and Seahawks fans. We live next door to my in-laws on either side. We love Seafair and it’s our favorite time of the year.

What’s your most favorite thing about the Rainier Valley?
The diverse culture and the resurgence of Rainier Valley and the fact that I have been here to watch it happen.

What’s your least favorite thing about the Rainier Valley?
The new traffic mess.

Where is your favorite place to go in the Rainier Valley?
Anywhere, I love it here. Love walking or driving the streets.

If you could live anywhere besides the Rainier Valley, where would it be?

If there was one thing you could change about the Rainier Valley, what would it be?
It’s new-found popularity. I feel it’s attracting those who could care less about our history and maintaining that history, for our legacy as a diverse neighborhood.

Who inspires you?
Darrick Bourgeois (he’s the nicest guy I know).

What was the last thing you read?
Ok, ok, I read 50 Shades Darker (at least I am being honest).

Tell us something about you that not many people know:
I’ve seen Top Gun over 100 times (hey, I was a latch-key kid!).

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
That my children become successful, conscious children who say their parents taught them to be those things by example.

What is your greatest fear?
Dying before I’m finished living.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Narrow mindedness.

What is your greatest regret?
Not learning how to sew.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My children and Mario Banchero.

What is your current state of mind?
I vacillate between hopelessness and hope for our brown people to be able to move about freely without micro-aggression and being feared for no apparent reason.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Becoming comfortable in my opinion.

What is your most treasured possession?
My sense of self.

What do you most value in your friends?
Accountability and dependability.

Who is your favorite hero of fiction?
Scooby and the gang.

Who are your heroes in real life?
My parents, sister and Megan.

What is it that you most dislike?
Mean people, like mean for no reason.

What else should we know about you?
I think that’s enough.

Do you know a south-end neighbor who deserves some recognition for his/her efforts in the community? Tell us about them! Send suggestions for future People In Your Neighborhood columns to Photo/Rhonda and her husband Mario Banchero with President Obama.



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