Byrd Barr Place's Director of Operations Tremayne Edwards standing in a field of sunflowers with his eyes closed and head titled toward the sun.

The South has something to say!

This month we sit down with Tremayne Edwards, Byrd Barr Place’s new director of operations, as he shares glimpses of his Southern upbringing, his present time in the Pacific Northwest, and his global vision for an equitable Black future.

Beach hike with a friend on Rialto Beach.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I am a proud Southern boy.

I was born and raised in Virginia in a very small town, where only about 500 people were in my entire high school. During my teens and early twenties, I moved to Lynchburg where I attended college and started my career at the Parks and Recreation Department serving as a senior recreation specialist. While there I oversaw senior citizen programs, as well as our preschool and after-school  programs and a few citywide events. While I enjoyed this position, I knew that local government wouldn’t be the space I stayed forever, and life had other plans.

I ended up taking a hiatus from that work and instead I was a nanny for two wonderful years. This time allowed me to focus on my health, lose 80 pounds and start my own community project. I helped open a food co-op in a downtown area that had been food insecure. We were able to engage various community stakeholders and raise $200,000 to support the co-op.

After that time away from the “working world,” I started my next adventure at the Academy Center of the Arts, where I served as box office manager, CRM system admin, and eventually director of community engagement. This career was very meaningful as our team completed a $30 million capital campaign project restoring a historic theater and bringing back amazing arts programming for the Central Virginia region. 

After the pandemic happened, I asked myself what was next, what else was out there? I started a national job search and found a position here in Seattle at the Alliance for Gun Responsibility, a statewide organization committed to gun violence prevention education and legislative action. I believe strongly that it takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to protect that child. As a community, we all have a responsibility to address gun violence and protect our children.

Outside of work I’m actually pretty introverted. I like to hang out with my Jack Russell Terrier, who goes by Rocky or “lil Baby Satan.” I love going on hikes with him, or visiting a farmer’s market. I tend to do quiet, touristy things by myself, or indulge in a little reality tv with The Real Housewives.

Lil Baby Satan.

What drew you to Byrd Barr Place?

I’ve lived a lot of my professional life in white dominated spaces and under white leadership. It felt like it was time to change that, to get intentional about working in spaces that look like me and to uplift those spaces.

I was already aware of Byrd Barr Place as a major player in direct services in Seattle. I was stalking their website and Instagram for a couple years, so when an opportunity came around to serve as the director of operations I knew I had to jump on it.

In so many ways this job combines all the best aspects of my experience whether that be facility management, overseeing programing or working in food or energy, it was amazing to come home to many of the spaces I had worked in, only this time by and for people that look like me.

What is an average day in the life of the director of operations?

I usually start my day in my office responding to emails or checking in on folks, but after that each day is something new. You can find me Youtubing a solution for a broken water fountain, or working in the food bank. I might be helping the energy assistance team or figuring out why the elevator is making a weird noise. You really never know what can happen over the course of 8 hours, and that’s not to count any meetings I may have to attend.

But the most important part of my job is to keep a smile on my face and ensure that the people around me feel supported. I strongly believe in taking care of all of our staff because if they are well taken care of, then our clients will be well taken care of, and that’s the biggest thing I care about.

Celebrating a friend’s home purchase in Seattle.

What is your vision for an equitable Black future?

An equitable future requires us to look capitalism head on and realize that it does not work in the way that it’s been envisioned. I’m thinking specifically of affordable housing, and the need to put controls in, beyond market forces, to navigate the world of housing.

Due to increasing disparities in wealth, income and equality, we are seeing rising rates of gentrification where people are being forced out of their communities. In many ways we have built ourselves into a system that does not work for people who have not been given access to resources. Often, in the name of “reviving a neighborhood,” all we are doing is removing people. Yet people want to stay here, so why not give them the resources?

I’m all about seeking upstream solutions, let’s figure out where the lack is, what is keeping people from being able to remain in their homes and put together a better policy to make sure they have what they need to thrive.

August is Black Philanthropy Month, how do you understand the history of Black giving?

I grew up professionally in white dominated spaces that believe that Black people don’t give or that they don’t give as much or they don’t have the ability to give. Whereas in the last few years, research has shown us that Black people actually give more than our white counterparts.

There’s a lot of unlearning that needs to happen in the fundraising space that is often working on these untrue assumptions. We need to do the work of organizing, people give where they feel represented. We need to do a better job of reaching out and grounding the work in the communities and people that show up in a visible way.

Living his best life.

Do you have a favorite quote or mantra that inspires you?

My founding principle is from a course I took on community engagement: “True community engagement is about helping the community find their power.”

It kind of reminds me of Wizard of Oz, Dorothy could always go home, she just needed to know that all she had to do was click her heels. In much the same way, community has always had the power, we are just here to remind you that you are powerful. 

I am never anyone’s savior, I am simply a supporter.