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Neal Black

Neal Black, '94

Mustard seeds

corner with crosswalks in downtown Kirkland, WA
Downtown Kirkland, WA, where Neal is on the Community Council.

How small is a mustard seed, exactly?

I'm asking myself this from the dais of council chambers at the first council meeting after being sworn in. My decision to run for local office last November was inspired, in part, by my former Stanford classmate, now Senator, Cory Booker, who has instructed college graduates to "Stay faithful in things large and taking on the world, but stay faithful in those things small – because remember it's the small things, the size of a mustard seed, that ultimately moves mountains." As I work through tonight's agenda, I'm wondering: When Cory thinks of a mustard seed, just how small a seed does he picture?

Tonight's council agenda consists of a proposal to allow temporary signs on city right-of-ways (picture an A-frame sandwich board along the curb) and a proposal to up-zone four city blocks from two stories to five stories. Compared to things large, these seeds are tiny. But wait. The community speaks, and I listen. I learn that A-frame sandwich boards are a matter of economic fairness and inclusiveness for some small business owners who can't afford high-rent space along the main thoroughfare, some of whom are immigrants, older entrepreneurs, or just starting out. And those three extra floors? If done correctly, they're a small part of a regional solution to affordable housing—a crisis here in the Seattle area.

Mustard seeds are tiny indeed. (I know. I Googled it.) But running for local office and working with like-minded neighbors to make small improvements to the city, ultimately, improves people's lives.

Neal Black, ’94 (Civil/Environmental Engineering), is a Seattle lawyer who has incorporated service to his community into his career and family life. At Stanford, he began as a tutor for the Ravenswood-Stanford Tutoring Program (RSTP), working with students in East Palo Alto and Redwood City. He was a tutor coordinator in RSTP for two years. Neal was also a Stanford in Government fellow, interning at the Natural Resources Committee of the California State Assembly, and he attended Stanford in Washington, where he interned in the White House Office on Environmental Policy. He has served as the chair of the King County Bar Association's Public Policy Committee, and, in November 2017, he was elected to the Houghton Community Council in Kirkland, Washington.
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