Glenda Wabaluku, 14 (left), and Abdulkarim Sankareh, 18, pay a visit to Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo on Wednesday. They will join 16 other local teens involved in a grassroots mentoring program to put on a program Sunday at the center called “We Are Culture.” (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Glenda Wabaluku, 14 (left), and Abdulkarim Sankareh, 18, pay a visit to Rosehill Community Center in Mukilteo on Wednesday. They will join 16 other local teens involved in a grassroots mentoring program to put on a program Sunday at the center called “We Are Culture.” (Dan Bates / The Herald)

‘We Are Culture’ brings food, fun and frank talk to Mukilteo

High school students in the Leadership Launch program organized the event to break down barriers.

Abdulkarim Sankareh spent much of his life in The Gambia. Now far from his family’s West African homeland, the Mariner High School senior will join others sharing their experiences at “We Are Culture.” The event Sunday in Mukilteo will blend food, fun and frank conversation.

With hopes of breaking down barriers and bolstering empathy in their community, teens in the local Leadership Launch program have spent months organizing the free event. They’d like as many as 200 people to attend.

Scheduled for 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday at Rosehill Community Center, it’s an ambitious happening — with conversations around tables, a potluck featuring dishes enjoyed around the world, diverse performances, and an after-event dance party.

The potluck menu “is divided by continents,” said 14-year-old Glenda Wabaluku, a Kamiak High School freshman who’s part of Leadership Launch. Students have signed up to bring dishes to serve at tables designated for African, Asian, European, North American, Oceanian and South American foods.

Wabaluku, whose parents are from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sankareh are among this year’s 18 students involved in Leadership Launch. A Mukilteo-based nonprofit, Leadership Launch is the grassroots mentoring effort of Rachel Kittle and her husband Dan Kittle. Both attorneys, they’ve been finalists for The Herald Business Journal’s Emerging Leaders awards — Rachel in 2017, Dan in 2019.

What began in 2015 with one student now brings 18 teens each Sunday to the Kittles’ Mukilteo home. They host home-cooked dinners where students get to know each other. Every Sunday, the teens share high and low points of their week.

Rachel Kittle, executive director of Leadership Launch (center), Glenda Wabaluku (left) and Abdulkarim Sankareh visit Mukilteo’s Rosehill Community Center. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Rachel Kittle, executive director of Leadership Launch (center), Glenda Wabaluku (left) and Abdulkarim Sankareh visit Mukilteo’s Rosehill Community Center. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

“It’s a family dinner every single Sunday. We talk to each other, and everyone is feeling good,” said Sankareh. The 18-year-old was born here but spent much of his childhood in The Gambia. His parents are there, while he and a sister live here.

With multiple scholarships, he’ll attend the University of Washington in Seattle this fall. His eventual goals are medical school and becoming a neurosurgeon.

Kids from the Mukilteo district, beginning in eighth grade, are selected for Leadership Launch with the help of teachers or other school staff. Some stay involved in Leadership Launch into college. Adults in Leadership Snohomish County, another organization, now work with the teens as mentors.

The point is to open doors for kids who’ve known hardships, inspiring future leaders.

Through a big annual project, students in Leadership Launch aim to solve problems where they live. “We Are Culture” grew from what they identified as “community division,” Rachel Kittle said. Rather than what the teens talked about as an “us versus them” society, she said they decided to emphasize that “we” are all part of the culture.

From “beautiful discussions,” she said the kids came up with this year’s mission: “To create a stronger community by bringing people together.” Sharing food is a time-tested way to do that.

Asked if he’ll cook for the event, Sankareh said he’ll try making domoda, a Gambian stew of rice, peanut sauce and other ingredients. Wabaluku doesn’t plan to prepare a dish from her ancestral homeland, but said “my mom loves cooking.”

Organizing the event meant teens had to contact mayors, nonprofits, businesses and law enforcement. In a partnership with the city of Mukilteo, Leadership Launch will use the venue without charge. A “bonus booth hour,” 3-4 p.m. Sunday at Rosehill Community Center, will showcase displays and resources.

Last summer, Leadership Launch kids sought to solve what they saw as a need for dental care. Their Mobile Dental Day brought people from Everett’s Casino Road area to Walter E. Hall Park. That event offered free care in a dental van provided by Medical Teams International, plus free hot dogs, sports, music and more.

On Sunday, students will be matched with adults to start conversations. People will be asked to switch tables to cover new topics and hear other points of view.

“I’m just so proud of them,” Rachel Kittle said. “It’s going to be fun.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

‘We Are Culture’

“We Are Culture,” organized by students in the Leadership Launch program, will feature table discussions, foods enjoyed around the world, performances by KreativMindz hip hop and other groups, a fashion show and a post-event dance party. It’s scheduled for 4:30-8:30 p.m. Sunday at Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave., Mukilteo. Event is free, but participants are asked to register (search for We Are Culture) at: www.eventbrite.com

Guests are encouraged to bring a dish to share. Potluck suggestions: www.mealtrain.com/potlucks/48w207

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