An Independent School • Grades 5-12

The following interview transcript is from a conversation between Malika Klingler ’88 and Lakeside magazine editor Jim Collins for "In Our Own Words," from the "Black at Lakeside" Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Lakeside magazine. Photo by Zorn B. Taylor.

Lakeside Magazine:

I'd love to love to hear what you think about when you remember your time at Lakeside. What was it like for you?

Malika:

I started Lakeside in the fifth grade. Prior to Lakeside, I went to Seattle Country Day School. So, I was at another school where many of my classmates at Seattle Country Day also went on to Lakeside, as well. I was very young for my grade. I was a nine-year-old fifth grader. I started fifth grade at nine, and my birthday is at the end of May, so I was pretty young.

I had really lovely memories of going to Seattle Country Day, and really wasn’t prepared for Lakeside. One, I just wasn’t prepared to leave where I had been as a kid; I was not good with change. Also, being so young, I just was not particularly prepared for Lakeside. So it was a little difficult for me at first. Certainly, from the standpoint of making friends, that wasn’t really a problem, but academically, I got off to a rough start.

When I started at Lakeside, I was the only Black student in my class — which had been the case at Seattle Country Day, too, so it wasn’t a new feeling for me. I didn’t have the experience that I think some people do who had been accustomed to being around other kids that look like them and then got to Lakeside and it was a shock. It wasn’t a shock for me. It was just what it always had been.

That experience is certainly something I didn't recognize the impact of until after I left Lakeside, or actually even sooner than that, probably in high school. I’ll get to that in a minute. I was the only Black student in my class until maybe seventh grade. We added a couple of more boys to my class, but I was the only Black girl in my class all through middle school, which in retrospect was probably pretty difficult for me. So that was middle school. Then I got to high school, and another Black girl came into our class. And I think at that point, we had five Black students in my class, which was good to see more representation, but at that time it was still just really minimal.

I didn’t realize it at the time — and this was happening when I was at Seattle Country Day, too — but I experienced a lot of microaggressions, people asking me things that were those small, little offensives that they were well-intentioned. I mean, I never experienced any overt racism at Lakeside, ever. It was just really those small, little things that were setting me apart and making me “other,” and reminding me that I was different. I had friends whose parents, once we got older, who wouldn’t let them drive to my house. I lived in Seward Park, but they weren’t allowed to drive to my house, which infuriated my mother. But I always had really solid friend groups and always felt welcomed and well-liked.

I think that when it became really hard for me in high school was more about the curriculum, particularly history. I was not able to articulate my issues around it at the time, but looking back, it was spending so much time studying European history and not getting any experience with history that felt like it was my own. It was just that you’re not as engaged when you can’t see a connection to what you’re learning. So that was also a challenge for me. But overall, I did have a very good experience at Lakeside.

My junior year, I went to Garfield for a year. I think that decision was just… I had been in what felt like a very isolated bubble since I started school in kindergarten. I also did want to see more people that looked like me, and just experience something that was outside of the Lakeside experience. What I was able to see at the time is that there were so many of us that just had gone to school together forever and lived these very similar lives. And I just didn’t have any concept of what other people’s experience was like outside of that bubble. My parents allowed me to leave and go to Garfield for a year, which was an incredible opportunity and made a huge difference for me. And then I did come back my senior year, to Lakeside.

Lakeside Magazine:

How would you describe the differences between the two school cultures, from what you experienced?

Malika:

There were so many differences, but in terms of the diversity of the school, certainly. Just the opportunity to do different things. When I was at Lakeside in the '80s, if you weren't really strong in academics or you weren’t strong in sports, it didn’t feel like there was necessarily a place for you. The drama program was really good, but I also didn’t feel like it was a place for me, either. It felt like, “Well, because I’m Black, they won’t cast me.”

At Garfield there were more things to do and more clubs. In terms of the academics, there were multiple tracks you could be on, and while I was mostly honors and AP classes, there was just a broader spectrum of students. I felt like there was a good focus on academics. I mean, Garfield’s a good school, but there’s less pressure or something. There’s just a bigger variety of people and students, which felt nice. And it’s bigger, so there were many different types of people that I met and made friends with that came from very different backgrounds from me, which was a great experience.

Lakeside Magazine:

How was your entry at Garfield?

Malika:

I felt very welcomed there. One of my classmates at Lakeside did the same thing. That same year, she was also at Garfield. We did the exact same thing. We both started Lakeside in the fifth grade, went to Garfield our junior year. She and I even went to the same college. It’s really funny, but that was helpful to have a friend from Lakeside. And then there was someone in the class below us that had also been at Lakeside. So I knew a lot of people there, family friends whose kids went there. So I didn’t feel bad at all.

Lakeside Magazine:

It sounds like it was a positive move to go to Garfield. Why did you go back to Lakeside?

Malika:

That was the commitment my mother asked me to make. She said if she was going to allow me to do it, that I needed to go back to Lakeside. I think also, she’d made quite an investment in my education at Lakeside, so I think she wanted that to be where I graduated from.

Lakeside Magazine:

How was it going back as a senior? Were you in the dumps for a while?

Malika:

Not at all. I didn’t mind going back. And that was the best year. I feel I had a wonderful senior year.

Lakeside Magazine:

Do I understand that your mother was a journalist at The Seattle Times?

Malika:

She was, yes.

Lakeside Magazine:

And somewhat of a pioneer? Was that something that you absorbed growing up? How did that make you feel, in terms of forging your own path or breaking barriers and all those other things that you might’ve taken from her example?

Malika:

She was a pioneering journalist at the time. She was the first Black and the first woman to be on the editorial board for The Seattle Times. She definitely broke a lot of barriers there and was well-known in the city. It was not just my mother, but also my father was very well known in the area. He was a well-known basketball player. He had played for Garfield and then the University of Washington. People who are from Seattle knew him. So I had these two parents who people knew or knew of, and I really couldn't get away from that.

At Lakeside, my teachers read the paper, they read my mother’s columns. My mother tended to write about me occasionally in her column. So, it would often be a Monday morning when I’d come to school, and a teacher would say, “Oh, I read about you in your mother’s column yesterday,” which was always a little embarrassing. And there certainly were times when I thought, “Okay, my mother’s this professional, well-known journalist, and I should also be this amazing writer." I felt that for some time, but I got over that, fortunately, probably at some point in high school.

But it was great having her as this example. She was just a wonderful person. In addition to being a writer, writing for the Times, she focused on social justice and being an advocate for children. So that was the focus of a lot of her writing. And that was an incredible example for me, in terms of having that focus on social justice and equity in my home and growing up and being taught to think in that way, and also to always advocate for myself and fight for the rights for others.

Lakeside Magazine:

Is that sense of social justice a through-line that continued into college and your years after college and the work that you went into?

Malika:

Eventually, yes. I would say not initially with college. I just wasn’t really thinking about that at that point in time. But yes, now, certainly. I work for an organization that is a mission-driven organization that focuses on the communities that we serve. And so I reached a point certainly where it felt really important to do meaningful work and doing work that matters. And so that has been the case for the last 10 to 12 years of my career.

Lakeside had a big influence on that, too, going to a school where service was such a priority. I feel like I had opportunities at Lakeside that I would not have gotten anywhere else. I traveled to Kenya with Bob Mazelow and his wife and a group of us. He took six students on trips to Kenya, which was an amazing opportunity. All of the other different trips that you’re able to take, and the wilderness activities that I experienced. But again, that focus on service was definitely something that had an influence long-term with me.

Lakeside Magazine:

Do you remember any of your service projects that you worked on?

Malika:

Yeah. At the time, I think I had more service credits than anybody else, because every summer I volunteered as a junior counselor at the East Madison YMCA, which was a very different area and neighborhood back in the ’80s than it is now. And so, every summer, I volunteered full-time there, in between my freshman and sophomore, and sophomore and junior years. And I’m also trying to remember… I worked on a campaign one summer, a political campaign, or one fall. Those are, I think the two key things.

Lakeside Magazine:

Do you remember the candidate?

Malika:

Yeah, sure. It was Ron Sims’ campaign. It was his very first campaign, he was running for King County council. I worked on his campaign. Those are the two I remember. I didn’t do any of my service credits through the school. It was all through family connections.

Lakeside Magazine:

Do you remember any of the outdoor trips that you went on?

Malika:

Oh yeah. In middle school, I remember us hiking through the Lava Caves at Mount St. Helens and going on beach trips up in the San Juans. I think that’s where we were. And I remember to start off every year, we would go to Camp Orkila on Orcas Island. My big wilderness trip — I don't know if they still do that, but we had to have a wilderness credit — my trip to Kenya counted for that. Backpacking through Kenya was of course my most profound experience.

Lakeside Magazine:

Tell me about Bob Mazelow.

Malika:

He was a teacher at Lakeside. He taught, gosh…  it’s probably only been six or eight years since he retired. He taught history. He and his wife had actually lived in Kenya for many years before coming here and both teaching at Lakeside. He was a really great influence on a lot of us Black students. He’s white, but he had a huge impact on us. I think his experience living in Kenya and just taking this interest in showing us that there could be additional history that we could learn from and remember. This is probably something, regardless of where I went to school, I would not have had the opportunity to experience if it weren’t for him. He taught a class on Africa. It was an elective class that I took my senior year, which was an amazing opportunity.

We have these Black alumni reunions, and there was a conversation at the last one about how much of an impact Mr. Mazelow had on a lot of us, because he did seem to create this space for Black students and show an interest in us. He was coming from a different position than a lot of other teachers who didn’t have that background and experience of being, frankly, a white person in the minority, as he had for so many years being in Kenya. He was a great teacher.

Lakeside Magazine:

Were there any other faculty members that you felt especially close to, or gave you space to be yourself?

Malika:

Yeah. There were a lot of us that hung out, back in my time, with another teacher, Gray Pedersen. He was really great, I think a mentor to a lot of us. I never had him as a teacher, but he created this really wonderful, welcoming space that brought a lot of us all together, hanging out in his office, whenever. In Middle School Guy Ganjial was my advisor one year. He was somebody, probably from the moment I came in fifth grade, who just made me feel really welcome. He was a really great, popular teacher as well. I appreciated how welcoming he was, and how he made me feel comfortable when I was in middle school. Those are two standouts. Again, my experience with teachers overall was they were nice. I think that’s just the experience everybody has at Lakeside. We had these really nice, wonderful teachers there, and I certainly felt the same way.

The only thing I would say in reflection is that I think that often I experienced teachers having lower expectations of me. I never really felt pushed. The only teacher I can’t say that about is Dr. Lindsay Heather, who actually just died recently. This is why it’s come up for me in remembering. He taught us several languages at Lakeside, but I had him for a couple of different classes in high school, French and then romance languages. When I found out about his passing, I remembered how he was someone who always saw something and then would continue to push me. He pushed me as if he knew that I was capable of more. I didn’t get a lot of that from teachers at Lakeside. I think, again, it was just low expectations of me. If I really wasn’t doing that great, I wasn’t also getting that push that, “You can do better. You're more capable,” that sort of thing. But he always did that, and for that, was one of my favorite teachers.

Lakeside Magazine:

What’s one of the important takeaways that you carry with you from Lakeside?

Malika:

Oh, gosh. I haven’t really thought about that. I think that a big takeaway from Lakeside that still carries on with me today: I feel really appreciative of how I was taught to think critically at Lakeside. And I really appreciate having had that skill very early on. I think it served me well through college and then through my career, and having had that skill developed probably before a lot of my colleagues and peers. But I think I also took away an importance of hard work. Lakeside certainly challenges you in that way to work hard and put your effort in whatever it is that you do. It felt equally as important as any sport I was playing to make that commitment to it as well. So, I think that message came across, even though I didn't always feel it specifically from individual teachers. I gained that from the environment as a whole.

Lakeside Magazine:

Tell me about your work today. What are you doing?

Malika:

Today, I am a Senior Director for Operations for a communications firm that’s based here in Seattle. We have offices here and on the East Coast. We’re a mission-driven organization that focuses on three core sectors: transportation, environment, and health. So, the work that we do is primarily with government agencies, and that falls in a lot of categories of communications, everything from marketing to community engagement work, market research, and different creative work like design and video, web. It's a great organization. I've been there for almost 12 years. Also, I'm a part owner in the company as well.

Lakeside Magazine:

I'm wondering, as we’ve been talking, if any other thoughts have occurred to you that are through-lines or echoes in how your life has gone out from Lakeside, what you remember germinating there, or being inspired there, now that you’re doing this work?

Malika:

I think the only thing I’d want to add is I feel so very privileged that I had the opportunity to go to Lakeside, and that I was there as long as I was. It is a really special environment. It’s been nice to see some of the changes that have happened over the years. I am someone who tends to go to reunions, that’s how I can stay connected to Lakeside. And I certainly am still friends with a lot of people, and people who have been more involved and engaged than I have, so I’ve been able to keep tabs on what’s happened in the almost 35 years since I was there. But I do just feel very privileged. I appreciate that the school is taking the opportunity now, as many people are in the country, to really experience the reckoning that we’re experiencing in this country and look really thoughtfully about how people of color have experienced the school and what can be done differently to make it better and make it truly feel like it’s an inclusive environment.

I always felt that that was certainly what I had always wanted it to be but did not really know how to get there. And I think that a lot of the things that I see the school doing is heading in that right direction. I’m really pleased to see that. It does make me feel much more interested in staying connected to the school and being more engaged. So I hope to do that more.