Since the time she was a little girl, 23-year-old Lilith Winkler-Schor, formerly of Kirkland, had trouble feeling at home.
Born in Germany into a German-American family of the Buddhist faith, then moving to the United States as a child, Winkler-Schor felt that she never quite fit in, in any one place.
“I grew up between two countries and in a Buddhist household,” Winkler-Schor explained. “It was confusing at times to figure out what that all meant to me … I didn’t feel like I had a place I existed in that made sense.”
A PLACE TO BELONG
It was not until joining the Kirkland Youth Council (KYC) in her seventh grade year that Winkler-Schor truly felt she had found somewhere she belonged.
“It was really empowering to be in the city, to feel like I was part of my city … It was the first time I had a sense of ownership over place,” she said.
Regula Schubiger, youth services coordinator for Kirkland, said KYC members are from all middle and high schools in Kirkland as well as students who are residents but attend school outside of Kirkland — like Winkler-Schor, who attended (then) Northstar Junior High School in Kirkland but graduated from Inglemoor High School in Kenmore.
Schubiger said members are involved with community service projects, the city’s Teen Traffic Court, its We’ve Got Issues video program, special events and many other projects.
“They also meet quarterly with our city manager as well as the Lake Washington School District superintendent,” Schubiger said.
While on KYC, Schubiger said Winkler-Schor was a member of the leadership team and was in charge of planning the 2012 All City Youth Summit, which brought 150 teens together to discuss a variety of issues at the daylong event.
ROOTS IN PUBLIC SERVICE
The seven years spent on the council were just the beginning of Winkler-Schor’s activism in public life. The recent graduate and class speaker at Tulane University in New Orleans hopes to go into city planning or design and work to “create more equitable cities.”
And it is for her work in public service that the young grad — who received a bachelor of arts degree in political science and social policy and a bachelor of fine arts degree in glass and sculpture — added the prestigious Truman Scholarship to her list of accolades, earning entry into a group of scholars that includes Cyrus Habib, lieutenant governor for Washington state.
At 19, Winkler-Schor and three of her classmates (who were 20 at the time) founded Roots of Renewal, a New Orleans nonprofit that works with black men coming out of incarceration, providing them with employment and helping them to find health care, child care and educational and career counseling.
New Orleans is the prison capital of the world, Winkler-Schor explained, and one in two black men in the city will enter the criminal justice system at some point in their lifetimes.
“It’s undeniable — in the U.S., we have a race issue within the criminal justice system,” Winkler-Schor said.
In 2015, Roots for Renewal bought its first blighted house in New Orleans and hired its first cohort of six men, recently out of incarceration, to work on its renovation. The cohort graduated a few months later and the house was sold at an affordable rate to a first-time home buyer. Affordable housing is also an issue close to the heart of Roots of Renewal, Winkler-Schor said, explaining that poverty and class are closely intertwined with the criminal justice system’s race inequality.
ART AND EQUITY
Having witnessed firsthand the way that decades of certain city planning policies can detrimentally impact some demographics of people, Winkler-Schor is determined to work toward equity among groups in cities, making sure that one demographic’s needs are not heard over another’s.
“The reality is, we’ve constructed our cities to make these differences,” Winkler-Schor said. “I think it’s about undoing those decisions and actively working to mitigate them.”
This does not necessarily mean dividing up neighborhoods that are traditionally home to one race of people and forcing everyone to mix together, because cultural value can be lost this way. Rather than get rid of Chinatown, Winkler-Schor explained, the question should be, “How do we treat Chinatown like Medina?” If the people of the wealthier, whiter areas of a city protest a train being built through their neighborhood and a sound wall is built in compensation, then the same should be done for the lower-income, non-white neighborhoods.
This summer, Winkler-Schor is conducting a research project in which she will combine her passions for art and urban planning. Through Tulane’s Gordon Summer Fellowship, she will travel to nine different cities “to look at art and design entities looking to create equity in cities.”
This will include speaking to community design organizations, as well as to artists and art organizations. Winkler-Schor explained that art can be used as a medium to raise awareness about social inequalities. For example, the Solitary Gardens Project in New Orleans by Jackie Sumell, uses garden beds that are the same size as solitary confinement cells — 6 feet by 9 feet — to show the public how small of a space solitary confinement prisoners are forced to stay in for 23 hours a day.
THE IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
In her own life, Winkler-Schor is “still working on the connection between art and community development” and “figuring how to bring it together,” but she does plan to go to grad school for urban planning. For the moment, however, grad school is being postponed so that Winkler-Schor can focus more on her work with Roots of Renewal.
“She’s been an inspiration to me since she was very young because she’s a very deep person who looks at the big picture,” said her mother, Heidi Schor.
Schubiger added, “(Winkler-Schor) gave 100 percent of herself to KYC and her enthusiasm was infectious. Since graduating from high school, her passion for serving community has continued as illustrated by her recent award.”
“A community is having people who continue to support you wherever you go and I definitely have that in Kirkland,” Winkler-Schor said.