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Trailblazer Diversity and Inclusion Award

The Trailblazer Diversity and Equity Award recognizes alumni striving to light a path for others to follow. Selected jointly by the Office of Diversity & Inclusion and the Alumni Association, this award recognizes alumni whose work exemplifies inclusion, promotes equity, and values and reflects the diversity of our world.

2024 Trail Blazer Diversity and Inclusion Award Winner

Ben Coleman-Fire ’06 represents an inclusive leader whose work to uplift and support marginalized communities has embodied Whitman's mission of Inclusion, Equity and Diversity.

Ben grew up down the road from Walla Walla where he raised sheep and helped out with his grandparent’s (both Whitman alumni) orchard and sprawling garden. It was in the bags of lentils passed out at the rodeo parade and 4H club meetings that the awareness of the importance of nourishing food for all was first kindled.

Ben Coleman-Fire

His taste for activism was cultivated during his time at Whitman. He was a co-President of the LGBTQIA+ student group of the time and won a grant to create an art installation resulting from small group conversations on intersectional identities.  Upon graduation, he was invited to pursue a fellowship with Humanity in Action and then took a job working for queer rights in Washington State and was heavily involved in the marriage equality effort.

He is a transgender attorney specializing in bankruptcy law and has worked in government and private practice, while also doing domestic violence and asylum pro bono work. While he’s suspended his formal legal practice, Ben is now working the best, hardest jobs of his life: stay-at-home dad to his three kids and advisor for Growing Gardens and the communities it supports.

Ben's impact extends through his volunteer work and position on the board of Growing Gardens, an organization addressing food insecurity through an anti-racist lens. Their programs provide healthy food access to low-income families, school children and incarcerated people while acknowledging the trauma and systemic racism that disproportionately impacts communities of color.

 With a mission "to undo racism and shift power" toward real solutions, Growing Gardens is at the forefront of the racial equity movement in the Pacific Northwest. Ben has been instrumental in these efforts, investing his time evolving with the organization toward a more equitable structure embracing and codifying an antiracist model, including leadership by consensus, deemphasizing financial contributions as a basis for power and centering voices of color.

Ben recognizes that an equal playing field starts with fundamental needs like nourishment. His passionate belief that no one should have to worry about their next meal, combined with a commitment to undoing systemic racism, drives his dedication to this cause. Through thoughtful dialogue and action, Ben exemplifies using one's privilege for profound positive change.

We celebrate Ben as someone who lives the college's values of equity and inclusion. His work embodies the transformative power of actively promoting a just, anti-racist society where all people can thrive.

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