Navy brat turned Pacific Northwesterner Brad Puet cares deeply about his adopted Seattle community. Although he has worked with the likes of the Seattle Seahawks and Justin Timberlake, his most meaningful work has been as a mentor artist with Creative Justice, a division of 4Culture focusing on arts-based alternatives to youth incarceration. In the program, kids with nonviolent charges work with artists like Puet to create art and perform, all while building community engagement skills and discussing race and social-justice issues to help prevent further jail time. Currently, Puet's mentees are learning about the history of hiphop and documenting their lives through photography.
"[At Creative Justice], everyone believes in the change on all levels," says Puet. "Most importantly, the youth start believing in themselves, finding their voice, sharing their story, and creating art. That's a beautiful thing."
Outside of Creative Justice, Puet has cofounded a number of community organizations, including Filipino academic brotherhood KUYAs, Chinatown-International District's isangmahal arts kollective, and spoken-word group Youth Speaks Seattle. He also cofounded Grryo, an international social photography collective. Through all of his projects, Puet's ultimate goal is "advocating for communities that may not have the opportunity to speak for themselves."
King County has plans to replace our existing youth detention center with the Children and Family Justice Center. Does the county actually need a new jail?
No, it does not need a new jail. The community is saying it loud and clear. There are other ways to spend that money to benefit the community. Building a new cage for kids is not the solution and is really a waste of money.
How can city officials better support kids from marginalized communities?
The city should understand that a plan for working with any marginalized community does not fit in a box, so its funding should be flexible and reflective of that. We work, live, and have deep relationships with these communities. The people and infrastructure are there—the city should dedicate its resources to them.
Some people say, "We will always need a jail because there will always be kids who commit violent crimes." When you encounter these people, how do you respond?
Even the most conservative folks I know still have hope in the youth of today. As a matter of fact, many of them are also involved in trying to support youth in the best way that they can; whether it is volunteering their time, donating money to organizations that directly impact youth, whatever—they put their money where their mouth is.
As for folks who believe that jails and youth jails especially are the best fix—I tell them that they really need to open up their worldview. Don't be that person who speaks out of their own privilege.
How does art help keep kids out of the criminal justice system?
It cannot be stated enough how important art is as a necessity for developing not only the individual, not only the community, but for fostering and cultivating culture. It's an opportunity to express, creatively and passionately, what is good and bad with the world we live in. Giving the youth this opportunity to voice what their world looks like, what it smells like, what it sounds like is crucial for having them be seen and heard. Art gives purpose, which leads to accountability. Providing art to kids is a major piece of keeping kids out of delinquency and contributing to their communities in a meaningful way.
I don't see it right when the change happens. I just catch glimpses of it. It's not until later down the road that I realize I was able to support children to reach their potential. Many of them have left their lives of gang affiliation and poverty, and broken through the cycle of oppression that they were living in—all because of art. All because they were able to write it out, draw it out, or rap it out. The confidence they build just working on themselves through art is always understated.
Outside of Creative Justice, you are a street photographer. How has this work shaped your view of the world?
My storytelling process in writing is [similar to] how I take my photos. For these situations, my only interaction with the subject(s) is through the lens. The other half of the time, I am compelled to ask them their stories. Almost 99 percent of the time, people are willing to participate. Because of this, I am totally honored to hear their stories and share them—if they let me—with my audience. I get to meet more people through the streets, and not just in Seattle. I get to travel to other cities, walk the unfamiliar streets, and photograph snippets of people's lives. In writing, it's my world; on the street, I just document.
Which local organization should everyone know about and support?
I can't leave out Youth Speaks Seattle. This was an organization that Aaron Counts and I were honored to be a part of since the beginning. I have watched young people grow into not only amazing adults, but folks who engage in making their own mark in life—tapping into their limitless potential by way of writing and spoken word, then applying it to their lives.
What is the one Seattle establishment that you want to stay open forever?
My absolute favorite restaurant has moved from Seattle to Bellevue. Mediterranean Kitchen serves that Farmer's Dish that is straight fire.
Are you a karaoke fan? What's your favorite venue and what's your go-to song?
Rock Box. I'm that dude who wants to sing Jodeci, Shaggy, Stevie Wonder, and Bob Marley, but my go-to has gotta be Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer."
Speaking of music, what's been on your playlist lately?
My three playlists on HEAVY rotation currently are Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book (always sends me to church), New Edition (I'll fight anyone if they disrespect my NE boys), and my island reggae with Common Kings' new Lost in Paradise album.
If you could fix one thing about Seattle with a magic wand, what would it be?
I'd bring the Seattle SuperSonics back to our city.