Amidst the diverse landscape of Seattle Central College, a particular figure has etched her legacy over the course of two remarkable decades. Sharon Spence-Wilcox, a faculty librarian, embodies the essence of an extraordinary life journey that unfolds like the most compelling of stories — revealing her passion for reading, music, languages, learning, and teaching.
The Roots of Lifelong Passions
Born in the city of Montego Bay, Jamaica, Sharon was raised by both her parents and grew up alongside two sisters of similar age. Her deep-seated love for reading, which blossomed at an early age, was a significant aspect of her upbringing. One of Sharon’s fondest memories involves a small library run by her grandmother (whom she credits for igniting her lifelong passion for reading), located an hour’s drive from her home. Throughout her childhood, up until high school, Sharon would eagerly travel there during the summer holidays. It was deeply personal for her, she described it as “one of the happiest memories of my life, going there regularly and being surrounded by all the books that I felt were my books.”
Throughout her youth, music played an ever-present role in Sharon’s life. She actively participated in various musical activities, including singing in choirs and learning the piano from the age of seven. Her musical palette grew to encompass a wide range of genres, spanning from classical to rock, jazz, and beyond. She attributes her deep love of music to her passion for languages; in her words, “learning music was like learning another language.” One of the primary lessons she gained from her musical journey included broadening her perception beyond seeing, adding a profound sense of feeling. “I was driven,” she said, “I feel that music is such a beautiful language that most people can engage with and gain from. It soothes, empowers, and has so many emotions.”
The Evolution of Dreams
Sharon’s dreams were not always tied to libraries. She initially envisioned herself as a lawyer or music therapist. Life has a way of leading individuals down unexpected paths. After leaving Jamaica for college in Miami, Florida, Sharon pursued a degree in international studies, immersing herself in languages, culture, and history. Another dream emerged: she wanted to work at the United Nations to become a translator. Meanwhile, staying true to her passion, Sharon took every music class available, ranging from piano and guitar to all the theory and history.
Upon completing her undergraduate degree, Sharon contemplated a career in international banking, but the path did not resonate. Instead, she followed in her parent’s footsteps in the hospitality industry, working for airlines and the Jamaica Tourist Board. A decade passed, and she realized the need for a change, a broader horizon. A moment of introspection led her to a career crossroads, and she took the plunge into library science.
A Calling at Community Colleges
Seattle became her new home as she started graduate school at the University of Washington. While she never did find herself at the United Nations, she found a different calling within community colleges, their mission was revelatory.
“When I learned about the mission of community colleges and who they serve… this is the best of all because I get to serve students who want to be there, students of all ages from all different backgrounds with no barriers,” she said.
The barriers of traditional academia dissolved in the welcoming embrace of the community college environment; Unlike four-year institutions, where parental expectations often loom large, Sharon views community colleges as a place of personal choice and empowerment.
At Seattle Colleges, Sharon discovered her true calling. As a librarian, her role extended beyond mere question-answering; it evolved into a platform for teaching and nurturing growth. She cherished connecting with individuals and actively participating in their educational endeavors.
Her dedication includes serving as a librarian for basic and transitional studies, where she provides invaluable support to ESL students, adult learners, and refugee students. This is a commitment she holds dear and has no intention of relinquishing.
“I didn’t have to learn a different language when I came to the US,” she reflected, “but I remember the experience of being an immigrant and the new culture… So, I really hold those folks close to my heart.”
Over the years, Sharon’s career at Seattle Colleges has seen her don multiple roles: from cataloger and systems librarian to collection developer. However, Sharon’s influence extends beyond the library’s quiet corners, as she actively participates in various committees and the Faculty Union. Being a part of the Learning Communities Committee (from which the food pantry was created), Course Approval Committee, and Facilities Committee (from which the gender-neutral bathrooms proposal came through) was “a good way to learn about what is going on in other parts of the college and see us as a whole.” As an officer of the Faculty Union and a Membership Chair, she worked with people throughout the college district on issues such as health, safety, and fair pay.
As an educator, Sharon’s greatest satisfaction comes from witnessing the transformation of her students. Her passion for teaching and her love for her community radiate as she describes watching her students flourish and become empowered individuals.
“The students…that’s why I keep coming back… seeing the potential and the treasure that they offer.” Her reassuring words echo, “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to be great because of you all.”
Sharon imparts a few of her life mantras that have guided her journey. Drawing inspiration from the wisdom of Bob Marley, she reminds us of the powerful message: “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.” Sharon emphasizes the importance of opening our minds and honing our critical thinking skills. She encourages us to approach information discerningly, asking ourselves, “Is this for me? Is this going to bring me up…or is it going to bring me down? What is this thing that I’m reading? What is the truth in it? Whose truth is it?”
Sharon’s following mantra centers around three essential qualities: Curiosity, patience, and flexibility. Curiosity reminds us never to stop asking questions and to seek understanding relentlessly. Patience underscores the need to trust in the unfolding of events, persevere without rushing, and recognize that valuable insights often emerge in quiet spaces. Flexibility, she asserts, is the key to adaptation and growth. It involves the awareness to recognize when adjustments are necessary.
Sharon further emphasizes the significance of mindfulness. Instead of categorizing people as a faceless mass of “bad,” it is essential to focus on individuals and consider the people behind labels. Doing so can foster meaningful relationships and truly understand those we engage with. Lastly, Sharon highlights the need to break free from our isolated boxes, urging us to reach out to various community segments. Collaborative efforts and creative problem-solving are the keys to addressing challenges and progressing.
A Message to the Community
In parting, Sharon extends her hand in support, encouraging a reciprocal gesture from the community she serves. “As we who work here reach out to support you, I encourage you reach out too…When you have ideas, when you have questions, know that this is a community that cares about you, we care about you students… we are here for you.”