“Young Families” De-gentrifying South Seattle?

This article was originally published in the Seattle Globalist and has been reprinted with permission.

by Reagan Jackson

As a neighborhood between South Seattle’s Columbia City and Rainier Beach, Hillman City has hardly garnered the reputation of being a hotbed for community in the recent past. But change is coming, and with it, new initiatives, businesses and families that are slowly changing the face of the neighborhood.

Central to this new development is the Hillman City Collaboratory, a joint venture by Valley & Mountain and Community Arts Create.

The two-story brick building is filled with community art among office and meeting spaces, and the backyard is a lush garden. The Collaboratory bills itself as an incubator for social change, hosting a wide range of gatherings from community dinners to Labor Chorus concerts to drop-in yoga and child care for families of color.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, I stopped by the space to meet with Amy HyunAh Pak, the founder of Families of Color Seattle (FOCS). FOCS — fittingly pronounced “folks” — is the Collaboratory’s newest anchor tenant and hosts Cornerstone Café, which provides multicultural drop-in child care for little ones of color five years old and younger.

“FOCS started as a community response to have a space for families of color to meet other families who are new parents and enjoy discussing race, identity, culture, ethnicity as we raise our children and share our common experiences. There’s a growing number of multiracial families in Seattle who value balancing our multiplicities of language, trans-nationalities and ethnicities,” says Pak. “ We are an intercultural, multiethnic community of conscious parents who are engaged towards our vision where children of color are born into a loving community that is racially and economically just.”

FOCS began three years ago as a group of 10 families of community educators and activists who happened to be having children around the same time. This met an “interesting surge” of transplant families of color in search of parent programs and opportunities to meet parents raising multiracial families, said Pak. What began as a once-a-month potluck with the support of Open Arms Perinatal Services grew into parenting programs, classes, discussion groups and other child care resources. This year, Pak established FOCS as a 501(c)3.

Some have referred to FOCS as the “people of color” version of Program for Early Parent Support (PEPs), but Pak doesn’t relish the comparison.

I don’t like having the standard be white. I just don’t think that has to be what it is,” Pak explains. “I feel like women of color were always gathering. And now that we don’t have our families or the church or the neighborhood with the aunties and all the cousins, you have to create that community, and that’s what FOCS is doing.”

More than 10 ethnicities are represented in one of FOCS' Southend newborn mom groups. (Photo courtesy of FOCS)
More than 10 ethnicities are represented in one of FOCS’ Southend newborn mom groups. (Photo courtesy of FOCS)

Their goal is to connect parents of newborns and toddlers with likeminded community and provide continued education and culturally competent resources for conscious attachment parenting. Pak says she and fellow parents have affinity around common values of a global community, anti-bias, cultural arts and entrepreneurship as a well as one that values women of color and mother leadership.

And the need for this has been in relatively high demand.

“In the past one and a half years, we have connected over 200 families through our various programming and are amazed at the response of families who value building a loving community of families of color,” she says.

But securing foundation grants is another story. FOCS recently applied and was rejected for their first foundation grant on the basis that their work did not speak enough to poverty.

“What poverty looks like in Seattle is really shifting,” she explains. “… [W]e don’t fit into the traditional paradigm of the way foundations work with charity. Charity giving is based on a traditional binary of people of color equals poverty.

FOCS boasts a wide spectrum of economic diversity. Many of the families and board members are highly educated and come from professional backgrounds.

And “diversity keeps moving,” says Pak.

“Most of the people walking around here aren’t immigrants or people of color anymore. I mean, you still have POC (people of color owned) businesses, but our friends just bought a place around here that was $600,000 — and it was in Hillman City.”

While gentrification has taken over Seattle’s Central District and spread south through Mount Baker and Columbia City — bringing with it an influx of white faces and inflated property values — the movement in Hillman City might be a little more nuanced.

Pak describes the role of her organization as the “de-gentrify movement in action, where love and play intersect radical community mobilization and entrepreneurial avenues for FOCS.”

What can we expect to see in 2015? 

Besides their current “Brasilian Capoeira & Portugeuse” and “Hawaiian Ukulele & Talk Story” classes,we will be introducing a preschool-aged class starting mid-January: ‘Breakdancing and Movement’ for one-to-five year-olds!”