by Sharayah Lane
Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett joined several local organizers in bringing Seattle’s Black community together Saturday to showcase support for the family of Charleena Lyles, who was killed by Seattle police officers last month, and also celebrating financial empowerment at this year’s Power Summit: Building Black Wealth.
“I’m a football player, I’m an athlete but at the end of the day those are just jobs,” said Bennett, “the reality is that I am a Black man so for me to not be a part of what’s going on with the Black struggle and the Black liberation in America is false. I can’t just sit back and not be a part of making a change.”
The day’s events began with a rally at Judkins Park. The gathering was organized and sponsored by Bennett and local non-profit Not This Time founded by Andre Taylor, brother of Che Taylor who was killed by SPD officers in 2015.
As the event began, attendees congregated around the stage to hear from the day’s speakers, including Bennett, Grammy award winning singer Kimya Dawson, and several family members of those killed by police throughout Washington State.
“I am mad, but at the same time I am fearful. I am fearful of my grandchildren’s future that they will be judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their heart, judged by their race and not their intellect. But didn’t we hear those words over 50 years ago? Is it still just a dream?” Fred Thomas recited in a poem. Thomas’ son was killed by police last year.
Event organizer and Not This Time founder Andre Taylor said he has felt compelled to continue doing police reform work since moving back to Seattle from Los Angeles after Seattle police killed his brother two years ago.
“Since the time of fighting for my brother other families who had gone through the same thing started approaching us after seeing the work we were doing. I understood from the beginning that we could march for a thousand years and never get things to change. I’ve always understood that if you want to get things to change you have to get involved in changing the legislation,” said Taylor.
There was one noticeable difference between the crowd gathered on Saturday and the crowd that gathered in front of Charleena Lyles’ home the day she was killed, there were a lot less white people.
Saturday’s Judkins Park event appeared to be a collective space for the Black community to band together, supporting one another in a very intimate way. Patresse Cullors, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement also spoke at the event.
“There will never be justice for Charleena because Charleena was killed by the state. But what we can do is make sure that it never happens again. When we are calling for justice for somebody what we are really saying is that ‘this can never happen again and here are the steps we are going to take to ensure that’. How do we ensure that as we are changing the law we are also changing the culture? That is the work of organizers and that is the work of movements,” said Cullors.
At the event‘s conclusion, attendees clustered and marched down 23rd Avenue chanting, “Say Her Name”, so loudly in unison the marchers could be heard several blocks away.
However, the second part of the day was just beginning. Next on the agenda: Black business empowerment.
Barely an hour after the Judkins Park event wrapped up, Bennett teamed up with local hip-hop artist Draze to sponsor this year’s Power Summit at the Seattle Art Museum.
A small pop-up market of local Black owned business vendors greeted anyone walking into the SAM’s lobby.
The theme of the Summit was “Building Black Wealth” and the day’s events included: “Coffee with the Candidates” a mayoral panel with campaign frontrunners, a Black owned business pitch competition, and a presentation by Africatown founder Wyking.
Questions for mayoral candidates focused squarely on the Black community. They ranged from speculator tax, to land trust, and largely hovered around Black business and home ownership. Candidate Nikitta Oliver, however, took a moment to point out that these areas are not the only topics politicians should be focusing on when it comes to serving the Black community.
“We have economic apartheid in this city. Reality is that a lot of Black folks have already been pushed out of this city and we need to create spaces where we can come back and have home ownership. But these policies tend to get blanketed broadly and don’t tend to impact us as a Black community,” said Oliver.
The pitch competition, inspired by the TV show Shark Tank, brought the excellence of Black entrepreneurship center stage. First to present was Tony B. founder of Rainier Avenue Radio. His focus on communications and technology programs for South Seattle’s youth was a reminder of how innovative and intrinsic entrepreneurship is to the community.
“Our goal is to super serve southeast Seattle and to find people who don’t have access to mainstream media, or if they see mainstream media as something that does not represent their interest,” said Tony, “if you are going to be a sustainable media company you have to include community in everything you do.”
Last to take the stage, again, was Michael Bennett, the man behind the two events, who said that he is on a personal mission to connect with and empower Seattle’s Black community and uplift the youth during trying times.
“We can empower our youth and make them realize that they matter. I believe that is where my most important agenda is. We are trying to balance the harsh realities of the world and the many opportunities in the world and trying to bring those two things together. I know we can do this.”
The coming together of Seattle’s Black community on Saturday represented power and beauty emerging from the ashes of recent tragedy. It exemplified the beams of progress shining within a community. The day came to a close with the reaffirming of a commitment –within the Black community – that Black Lives Matter, first and foremost, to one another.