“We’re still here”—Imagine Africatown Design Weekend’s Reunion on Union Dinner

by Naomi Ishisaka

Against the backdrop of the freshly-painted, kente-cloth-colored Midtown Plaza on 23rd and Union, more than 200 people came together on Saturday for a powerful demonstration of resistance to what can seem to be an unstoppable slide into gentrification.

In a neighborhood that went from 70 percent Black in the 1970s to now just 20 percent Black, the Africatown Design Weekend’s Reunion on Union Dinner reclaimed the longtime center of the city’s Black community as a space for reconnection, celebration, and community through food.

With guests seated at one long table, the multi-generational potluck meal was served on real plates on beautiful place settings with flowers and linens in the red, black, and green colors of the Pan-African flag. DJ Topspin kept the music going with participants breaking into the “electric slide.”

As part of the Africatown Central District Preservation and Development Association’s Design Weekend, the goal of the weekend’s events was to “catalyze a necessary change within Seattle’s urban development trajectory to deal with the city’s compounding issues of affordability, displacement, and homelessness,” according to the dinner’s Facebook event invite.

According to the organization’s website, “Africatown is a community-led initiative developed by people from throughout the African Diaspora who have witnessed their neighborhood’s dismantling and seek to imagine a chapter after gentrification.”

In addition to the reunion dinner, a coalition of groups including Shelf Life Stories, Seattle Public Utilities, Office of Arts and Culture, Fearless 360, and others put together an interactive “living room” immersive public art and story experience to create space for those from the Central District to share their experiences and guide the process of creating public art in the neighborhood.

Africatown formed a community land trust in 2016, and purchased property throughout the Central District. It is now actively shaping a number of developments in order to build a Black cultural district.

“We need bold vision followed by bold action to ensure a future of Seattle that is inclusive of our communities that have been here and helped make the city what it is,” President of Africatown Community Land Trust Wyking Garrett said. “The design weekend is an invitation to help design a future inspired by the best of the Black experience and African Diaspora.”