Optimism, Opportunity On Display at Seventh Annual State of Africatown

by Georgia McDade

Though the sky was cloudy and gray Saturday morning, the inside of Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute at 104 17th Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98144 was sunny and bright. Well over 100 people celebrated the Seventh Annual State of Africatown, a collective of African and African-American-owned businesses dedicated to making life better for African and African-Americans.

This year’s theme was “Strengthening Roots, Building Our Future”, which coincided perfectly with the motto of the Africatown consortium: “Imagine. Design. Build.”  The event began with a procession of men dressed in African attire and playing African instruments marched into the theater where the audience was greeted by Langston Executive Director Tim Lennon and emcee TraeAnna Holiday.

Ms. Holiday explained that each group present, with the aid of slides, had five minutes to introduce themselves and explain their roles in Africatown. Following a duet of “Lift Every Voice” by two Rainier Valley Leadership Academy scholars, the program began.

As has become the custom in African and African-American events, the ancestors were honored with libations. Next, former Washington State Representative Dawn Mason delivered opening remarks that had to encourage anyone who could hear. Mason said that Africatown is a “collaborative community of clear-thinking individuals.”

Paraphrasing Marcus Garvey, she pointed out that one does not go to the strong for justice but rather to persons of like minds. A show of good works would make others volunteer their assistance.  In no time groups exhibited this truth. She gave kudos to Wyking Garrett and Dr. Maxine Mimms for their assistance adding she wants people who like us, live with us, and want to support us.

Wyking Garrett presented the Elder of Distinction Award to Mr. Charles Jackson who has served the community for more than fifty years. With the exception of a dazzling dance performance by Kutt-N-Up, the constituents made their five-minute presentations.

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Kutt-N-Up performs at The State of Africatown event held at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Feb. 15, 2020 (Photo: Susan Fried)
  • Principal Baionne Coleman talked about Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, grades six – eleven, where most of the students, teachers, and staff are Ethiopian and Samalian. A major concern is “decolonizing” the young. Her assistant, Tanisha Williams, echoed the principal’s words.
  • Aaron Thomas of Black Star Line Rites of Passage urged the audience to “embrace your best self” as he did his best to explain the significance of ending generational trauma.
  • Sharon N. Williams, Langston staff and Historic Central Area Arts & Cultural District (HCAA&CD), heads a supporting body. Meetings are held second Mondays from 5:30 p. m. until 7:00 p. m.
  • Hamde Abdulle & Bilan Aden, “allergic to injustice,” said African Community Housing Development(ACHD) has provided houses for 4,000 families. They think of themselves as being similar to a flock of birds flying in formation; different birds take the lead at different times and not one bird is lost.
  • Nicole Bascomb Green, of the National Association of Real Estate Brokers and Bascom Real Estate Group, spoke as no realtor I have ever heard. Following a litany of differences between being a renter and being a homeowner, she assured the audience that nothing should stop them from attempting to own a home. And, despite the plethora of reasons we often believe we can’t own a home, she pleaded that homeowner-wannabes see her. She will use all the resources she has to help people get into a house and stay in it. Only 46% of blacks own homes; 73% of whites own homes.
  • Debrena Jackson Gandy commented about Elevate Movement. She emphasized her Black Money & Biz Success Summit. This movement began by collecting $350 from businesses in the black community, over $20,000, and then set up six persons in their own businesses.  The next year, $28,000 was collected, and eight persons became entrepreneurs. Yes, this money is repaid so that it can help others begin their businesses. She describes her seminar in this way: “…an inspirational, motivational, and ACTIVATIONAL day of empowerment, filled with purposeful sharing of business-building best practices, game-changing financial insights, success strategies, wealth-building information, and mindset-shifting knowledge.”
  • Habtamu Abdi of Ethiopian Community of Seattle has founded the first East African -owned housing complex—with no partners.  He and his group have raised $6,000,000 and expect to break ground later this year. They will have a village.  The elderly will be taken care of by the young. A social service office will be on the ground floor.
  • Willard Jimerson of United Better Thinking revealed he had been in prison and immediately added, “Who can better help persons who have been incarcerated than people who have been incarcerated?”  In his T-shirt reading, “Do epic good,” he aims to get people back into the community. His group “deep dives.”
  • Hamde Abdulle & Bilan Aden’s African Community Housing Development (ACHD) have provided houses for 4,000 families.
  • Omari Salisbury’s Africatown Media Network exists to tell our narratives ourselves.  He presented news stories important to the black community but not covered by the “mainstream” press or stories later picked up after being first set forth by Media Network.  Two of the most most pleasing stories covered were the saving of Just 4 You Flowers and demands that the Senior Center in the Central District raise $55,000; the sum of $85,000 was raised.
  • The Postman, a postage business owned by husband and wife D’Vonne & KeAnna Pickett, and CommUnion, a restaurant owned by mother and son Kristi Brown and Damon Bomar also made presentations.

    Africatown 2020 -Jimerson_
    Willard Jimerson speaks at The State of Africatown event held at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Feb 15, 2020. (Photo: Susan Fried)

WyKing Garrett,  President and CEO of the Africatown Community Land Trust, and Girmay Zahilay, the only elected official present, closed the program with more quotable, uplifting comments. The former said “Gunshots are frozen tears” and warned us that “buildings don’t make communities; people do.” Garrett also cautioned, “You may not get what you work and struggle for, but you have to work and struggle for everything you get.”

For these men, as well as the many in the audience, there is no doubt the Central District is “surging” and “pulsing” or on its way because of the actions of Africatown participants. Zahilay attempted to tell us how much he has learned in the short time he has been in office. The budget, for instance, is divided into three parts—executive, departments, and council. When we approach the Council, the money has already been divided.  We have to make our wishes known earlier. He vowed to represent us in every way.

No one could have attended this program and departed downcast. Everything about the program was hopeful, examples of actually overcoming rather than simply singing about overcoming. To hear so many obviously successful persons with such confidence could only inspire. “Wraparound service” and “solutions” are words that undergird the acts of those leaders in Africatown.  May Africatown continue forever.

Africatown 2020 Kristi Brown and Damon Bomar
Damon Bomar (left) and Kristi Brown talk about their business That Brown Girl Cooks at The State of Africatown Event held at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute on Feb 15, 2020. (Photo: Susan Fried)

Because another program was beginning downstairs at busy Langston, participants were invited to Monica’s Village where the buffet included chicken, salad , rolls, and water.  Truly, a good time was had by all.

Google “Africatown” for a list of events.  Eventually the program will be aired on Seattle Channel.  Make a point of seeing it. Join in the service and expansion.  The state of Africatown is excellent and getting better.

Georgia McDade headshotGeorgia S. McDade is a fifty-year resident of Seattle and former professor of English. As a youngster she wrote and produced plays for her siblings, neighbors and church youth. A charter member of the African-American Writers’ Alliance, which meets regularly at the Columbia City Library, McDade began bringing her original stories to an appreciative public in 1991. She lives in the Columbia City neighborhood. 

Featured image: Wyking Garrett, President and CEO of the Africatown Community Land Trust speaks at Saturday’s The State of Africatown event. (Photo: Susan Fried)