by Carolyn Bick
When Elijah L. Lewis was born in Skyway Park two decades ago, he carried his mother’s grief over his father’s death inside himself.
“My father had been walking my little sister down the stairs when he had collapsed. At the time, we did not have a phone, because of the inequities we were suffering because of the poverty mindset … and the reality that we have to face,” Lewis said, describing how difficult it was for his family to summon medical aid. “My six-year-old [sibling], my nine-year-old sister, and my 10-year-old brother and mother, witnessed my father, who was a Black man, turn purple and die in front of their face. … We did not have any financial stability left when he passed, so we had to struggle.”
Though he has since started a financial business called Flourish Financial Group, a local business meant to help create generational wealth, Lewis has not forgotten where he came from. He was one of the several King County-and Skyway-based community leaders who addressed a small crowd at the Heal the Hood march and rally on June 28, in front of the Black-owned Catfish Corner Express restaurant.
These leaders spoke not only against the racism endemic in policing, but also against racism’s ripple effects felt throughout the Skyway neighborhood over the decades. Some speakers gave moving tributes to dead Black ancestors, their names rolling out of the mouths of the gathered and echoing underneath the cloud-patched sky. Others spoke about their lives as Black children in Skyway, and the need for community-based solutions, rather than those from outside nonprofits.
These speakers also addressed the racism that appears even within other marginalized communities. It was this kind of racism that prompted the NAACP not to participate in Pride events this year, the organization’s first LGBTQ Chair DeAunte Damper explained. He said that the decision was a gesture of solidarity over the death of 19-year-old Lorenzo Anderson, the young man who had been shot and killed in the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest in mid-June.
Damper decried Capitol Hill, saying that while the area may “affirm for LGBTQ rights, they are not affirming when it comes to us being Black.” But he also addressed the fact there are precious few spaces for LGBTQ+ Black individuals like himself.
“As an openly gay man, I am standing up for that hetero boy, and the rest of my other brothers and sisters, and really pray that my other community members, the next time you see a trans woman in trouble, you do the same,” Damper said. “Find a way to show up for us. Because I am tired of going to Capitol Hill, because that’s the only space that advocates for me. I grew up in the South End of Seattle. … I went to Rainier Beach High School. I graduated from here. Why do I have to go to a place that doesn’t affirm in my Blackness?”
Other speakers iterated a distinct list of demands for the area. These demands — born of a coalition of community leaders, organizations, and community members themselves, called the Skyway Coalition — relate to the King County Council’s July 21 vote on the Skyway-West Hill subarea plan, which will direct future land use planning for these unincorporated areas of King County.
Skyway Collective founder and the day’s event co-organizer Basha Alexander later posted a picture of the demands onto the event’s Facebook page, inviting those interested to sign an online petition.
The demands, written in bold, bright letters, include broadening the land use plan into a comprehensive community development plan, and allocating funding towards the highest areas of need in the council’s upcoming budget. The stipulations also include funneling more marijuana tax dollars into the community to fund affordable housing; that the council grant $10 million for affordable housing; and that the council put money towards a Skyway community cultural center.
Featured image: A woman and a young child listen to a speaker, during the Heal the Hood rally in the Skyway neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, on June 28, 2020 (Photo: Carolyn Bick)