by Elizabeth Turnbull
On Monday, the King County Equity Now (KCEN) Coalition unveiled the Black Brilliance Project, a Black-led, community-based research team set to investigate health, public safety and racial equity solutions, with the goal of providing direction and authority on how City funds should be applied toward meeting these needs in 2021.
The Black Brilliance Project’s first 50 members were on-boarded last week, and the project will ultimately consist of over 100 paid research positions, occupied by various members of the city’s Black community, some of whom spoke at a press conference on Monday.
Overall, the project will survey the needs of the Black community and provide a potential avenue for community members to be involved in budgeting decisions as an alternative to City-formed task forces that usually decide how money for the Black community is allocated.
“When we say community voice we don’t mean some task force that is cherry-picked by white wealthy people who already have access to political power,” said KCEN research director Shaun Glaze during a press conference Monday. “Instead of having pre-set priorities, instead of having hand-selected task forces, we are pushing for a community voice and community power to be at the center.”
The money for a participatory budgeting process comes from the Seattle City Council’s transfer of $3 million from emergency reserves. While the City Council says it is working to distribute the money in the near future, KCEN has begun hiring community researchers in the meantime, Glaze relayed on Monday.
Overall, the Black Brilliance Project team includes youth, elders, generational Seattleites, and new immigrants and refugees. It also features educators, entrepreneurs, tech industry professionals, artists, healthcare workers, advocates for victims of domestic violence, people who have experience with the criminal legal system, housing specialists, retirees, people with disabilities, people across the gender spectrum, and several multilingual teams, according to KCEN.
During the Monday conference call, many team members talked about the need for research to provide for greater equity in general, while other team members addressed more specific research goals, such as researching equity for East African communities in South Seattle.
In addition to conducting research, the Black Brilliance Project is meant to lay the groundwork for a participatory budgeting process in 2021, which ideally means that the members of the Black community who have been impacted by police brutality, failures within the education system, and other issues can decide how funds from the City will go toward solving these issues.
So far Mayor Jenny Durkan has pledged to give $100 million to BIPOC communities and she has committed to an annual investment for ten years — but rather than putting the money through a participatory budgeting process, she appears to be designating her own task force.
Sean Goode, one of the individuals Durkan designated to chair the task force, has already declined to be involved.
In an an op-ed in the Emerald detailing why he refused to participate, Goode, the executive director of the restorative justice organization, Choose 180, took issue with how Durkan’s task force does not represent a participatory budgeting process and he expressed his belief that it is counterproductive for the mayor to pledge to invest in the Black community and yet not divest funds from the police department.
On Tuesday, Mayor Durkan released her $6.5 billion budget proposal for 2021. While some protests over the summer have been calling for a 50% divestment of Seattle Police Department funding, Durkan’s proposed budget does not come close to such a cut. Durkan has stated that she is opposed to slashing SPD’s budget by that figure.
Instead of defunding the police department by 50% in 2021, Durkan’s new budget outlines a $22 million cut to police staff through attrition, structural changes to the 911 system, and the designation of a team to conduct an analysis of police department staffing and spending.
Durkan’s proposal, which takes SPD from a $409 million budget in 2020 to $359 million in 2021, achieves other reductions by shifting spending on parking enforcement, the Office of Emergency Management, and 911 call centers out of the SPD budget and into other city departments.
In his op-ed, Goode said another reason he declined to participate in the task force had to do with the source of the $100 million for BIPOC communities. As Goode speculated, and recent reporting shows, the mayor plans to draw on funds from the JumpStart payroll tax measure passed by the City Council this past summer — which is designed to increase funding for COVID-19 relief, Green New Deal investments, affordable housing, and other programs not necessarily specific to BIPOC communities.
“It became clear that the role I had been asked to serve was not to bake the cake or to identify the ingredients the community would like to be included but to merely put the icing on so that it would be palatable to my people,” Goode wrote.
It is expected that Durkan will announce members of the task force this coming week.
Ultimately, KCEN intends for the Black Brilliance Project to set an example for ways to involve the community in decision-making and research and serve as a viable alternative to the mayor’s existing task forces.
“The team really has laid the groundwork for a true participatory budgeting process in 2021,” Shaun Glaze said. “We know that community understands the urgency because it’s our children, our grandchildren, our siblings, our parents, our grandparents whose lives are on the line — our friends, our loved ones. This isn’t theory, this isn’t best guesses, this is real life for us.”
Elizabeth Turnbull is a Seattle-based journalist.
Featured image: King County Equity Now’s Pay The Fee rally held July 18, 2020. (Photo: Susan Fried)