Black Brilliance Research Project, born from Seattle’s Black Lives Matter protests, moving on without King County Equity Now

by JSeattle

(This article originally appeared on Capitol Hill Seattle Blog and has been reprinted with permission.)

One of the most concrete outcomes at Seattle City Hall of the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests is showing cracks and fissures. Monday afternoon, people working on the Black Brilliance Research Project said they have chosen to “part ways” with King County Equity Now, a coalition of Black-led organizations, including the Central District’s Africatown, that formed during the protests and rallies of 2020 and grew into a new nonprofit to end the year.

“We know that our liberation is intertwined, and we will continue to build alongside all people invested in Black liberation,” the announcement reads. “However, we do not have confidence in KCEN leadership’s current capacity and ability to bring this research project to the finish line in a way that meets the needs of our researchers and community and serves the best interests of the project’s vision and responsibility moving forward.”

Monday’s announcement is signed by Shaun Glaze and LéTania Severe, who have led Black Brilliance Research, and four other groups — Black Trans Prayer Book Researchers, Bridging Cultural Gaps Researchers, Sacred Community Connections Researchers, and The Silent Task Force Researchers — working on the project to document alternatives to policing and increased investment in social and community programs.

It comes as the City, King County Equity Now, and the research project have faced questions about the City Council’s legislative process to award the $3 million contract and a state audit exploring the transaction involving the City, King County Equity Now, and financial sponsor the Freedom Project.

The push for the project and the money to fund the research was part of the City Council’s 2020 budget rebalancing battle with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office. That fight survived a Durkan veto with help from KCEN and Decriminalize Seattle’s pressure to maintain the community investment.

This fall, the Black Brilliance Research Project began to more fully spell out its goals and initiatives:

Broadly, the researchers are responsible for studying the “community safety” and “community health” priorities of specific demographic groups; the work plan names “Afro-Latinx people who use wheelchairs” or “second-generation Somali youth” as examples of possible focus areas. The work plan also outlines possible methods for answering research questions: for instance, to study the effectiveness of community response teams as an alternative to 911 responders, the work plan suggests that researchers could measure changes in 911 use after the establishment of a community response team.

Then, in October, King County Equity Now was formally incorporated as a state nonprofit with Isaac Joy of the Africatown Community Land Trust as its president.

Monday, the individuals working on the Black Brilliance Research Project said that King County Equity Now’s shift from an informal coalition to an incorporated nonprofit was at the root of the problems.

“When KCEN represented a collective of Black community organizations, having KCEN facilitate the research made sense,” the announcement reads. “However, once KCEN chose to incorporate, the community partnership dynamic changed, and this created obstacles and barriers to the research. At heart, this is what has led us away from having KCEN be charged with facilitating the research to the finish line.”

The Black Brilliance Research group said they were turning to the fiscal sponsor Freedom Project, a nonprofit providing programs and advocacy for the incarcerated at “major prisons throughout Washington State” for “their capacity to steward this work to the finish line in a way that is considerate of all impacted and involved.”

“We are confident that finalizing this contract with Freedom Project at the helm is the best decision to allow us to honor the trust the public has placed in this collaborative community-led research process,” the announcement reads.

King County Equity Now, meanwhile, broadcasted an update on its progress Monday including “a Community Conversation to celebrate historic updates, share improvements & uplift Black community-centered accountability.”

In response to the open letter King County Equity Now issued the following statement:

KCEN was birthed from a strong, locally-rooted Black ecosystem. We have been in community together for years, some for generations. We are family, cousins, friends, church-goers, educators and siblings who’ve worked alongside each other towards Black liberation for decades.

With that, we are incredibly thankful for the swell of energy over this past year. We celebrate, acknowledge, thank and uplift the many hundreds of organizers, volunteers, advisors, researchers, supporters, and all else who helped lay the groundwork in the first phase of this work. As we move from a volunteer initiative to a formal non-profit, we’re taking time to slow-down and involve many more locally-rooted Black community members into the fold to ensure accountability, transparency and collective stewardship.  

In that spirit, we welcome in a panel of Black community stewards – a growing group of deeply-rooted Elders, community members and leaders that represent multiple sections, sectors and interests of local Black communities. Stewards will support looking at and reviewing research projects as they come in, the history of prior-funded projects and those currently being developed. This will expand Black community involvement from start-to-finish and, importantly, improve upon unrepresented areas in the first phase of research findings, e.g., Black elders, Black education, Black entrepreneurship and more.

It’s deeply important that in phase two, our Distinguished Elders and Black community members who’ve been left out of the research so far have the important opportunity to help guide this critical work.

Editor’s Note: A small portion of the KCEN response to the BBR Project letter has been removed per KCEN in order to accurately represent their response statement as intended.

Featured image by Susan Fried.

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