Illustration depicting various black-outlined individuals grouped together on a blue-purple gradient.

Libraries, Artists, and Community Members Host ‘What the World Needs Now: A Dreamathon’

by Chamidae Ford

In response to the COVID-19 delta variant, The Seattle Public Library (SPL) has teamed up with an array of entertainers, community organizations, and artists to create “What the World Needs Now: A Dreamathon.” The Dreamathon is a series dedicated to encouraging community members to imagine a better pandemic life through art, music, and knowledge. 

“We started COVID response projects in 2020 but intentionally decided that community-led work should be at the center of what we were doing,” SPL public engagements program manager Davida Ingram said. “So there’s a really beautiful array of culturally specific work that happened in response to COVID that has a lot of implications for racial justice and the role that arts and culture sort of plays in amplifying concerns around public health.”

This series began with six months of “Soul Clinics” in addition to eight weeks of online campaigns that encouraged viewers to engage on social media using the hashtag #DreamathonWA. Selfie stations set up throughout south King County let participants snap a pic and share it online, along with their hopes for the future, using the hashtag #DreamathonWA. And it’s all inspired by the idea of melding health with dreaming and creativity.

“[We are] really highlighting the concept and the idea around dreaming as an essential part of health, and art as an essential part of health and creativity,” Candace Jackson, from the African American Health Board, said. “Bringing those things together for people leading up to the event has been really important for us. I think traditionally folks don’t think about fun when I think about well-being or health, so leading up to this event, we wanted to create that space for people online.” 

The Soul Clinics were another aspect of approaching health and wellness holistically. SPL has hosted over 20 of these since the spring, allowing people to connect with their community while also improving and caring for their well-being. 

“The Soul Clinics are one example of those moments where we’re able to bring together multiple communities to think about holistic care,” Jackson said. “[We] had massage workers or other types of healers on-site. We had games, food, and outdoor activities and a place where people could connect because that connection piece is so essential to our health. Particularly when you add layers of oppression to the mix, that piece around being able to be in community is so important.”

The Dreamathon idea was inspired by hackathons, a type of event where a large number of people meet and participate in collaborative computer programming. Wanting to push community over technology, Ingram created Dreamathon as a more inspirational and accessible approach to the series. 

“We’re on Zoom, and technology has played an important part in keeping people together during the pandemic, but it was the people’s power. And so [it was] the notion of ‘let’s listen to people dream right now,’” Ingram said. “When we say that one of the most practical things we could do right now is dreams, it is because when we’re entering a dream mind state we’re thinking about possibility, we’re thinking about potential. And there are so many crises in COVID, but there are also so many opportunities to take systems that were not working and reimagine them.”

Featuring artists from all around the state, SPL encourages all Washingtonians to tune in. 

“This has definitely been joint work and with a vision of really listening to Communities of Color in Washington State overall, but also there’s a heartbeat that’s in Seattle and Tacoma and Spokane as notes of the work,” Ingram said.

Illustration depicting on outline of two Black-presenting individuals standing on a background of yellow-black gradient with white text that reads "What are your pandemic hopes and dreams?"
Illustration for “What the World Needs Now: A Dreamathon” by Jessie Vergel. Image courtesy of The Seattle Public Library.

The Dreamathon series will come to a close with a two-day virtual event that will also be streamed at The Station Coffee Shop.

On Oct. 22 there will be a virtual dance party beginning at 7:30 p.m., cohosted by CarLarans and Rell Be Free, with DJ sets by Tremenda Diosa and Toe Jam

Day two of the celebration will be filled with speakers, artists, and discussions. Beginning at 2 p.m., the event will feature an opening song by Will Jordan; a young artist roundtable with Emery Spearman, Jessie Vergel, Kisira Hill, and Victoria Olivera; and opening keynote speeches by Dr. Ben Danielson and Seattle Black Panther chapter cofounder Aaron Dixon. 

Following the opening addresses, there will be a live performance by Lexi, a local musician, and De’Brea Cavaiani from the Seattle hip-hop program The Residency will read a poem by young artists who have been incarcerated in Spokane. Amir Islam will also speak about recovery and dreaming in the pandemic, and there will be opportunities to learn about mental health resources and grief support.

The afternoon will also feature breakout rooms where participants can discuss issues from abolition to food sovereignty to recovery. 

This celebration is a time to learn about what is happening in your community while also sharing your own experiences and providing feedback to community organizers. 

“I’m hoping it’s the time where the community can cocreate some knowledge together and build relationships so that the work is elevated a little bit more deeply after the event,” Jackson said. “We are going to be identifying the things that bubble to the top of the conversation, and we’ll be doing some work to carry those messages forward over the following nine months.”

The Dreamathon represents a space to expand on the solutions we have already created to address the inequities in our systems, while also recognizing the ones we have yet to solve.

“Our communities deserve much more than a shot in the arm,” Ingram said. “I’m not at all anxious to go back to the inequities that were existing in 2019. So as we talk about recovery, we also have to talk about what were some of the things that we were recovering from before? As we continue to architect new solutions, I also want people to know that figuring out what our connection points are going to be is just part of the work and its ongoing work. It’s not work that started with COVID, it’s just how we’ve been responding to the conditions and the U.S. for a really long time.”

Register for the events on the following Eventbrite webpage.

The following SPL community partners participated in this program: African American Health Board, African American Reach and Teach Health (AARTH), A Sacred Passing, Black & Tan Hall, Columbia Legal Services, Converge Media, Fred Hutchinson (CoVPN), Gathering Roots Retreat & Wellness Center, Harborview Medical Center, King County Equity Now, King County Library System, KVRU 105.7 LPFM, Pacific Islander Community Association (PICA-WA), Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, Seattle Youth Commission, Tubman Center for Health & Freedom, UTOPIA Washington, Washington State Department of Health, Wa Na Wari, Washington Community Alliance, and the #SeattleTogether Initative.

Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article stated that the Dreamathon series began with eight weeks of “Soul Clinics.” The previous version also stated that De’Brea Cavaiani from The Residency will read a poem by spoken word artist Jordan Chaney as well as young artists incarcerated in Spokane. This article was updated on 10/25/2021 to state that the Dreamathon series began with “six months of ‘Soul Clinics’ in addition to eight weeks of online campaigns …” and that the poem read by Cavaiani was not by spoken word artist Chaney but just the artists incarcerated in Spokane.

Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.

📸 Featured Image: Illustration for “What the World Needs Now: A Dreamathon” by Jessie Vergel. Image courtesy of The Seattle Public Library.

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