Skyrocketing housing prices have reshaped much of Seattle in recent decades, displacing longtime residents, scattering the city’s historical BIPOC communities, and contributing to a growing number of people without homes. And more people continue to arrive: According to recent U.S. Census data, Seattle was the country’s fastest-growing big city during the year ending July 2022.
The Cultural Space Agency, a real estate development company that helps BIPOC communities and artists purchase cultural spaces, recently announced the employment of two new directors. Olisa Enrico, former codirector of education at Arts Corps, has been hired as the new executive director of the Cultural Space Agency. Former urban planner, manager, and affordable housing developer Quanlin Hu has also joined the Cultural Space Agency as the new director of real estate. Despite the differences in their roles, Enrico and Hu say they look forward to working collaboratively to further the organization’s goals.
Clouds couldn’t keep the crowd away. Over four less-than-sunny hours on April 22, an estimated 400 people flowed through Yes Farm — the one-and-a-half-acre urban farm on Yesler Terrace stewarded by the Black Farmers Collective — to celebrate Seattle’s second annual Black Earth Day with food, music, and good old-fashioned gardening. The event was co-organized by the Black Farmers Collective and the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to celebrate Black people’s contributions to the environmental movement, provide a green space that’s welcoming for Black people who feel disconnected from the land, and encourage more people to get involved in the environmental justice movement.
The BIPOC ED (Executive Directors) Coalition is a multicultural collaborative of 240-plus nonprofit executive directors across Washington State. The organization was launched in 2020 to create a space for local BIPOC nonprofit leaders to build community with one another. On Oct. 11, they announced via press release that their organization will grant $1.37 million to support 32 local BIPOC nonprofit leaders with sabbaticals and respites.
In a day of networking and presentations by community-led immigrant- and BIPOC-driven environmental justice initiatives, the Port of Seattle hosted the South King County Environmental Symposium on Saturday, June 18, at Highline College in Des Moines, Washington. Included in the programming were three panel discussions focused on “Cultivation and Cultural Belonging: Equitable Access to Healthy Foods through Community Gardens,” “Community-Led Stewardship and Youth Activism,” and “Green Jobs for a Just Transition.” In total, 10 different nonprofit and public sector groups were represented.
Ongoing police brutality toward People of Color — particularly Black, Indigenous, and Latino people — and efforts to shed light on the racism baked into our legal systems are contributing to a heightened public conversation of the purpose and impact of policing and prisons. A lesser-known part of our criminal legal system, however, is its sprawling network of fines and fees.
These fines ensnare people interacting with this system in devastating cycles of debt and create massive barriers to post-conviction livelihood — and they must be eliminated. Throughout Washington State and the West Coast, there is growing momentum on this issue, and legislation before State lawmakers would begin to make critical progress.
When COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020, Tyrone Brown was in Lesotho, an independent country of 2 million people completely surrounded by South Africa. As a volunteer for the Peace Corps, he was teaching English, life skills, and HIV/AIDS prevention to Lesotho elementary school students. But the Peace Corps decided to withdraw all their volunteers worldwide and send them home.
Born and raised in Seattle, Tyrone Brown, the founder and artistic director of Brownbox Theatre, credits his mother for introducing him to the arts when he was very young. Brown feels Seattle gave him more freedom and exposure to the arts that he wouldn’t have received, especially as a young Black male, had he grown up somewhere else. Still, being involved in the arts in a single-parent family had its challenges.
“I remember I was in the Northwest Boys Choir for a short period of time. I don’t remember a lot about the experience except for one thing. We had a big concert that was happening in downtown Seattle. And my mom couldn’t get me there. She said, ‘I don’t have money for bus fare. So you’re going to have to call somebody.’ It was a predominately white institution, a group of white boys basically. And I didn’t know those kids, who came from two-parent homes and had money. I was just so embarrassed.”
To say that Black Coffee Northwest, a new Shoreline-based Black-owned coffee shop, has had a tumultuous first six months would be an understatement.
Last October, right before their grand opening in the middle of a pandemic, Black Coffee Northwest was the victim of a racially motivated Molotov cocktail attack. Only a month ago, their property was defaced with swastikas. At the same time, the line for their drive-thru consistently wraps around the block, and concerned community members are actively donating money, supplies, and even volunteering to keep watch in the shop’s parking lot to prevent future attacks.
“We have people that are supporting us, people that are showing up. It’s also showing that there are people that … want this community to be better,” said Black Coffee Northwest co-owner Darnesha Weary. “And that pisses [our opponents] off even more.”
In 2020, we saw people across the country make their voices heard with an urgency America hasn’t witnessed in decades. We marched in cities from coast to coast to express the need for social justice in our country. We advocated for change, pushing for more equity and inclusion.
The core of our chorus in protest after protest, “Black Lives Matter,” is a demand for action — an insistent call to finally tend to the overdue work of elevating Black voices and centering Black experiences.
That call was heeded at the ballot box here in Washington State, with more Black candidates elected than ever before.
Now that we have transitioned into 2021, it is more important than ever to keep building that momentum beyond electoral politics. We must continue to lift our voices and advocate for change throughout our society.
Southeast of Seattle, in unincorporated King County near Auburn, sits a nearly 39-acre parcel of wild land and outbuildings. Currently called the Red Barn Ranch and owned by Seattle Parks and Recreation (SPR), the property has been everything from a summer camp to a conference center to a farming education program. For the last three years, though, it’s sat empty. To some Black leaders in Seattle, this property could be exactly what the community needs to move toward an equitable model for Black-led land ownership that helps the Black community thrive.
Several community voices have been lobbying since the summer of 2020 for the City of Seattle to transfer the Red Barn Ranch property to Black ownership. Who the land is sold to is ultimately up to SPR, but a leading candidate to take on the task of stewarding the land is Nurturing Roots, an urban farm located in Beacon Hill.
“People have asked me if I wanted to own it, but no, I want it to be all of ours,” said Nyema Clark, the founder and director of Nurturing Roots, during an interview with the Emerald in October. “All of us should have a share, and that share should never be able to be sold. You could pass it down to other generations, but you couldn’t make money off of it. We want to make a legitimate model that lasts.”