Africatown initiative receives Seattle Human Rights Award

Photo by Domonique Meeks.
Photo by Domonique Meeks.

The Central District-based Africatown will be honored with a City of Seattle’s Human Rights Award tomorrow night at Town Hall Seattle, along with six other organizations and individuals.

Being recognized with this award (fittingly under the theme Black Lives Matter) is a monumental step for Africatown, said Wyking Garrett, its founder. The group is the umbrella under which Umoja P.E.A.C.E Center, Hack the CD and First Place School programs operate.

“We see Africatown as an opportunity to embrace the value and variety of richness that comes from the different black experiences, whether [they are] from Southern United States migration, West Indies, Somali, Ethiopian and others of the African diaspora,” he said.

Honoring Africatown for community innovation recognizes this type of work is “critical for Seattle to become the world class city that it wants to be,” according to Garrett.

The community is bent on ensuring that black lives aren’t further displaced by Seattle’s tech boom. 

“Due to the under-development of the community, policies, practices and institutionalized racism, the community has not benefited and has been further marginalized by the technology growth that has been happening in Seattle,” Garrett explained.

As a result of the tech boom and the gentrification rapidly taking over the Central District, many of the local businesses were forced to close or move out of their own neighborhood.

Last spring, CD neighborhood conversations about building a “Black Wall Street” around the storied Twenty-Third Avenue and Union Street thoroughfare were underway, with University of Washington students proposing an Afro-centric architectural model reflecting black life and promoting “material justice” and economic vitality.

To this end, Africatown led the creation of Hack the CD, which provides programs and space for youth and other members of the community to connect around technology education and business. The innovation programming is based at the new Black Dot Cultural Innovation Space on Twenty-Third Avenue and Union Street.

“Through Hack the CD and Umoja P.E.A.C.E. Center, the founding partners of Black Dot, there are a number of youth development programs helping youth identify their passion and their ways to sustain themselves from their interest and skills,” said Garrett. “Black Dot grew from a natural progression of the work with Hack the CD and Africatown by focusing on pathways to the innovation economy and the startup community that is around us. [It’s] what we imagined this block would become, a space where entrepreneurs and freelancers can meet, exchange and grow ideas.”

The space isn’t just used for tech-focused projects. Black Dot is also used as a retail space for art and other merchandise, said Garrett.

With a media production hub, youth and adult program cohort, annual conference, and a Central District Startup Weekend, which Hack the CD organizer David Harris calls “an entrepreneurial jam session,” Hack the CD’s self-determined approach has put homegrown technology innovation and social entrepreneurialism at the center of economic sustainability and equity. According to the website, the group of organizers addresses a key question through its programming: “How might we create fertile ground for the African American community in Seattle to grow with the city’s current tech boom?”

In 1890, the Central District was formed when William GroseSeattle’s second recorded black resident, bought 12 acres of land from Henry Yesler on the north side of the Central District on Madison Avenue and Twenty-fourth Avenue. After he had purchased this land, he apportioned it for more black residents to be able to buy houses and open businesses in the area, establishing Seattle’s Central District as the center for black life.

Now, as more and more black residents and businesses are getting priced out of the Central District, plans of a more formalized Africatown as a built environment, institution and community economic model has become a more urgent solution. Recent neighborhood activism, including pushing for Seattle’s historic landmark recognition of the building on Twenty-Fourth Avenue and Union Street and a Pan-African cross walk makeover, has further conveyed this urgency.

Seattle’s Africatown’s pan-African community-building is modeled after many Chinatowns in major U.S. cities bringing together different Asian groups.

The U.S.’s first Africatown, now a federally recognized historic district, was established in 1860 in Mobile, Alabama by West Africans — the last known group of slaves shipped illegally to the United states.

Along with Africatown, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, Rainier Beach Action Coalition and Seattle artist Nikkita Oliver, amongst others, will also be honored with the city’s Human Rights Award for their Black Lives Matter work.

Celebrate Africatown’s strides and the achievements of other awardees tomorrow night, Thursday, Dec. 10, 7 p.m., during a free public reception at Town Hall Seattle. Mingling starts at 6 p.m., and lauded law professor, race theorist and activist Kimberle W. Crenshaw will be delivering the keynote speech. Learn more at www.seattle.gov.

This story has been updated since its original publication to change the name of “Africatown Innovation Center” to its correct name, “Africatown.” 

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