Omari Tahir-Garrett doesn’t mince words when it comes to talking about gentrification in the Central District. For him, African American families priced out of the neighborhood amounts to “ethnic cleansing.”
That won’t come as a shock to those familiar with the Central District/Africatown activist and slavery reparations advocate who once assaulted former Mayor Paul Schell with a bullhorn in response to the fatal police shooting of an unarmed black man.
Whatever you may think of Garrett, his love for his neighborhood is undeniable. The 69-year-old, lifelong Central District resident displays the vitality and determination of an activist a third his age. This year, he wants to take his fight to City Council.
Garrett hasn’t officially registered for the race but says he’ll be running for the at-large Council Position 9 seat. All candidates must register by May 15th to appear on the August 4th primary ballot. The top two finishers from August will advance to the November election.
One of his former players, now a grown man, pulled up next to him to say hello
Running in the Capitol Hill/Central District dominated District 3 would seem like a more natural fit for Garrett, but he said he didn’t want to detract from Socialist Alternative incumbent Kshama Sawant who performed quite well in Tuesday’s candidates forum.
A sometimes enigmatic figure, Garrett is most passionate and persuasive when talking about bolstering the Central District’s African identity into a cultural neighborhood like Chinatown/International District. For years, Garrett has been trying to establish an Africatown Seattle Cultural Center, and said it would be his first undertaking if elected to council.
“If you want to have peace in a community, you need to have a community center,” he said.
In 1985, Garrett was part of a group that occupied a Seattle school to advocate for an African-focused museum in the Central District. His efforts eventually lead to the creation of the Northwest African American Museum. It wouldn’t be the last time Garrett made headlines through occupying a school building. In 2013, Garrett was part of a group that occupied the Horace Mann building in hopes of establishing a permanent home for the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation, an organization founded by Garrett’s son Wyking Garrett. Both men also help found the Umoja P.E.A.C.E. Center at 23rd and Spring.
Garrett was born and raised in the Central District and played basketball and football while attending Garfield High School. At 19, Garrett said he bought his first house in the neighborhood. “I just wanted my little corner for art and music and to work with kids,” he said.
Like many in his generation, the international turmoil of the late 1960s was the spark that ignited Garrett’s political activism. In 1968, when he was still going by his birth name James Cordell, Garrett was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. Military hierarchy didn’t suit him well. According to Garrett, a series of arguments over a minor infraction eventually landed him in a military prison. It was there Garrett said he got his real education in Black Power politics. The first thing he bought upon release was a copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Over the years, Garrett has spent most of his working life teaching in schools and community programs. He frequently taught African history, but said he often ended up teaching “basically how to be a human being because these kids were so twisted.”
He also spent 40 years coaching little league in Seattle. As we walked around 23rd and Union, one of his former players, now a grown man, pulled up next to him to say hello. Garrett said it happens nearly every day.
When we met outside Sam’s Moroccan Sandwich Shop, Garrett handed me a handwritten letter that outlined his qualifications to be on City Council along with a stack of articles and flyers on range of local and international topics. They cover his opposition to building a new youth detention center at 12th and Alder, his commitment to raise awareness that Seattle is native Duwamish land, and calls for slavery reparations.
Today While “capitalist” political/economic magicians and their negroe politicians (Africans trained to do trick on white command like well trained bird dogs) attempt to use the same “Now you see it; now you don’t” style of magic tricks to make Africatown communities disappear across America, through gentrification, as thy did Native American “Indian” communities in the Americas and so called “Aboriginal” (actually just ORIGIAL) communities in Australia.
Each morning, Garrett says he walks around the sprawling Midtown Center property at 23rd and Union to pick up trash and keep an eye on police activity. He’s lived within a 10-block radius of the block for most of his life. “There’s no black owned business from this area that has expanded and grown,” he said scanning the area, ticking off the names of shuttered black-owned businesses. Garrett’s now part of an effort to create a “Black Wall Street” on the property to buck the trend.
With its location in the heart of the Central District, today’s Midtown Center serves as a public gathering place, including at night. Some neighbors have complained the property draws illegal activities including drug dealing and gambling in the parking lot. For Garrett, the solution is clear: Build African American institutions.
“If they don’t have a place to stand, they’ll make a place to stand,” he said.