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

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. Continue reading

Amid progress on community ownership of Central District properties, plans for Africatown Plaza taking shape

The early preferred massing concept for Africatown Plaza (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Plaza is coming to 23rd and Spring (Image: GGLO)

Africatown Community Land Trust is working to finalize plans for its 7-story project that includes about 130 affordable housing units on 23rd and Spring in the Central District with construction estimated to begin late next year.

While the broad project timeline hasn’t been affected by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, what has been altered is the developers ability to procure retail tenants, said real estate project manager for Africatown Muammar Hermanstyne.

“Retail is dying, no one is coming out,” Hermanstyne told CHS, adding that this has made it difficult to sign on specific Black-owned retail for the shop.

Being planned as more than 100 units of 100% affordable housing plus street-level retail and commercial space, the project will be built at 23rd and Spring on the south end of the site of the former Midtown Center. It will include around 130 affordable housing units, specifically for “those who have been displaced due to rising rents,” as well as several thousand square feet of retail space. The collaboration between Africatown Community Land Trust and Community Roots Housing is hoped to build on the success of the nearby Liberty Bank Building which opened two years ago in what many hope will be a model for equitable development in the Central District and Seattle.

The Africatown Plaza project is joined by a small ripple of progress in putting some key Central District properties into community ownership as efforts like the King County Equity Now coalition have increased the call for ownership and development opportunities for the Black community.

Community property progress
Later this month the city will likely move to transfer several important Central District properties to community ownership. After seven years, Fire Station 6 at 23rd and Yesler would go to Africatown, which will look to turn the decommissioned space into the William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation.

The center, named after a local Black pioneer, will look to serve as a technological hub of a community that hasn’t had as much access to the resources needed to be successful. Community organizer TraeAnna Holiday noted, for example, that she hopes children will be able to use 3D printers there they wouldn’t have had otherwise which could make them better candidates for local jobs. Continue reading

Seven of nine Seattle City Council members pledge #defundSPD support

(Image: CHS)

Seven of the nine Seattle City Council members say they will support the effort to reduce the Seattle Police budget by 50%, the key component of demands from activists and community groups after weeks of Black Lives Matter protests, marches, and rallies in the Pacific Northwest.

The important threshold would represent a veto-proof majority on any council action as the representatives shape major changes to the city’s budget in the face of predictions of a significant downturn in revenue due to the COVID-19 crisis — a rebalancing process planned to be finalized and voted on in the next two weeks.

CHS reported on Wednesday’s council budget committee session’s deep dive into SPD spending and the strong support for #defundSPD voiced during public testimony. Massively reducing spending on policing has been at the center of demands during weeks of protests and demonstrations around Seattle in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis.

“We’ve seen a lot of unrest over the last six weeks, much of it built upon generations of struggle for Black liberation,” activist and lawyer Nikkita Oliver said in a media conference hosted Thursday by the two coalitions driving the #defundSPD effort and a spending plan for the diverted funds “We are, though, at a very significant moment as this movement continues to grow and seeing the discussion of defund the police be more than a chant in the street.” Continue reading

Independence Day in Seattle: A 4th of YouLie rally in the Central District as coalition marks win vs. ‘predatory development’

Africatown’s Joy (Image: CHS)

On Saturday afternoon, organizers of the Africatown-led King County Equity Now Coalition are holding a “4th of YouLie” rally event at 23rd and Union to shift the narrative surrounding the Fourth of July.

“Fourth of July depicts the independence of the United States — not everybody was free. Our people of African descent weren’t free, were still slaves in that time,” organizer and Africatown ambassador Fynniecko Glover Jr. said. “So the July 4th, the Fourth of YouLie, is just saying that not all of us were free.”

The event will center around a teach-in with a series of speakers discussing the history and gentrification of the Central District neighborhood, according to Glover Jr., and there will also be a teen resource area and Black-owned businesses for people to shop at.

“23rd and Union historically is a significant intersection in the Black community,” Africatown Community Land Trust member Isaac Joy told CHS. “That intersection has been transformed, I think at really all four corners, in the negative with huge gentrification projects.”


Friday, the coalition announced it had halted a “predatory” development of the former Keiro Care Center at 17th and Yesler. This coalition of ‘Black-led, community-based” organizations has plans to turn the property into a space that will “honor Indigenous and Pan-Asian communities.”

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With new energy — and demands — from Central District rally, second week of protest in Seattle begins — UPDATE: Elected officials join protest after burst of flash bangs on Capitol Hill

Horse mounted protesters were part of the scene in the Central District

PJ (left) and Chaka Khan (right) were part of the Friday night protest and rally scene in the Central District (Image: Jake Goldstein-Street)

With reporting by Jake Goldstein-Street

UPDATE 7:48 PM: A calm but energetic protest became a chaotic mess in a burst of police firepower Saturday night. The situation came to a head around 7:40 PM as police were attempting to push a large crowd of demonstrators back from the frontline fencing and put National Guard troops in place. After reports of police grabbing umbrellas and moving on the crowd, an order to disperse was given, followed by pepper spray and a hail of loud flash bangs and designed to create explosions of smoke and fire to clear away crowds.

“You have been given an order to disperse,” a command officer repeated over the area’s public address system installed in recent days to help better communicate with protesters. Police were threatening the use of pepper spray and other “less lethal” weaponry if protesters did not comply.

Protesters were reported scattering from the scene and regrouping on nearby streets.

Multiple people were reported detained.

UPDATE 9:15 PM: Seattle Police reports that “several officers” were injured during the incident and that small explosives were thrown at police:

Image from a Facebook livestream behind the police line

Crowds have reformed and police and National Guard troops were back in place behind the barrier at 11th and Pine. Police announcements asked the crowd to “please respect” the barriers so that “First Amendment” activities could continue.

“We are committed to a peaceful protest,” the command officer said during the address. “Please respect the police lines.”

UPDATE 11:28 PM: A contingent of Seattle elected leaders has gathered at the protest in a visit to the front line. “Calling on @carmenbest @SeattlePD @MayorJenny to STOP this! Move the police line back to the barricade at least, dont spray, gas, flash/noise bombs,” council member Teresa Mosqueda writes. 43rd District rep Nicole Macri, King County Council member Girmay Zahilay, State Joe Nguyen, plus fellow city council members Dan Strauss, Lisa Herbold, and Andrew Lewis joined Mosqueda in the show of solidarity with protesters.

UPDATE 11:55 PM: After a request to Chief Best from the assembled set of elected officials, the line of police and Guard troops was moved back to create more distance between the groups and to give demonstrators more room.

UPDATE 6/7/2020 6:50 AM: The overnight hours following the Saturday night outburst saw no further large-scale police escalation of crowd control tactics but there were reports of at least one major protest-related arrest effort on Capitol Hill away from the 11th and Pine core.

SPD posted a brief on the Saturday night escalation that brought elected officials to the front of the protest in response and upped the volume on calls for Mayor Durkan to resign:

During the on-going protests in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, officers deployed blast balls and pepper spray to temporarily disperse the crowd after individuals in the group threw bottles, rocks, and incendiary devices broke through a fence line, and several officers were injured. Just after 7 PM Saturday the scene commander began warning the protesters at 11 Avenue and East Pine Street to stop pushing the barriers placed there. Some unidentified people in the group began throwing bottles, rocks, and incendiary devices at officers who had moved forward to push the barriers back to their location. The group refused to back up and officers deployed pepper spray and blast balls in an attempt to push the crowd back. The protesters moved back a block and officers were able to reset the barriers. Several officers were injured during the incident and two were taken to Harborview Medical Center to treatment of their wounds. There was no CS gas deployed during this confrontation.

ORIGINAL REPORT: A second Friday of actions in Seattle brought new demands and new calls for justice as thousands gathered in the Central District for a “teach-in,” a rally, and a march to the city’s protest core outside the East Precinct at 12th and Pine for another relatively peaceful night of chanting and anti-police demonstration..

“We’re creating these environments, these networks and we’re using our platforms. I don’t want to see nobody with over 1K of a follower not post this rally today,” one speaker said during the afternoon rally in the parking lot at 23rd and Jackson. “I don’t care if you got 200 followers. I want to see it on your social media.”

The rally — filled with speakers, community support, music and dancing, free barbecue, and, yes, protest horses — filled the parking lot at a rapidly changing corner of the Central District where a massive mixed-use development from Vulcan apparent Amazon grocery store is rising across the street.

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With vision for ‘African American communities and spaces of the future,’ Africatown Plaza will be next to take shape in the Central District

The coming Africatown Plaza at Midtown

23rd and Union’s Africatown mural (Image: Africatown)

Community members met this week for an all-day design symposium at Washington Hall in the Central District to plan “African American communities and spaces of the future” around the Puget Sound.

The event follows a major development in the Central District with the opening of the Liberty Bank Building and comes as the early design process for Africatown Plaza at Midtown, another fully affordable development around the 23rd and Union core, is about to begin.

“Overall, working to make sure that we still have a heart and soul and a place of unity and community,” the Africatown Community Land Trust’s K. Wyking Garrett said Saturday, before giving a shout out to last weekend’s Umoja Fest Parade, a Central Area staple since the 1940s. He wants Africatown, however, to be more than just these major celebrations, but places “where we can experience Black culture, Black music, Black culinary genius from throughout the diaspora.” Continue reading

Hoping to follow the equitable development example of the Liberty Bank Building, Africatown Plaza begins to take shape

Community members discuss their priorities for the Africatown Plaza project (Image: CHS)

“Welcome to what we now call sacred ground,” said K. Wyking Garrett, standing in the still bare-bones corner space of the Liberty Bank Building where a new restaurant by That Brown Girl Cooks will land this summer. His comments marked the start of the first community design meeting for the planned Africatown Plaza affordable housing and commercial retail development on 23rd and Union.

Thursday’s meeting gave a first glimpse into what Africatown Community Land Trust, of which Garrett is president and CEO, plans for the site, and was a first step in the design process that is supposed the mirror and exceed the success of the affordable housing development Liberty Bank Building. The opening of the building this spring signaled the start of what is hoped to be a wave of equitable development across the Central District.

“We are here today to talk about the next project, the next building (…) across the street. Which will be similar, but we will improve on what we’ve done here,” Garrett said. Continue reading

‘Replanting’ — Liberty Bank Building’s opening hoped to be new start in the Central District

More than 100 new affordable homes — and the start of what many hope will be a wave of equitable development across the Central District — are now full of life in the Liberty Bank Building. The development led by nonprofit developer Capitol Hill Housing and community development group Africatown celebrated with a ribbon cutting, party, and tours Saturday at 24th and Union.

“This neighborhood and this street means so much to me,” building contractor, neighborhood activist, and, now, Liberty Bank Building resident Ted Evans said. “It’s just surreal to be able to live here and raise my son and be part of this redevelopment and being part of this creation that we’re starting, you know, to bring it back home. This is where I started — I was born here.”

“There is power here,” Evans said. Continue reading

CHS Pics | Earl’s Cuts and Styles making temporary move before new life in Liberty Bank Building

It’s almost moving day for Earl Lancaster

After nearly 30 years of business, Earl’s Cuts and Styles won’t be cutting hair in the Midtown Center at 23rd and Union after this weekend. But its new home across the way in the Liberty Bank Building isn’t ready for the legendary barbershop just yet.

After Saturday’s final day of business in its original home, Earl’s is moving across the street to a temporary shop in The Central building. Earl Lancaster said he hopes the stay will be short and that he should be in his new shop in the Liberty Bank Building by the end of March. Continue reading

Lost in progress at Midtown Center: a 23rd and Union small business and a Central District post office

(Image: CHS)

As much as some neighbors may be looking forward to the demolition of the old Midtown Center shopping strip at 23rd and Union, the end isn’t much to celebrate. You can feel the missing systematic safety net for Seattle’s small businesses as one small shop owner struggles to sort out what comes next. Other changes will be inconvenient and, for some, further evidence that Seattle — and the Central District — is tossing aside community elements as it reaches for continued growth and development.

“Please help me. Please don’t forget about me,” Saad Ali pleads. The owner of the 99 Cents Plus store in the now mostly vacant shopping center is happy to finally hear from a journalist. Attention from Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant has helped, he says, but it hasn’t helped him find a new place to move his store or any opportunities for grants or financial assistance to weather the change. More useful, he says, has been recent conversations with a few officials from City Hall who are looking into ways to help Ali move.

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