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Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Place At The Table: Mayor Murray Listens To Seattle's African American Leaders

Posted by on Sun, Jan 19, 2014 at 9:00 AM

  • Danielle Henderson

Mayor Murray met with several leaders of the African and African American community yesterday at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute to start a conversation about race and inequality in Seattle. The room was packed, and the mayor listened to two hours of presentations on education, housing, arts, community and economic development, STEM professions, digital access, family services, and youth culture.

This event was organized by the mayor’s transition advisory team, including co-conveners Dawn Mason and Mohammed Sheikh Hassan, who joined hands in a historic moment as a show of strength that joined the African American and African immigrant population. Mason said that there is no difference between the two groups, and they welcome the chance to “march together towards justice and freedom.” She also noted that there was plenty of opportunity to work with the city, and hoped that they would “no longer have money used in the name of our children” without community input on how those funds can best be utilized.

Most of the speakers were quick to tell the mayor that Seattle is not as diverse as it thinks it is, and Murray agreed.

Elmer Dixon, co-founder of the Seattle Black Panthers and President of Executive Diversity Services, Inc., said that Seattle is seen as liberal and progressive, but only if you look at it through a white lens, and that “Seattle’s black community jointly experiences a different Seattle that offers a less engaging reality.” Fourteen-year old Marcelas Owens backed that up by saying he and other African American children in the city “struggle harder because we’re looked at differently.” Education was a big focus of the event—Erin Jones, Director of Achievement for Federal Way Schools, passionately informed the crowd that “public schools in the US were not designed with our children in mind," and Seattle native Zithri Ahmed Saleem, a non-profit executive and developer, said that he felt unsupported at school and had to look outside of the educational system to find opportunities to embrace his “inner nerd.”

Organizer Karen Toering brought up the hot topic of city-wide internet access, saying the “municipality can help us be a 21st century community by ensuring the least of us has access to the whole internet.” A lot of people say that the library is a good option for people who don’t have internet access, but Toering pointed out that you can only sign up to use library computers for 30 minutes at a time, which is not enough time to get creative and be engaged. Also, it's sort of messed up to just be okay with the fact that entire neighborhoods have less than sufficient internet access, right?

Felix Ngoussou of Community Capital Development got a standing ovation when he said, “We want to be at the table—for too many years we’ve only been on the menu,” and the crowd flipped out when Lola Peters introduced Mayor Murray by asking him to “pay attention to the dozens of people standing up here telling you how we can grow and strengthen ourselves—give power to our voices, not voices that speak for us.”

When Mayor Murray took the podium, he talked for about ten minutes, which was respectful considering he was primarily there to listen. He didn’t come to the event with prepared remarks, instead choosing to respond on the spot, which was a smart move. Murray heard a lot of people asking for a space at the table, and said that he’s “trying to build an administration where you don’t have to ask that.” There was a huge standing ovation when he brought Interim SPD Chief Bailey to the podium for a few seconds, and Murray wondered why it took “the first gay mayor to appoint the first African American chief of police” even though he had heard nothing but stellar comments about Bailey over the years. K. Wyking Garret of the Umoja PEACE Center wants to move forward on a project to recognize Africatown, and Murray got a standing ovation when he said he wants the city to say Africatown Central District the way we say Chinatown International District. There were a shitload of standing ovations—everyone was really excited for the chance to be heard!

I was most surprised when Mayor Murray admitted that diversity in Seattle was stagnant, and that “Seattle likes to talk diversity, but statistics don’t bear that out.” He thinks that collaboration is the way forward, and challenged everyone in the room to check in with him next year to see if he’s made any movement on the issues presented. He said it, so let’s hold him to it!


Comments (37) RSS

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Cato the Younger Younger 1
You mean Murray isn't the anti-Christ The Stranger desperately tried to make him out to be? Oh no!!
Posted by Cato the Younger Younger on January 19, 2014 at 9:09 AM · Report this
Theodore Gorath 2
Are there people in Seattle who actually think it is a diverse city?

I would also like to point out that Danielle is doing awesome. It is very refreshing to see writing on the Slog that is not incredibly slanted and written from a biased perspective which attempts solely to force the reader to agree with the writer's stance.

Thanks for presenting stories as they are and letting the reader decide what to make of it. Keep it up!
Posted by Theodore Gorath on January 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM · Report this
Seattle is twice as black and twice as asian as the state overall. I'm not sure what's being suggested though... does Seattle shun diversity or should Seattle try to recruit black people so we have more than the national average ?……
Posted by ChefJoe on January 19, 2014 at 9:29 AM · Report this
dnt trust me 4
Encouragement is good, but you know me, sarcastic and cynical. Considering they just hired Danielle, I'm 99% sure she's going to "keep it up."
Posted by dnt trust me on January 19, 2014 at 9:29 AM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 5
Africatown, really? It seems to me that would have been derogatory, at least in years past.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on January 19, 2014 at 9:31 AM · Report this
White people aren't diverse?
Posted by Biggles on January 19, 2014 at 9:40 AM · Report this
Funny how no one mentioned Seattle's largest minority group, Asians. Why is that?
Posted by Biggles on January 19, 2014 at 9:41 AM · Report this
Seattle is very homogenous racially; and, more significantly, in its beliefs.

And intolerant of beliefs that do not conform to its own.

Which is not unusual.

most homogenous places are.

What makes Seattle Special are its self-delusions and pretensions of being open-minded.
Posted by Seattle; the Birmingham of the PNW on January 19, 2014 at 9:41 AM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 9
@5.. you wouldn't still called it 'the colored district', would you ?
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on January 19, 2014 at 9:46 AM · Report this
10 Comment Pulled
Everyone I know in the CD is white or Asian. Just sayin'
Posted by Biggles on January 19, 2014 at 10:16 AM · Report this
TomJohnsonJr 12
I know you have a policy of never reading comments, but thanks anyway for covering this!
Posted by TomJohnsonJr on January 19, 2014 at 10:23 AM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 13
While I support the Africatown initiative in theory, the mission is maddeningly vague and buzz-wordy. I guess it's about economic development, but it really doesn't say much about affordable housing to support the businesses it wants to create. At the heart of it, it seems to be about the Horace Mann Building.

Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 19, 2014 at 10:29 AM · Report this
I lived in the south. Once I moved back here, I basked in the whiteness of the city. So good...don't take it for granted.
Posted by PROKE on January 19, 2014 at 10:30 AM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 15
@9: That was low. You know what I meant.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on January 19, 2014 at 10:33 AM · Report this
raindrop 16
I trust the mayor will be consistent and advocate that Ballard be christened Scandinaviatown.
Posted by raindrop on January 19, 2014 at 10:43 AM · Report this
17 Comment Pulled
reverend dr dj riz 18
@12.. no phoebe.. i don't know what you meant. when i moved here in 1980, i heard people say 'cd' actually meant 'colored district'.. i don't think i would have found 'africatown' derogatory in light of that. and both of us being of a certain age, i don't think it low of me to imagine that you may have called it that once upon a time. i wouldn't think less of you if you did.
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on January 19, 2014 at 11:27 AM · Report this
@16: Scandinavians weren't (and aren't) systemically oppressed and denied cultural, political, and economic opportunities because of skin color.

There were plenty of housing covenants in Ballard (specifically Olympic Manor, Blue Ridge, and North Beach) that forbade selling homes to black people. There were no housing covenants that forbade selling homes to Scandinavian people.…
Posted by LMcGuff on January 19, 2014 at 11:58 AM · Report this
Phoebe in Wallingford 20
@18: Oh, thanks for clarifying and my apologies. It is a trepidatious topic for sure. I thought 'cd' always meant 'Central District' and the words 'colored' and 'negro' (while quite the norm in until the 70's when 'black' was preferred) have now racist overtones.
Posted by Phoebe in Wallingford on January 19, 2014 at 12:03 PM · Report this
reverend dr dj riz 21
sorry.. @18 for @ 15
Posted by reverend dr dj riz on January 19, 2014 at 12:06 PM · Report this
raindrop 22
@19: So neighborhoods can only change their names to pay tribute to their geographic origins based solely on whether they were oppressed? That doesn't seem fair, or championing diversity which is what the goal should be if we are really want to be a post-racial society.
Posted by raindrop on January 19, 2014 at 12:11 PM · Report this
I'm not sure I agree that African-Americans and newer residents from Africa walk in step together. This doesn't seem to be the case in many of our public schools.

"K. Wyking Garret of the Umoja PEACE Center wants to move forward on a project to recognize Africatown, and Murray got a standing ovation when he said he wants the city to say Africatown Central District the way we say Chinatown International District. "

There is some disagreement over whether the CD was always traditionally African-American. It has been for a long time but you read the history and it was a place of great diversity including African-Americans, Jews, Chinese and other groups.

The other issue is that there is an Africatown group and the term "Africatown" for the CD. It could cause confusion if folks don't know that and may not support the Africatown group.
Posted by westello on January 19, 2014 at 12:27 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 24
It's not so much that the CD was an African-American neighborhood as it was the CD was one of the few neighborhoods that African-Americans could live in.

After WWII, when housing restrictions started to ease for other groups, and the government started promoting suburban living, a lot of people who could move, did move. It was partially out of hope for a "better life", and partially because unscrupulous realtors were block busting. In any event, by the 70's, it was a majority African-American neighborhood, and stayed that way until the early part of this century.

But you can still see, in the legacy of the repurposed synagogues (of which the Langston Hughes center is one) and institutions like Immaculate Conception church, that the neighborhood has always had a mix of people.
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 19, 2014 at 12:54 PM · Report this
Blacks make up about 6% of the population and Asians make up almost three times that. It's not blacks being ignored.
I've worked in SHA and in social services for a long time in Seattle. Blacks get the vast majority of attention (and funds), whites get some but not much, and Asians get almost none. Even black immigrants, who make up a miniscule percentage of the population get far more subsidized housing than Asians who are the largest minority.
As far as the "taking pride in diversity" bullshit. That seems to mean than in a city than is 70% white, 16% Asian, and 6% black almost 100% of attention and social services needs to be directed towards blacks. It also means every other group is expected to tolerate without complaint or anger the epidemic of civil rights abuses by blacks that are rampant and which blacks would never tolerate for their own community.
Posted by hayden c on January 19, 2014 at 1:35 PM · Report this
"he wants the city to say Africatown Central District the way we say Chinatown International District. "

I don't say Chinatown. It's ignorant considering that many of the Asians who made that neighborhood what it is were from Japan, Korea, Vietnam.

If African Americans and African immigrants want to make sure they are getting their "fair share" in Seattle lets have racial quotas on food stamps, subsidized housing, and social services which give each ethnic group in Seattle handouts based on their percent of the population. Asians (and maybe Native Americans) are the only minority in this city to be shortchanged. Both black immigrants and AA's get an enormous disparity (in their favor) of handouts, advocacy, appeasement, and attention.
Posted by hayden c on January 19, 2014 at 1:48 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 27
Oh Hayden, the only time you ever come onto slog is to complain about black people. Don't you have any other hobbies?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 19, 2014 at 2:28 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 28
As a nation, there are some admissions that need to be made on the Federal level that have not been made. Slavery etc and on and on. That has not happened and that is really the first step. Bravo to the mayor, but in reality it's a band aid on a huge gash. Biden (because he's White) with Obama's immediate approval should make a national apology for slavery and the sickness of the racism that followed. I can't see much changing until it happens at the top.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 19, 2014 at 3:00 PM · Report this
Catalina Vel-DuRay 29
Sarghorn, what would that change? Don't get me wrong - I think it should be done - but what would change because of it?
Posted by Catalina Vel-DuRay on January 19, 2014 at 3:09 PM · Report this




now get a life........
Posted by America on January 19, 2014 at 3:45 PM · Report this
meanie 31
I love all the blacksplainin about how social justice really works and how much seattle needs to do to declare a neighborhood "africa-town"

Whats the goal here so if a middle class couple or single moves here from Atlanta they will know where they should live?

The community groups in the CD are certainly the loudest but I don't see the connection between a neighborhood with africa in the name and bored lil wayne inspired black teenagers being suspects in less crimes.
Posted by meanie on January 19, 2014 at 3:52 PM · Report this
Africatown? That'll really help property values.
Posted by Joan Jett Blakk on January 19, 2014 at 6:04 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 33
Ms Vel-DuRay, excellent question and so graciously asked. What it shows is a changed attitude on the part of the government. After all the founding fathers have never been called out by the government for owning slaves. I think because of that lack people figure, "well if it was okay for Jefferson to own slaves how bad could it have been?"

Real change happens with people's attitude. There will never be enough laws to end hatred from idiots. And someone will always discriminate against another. But a government that has not apologies for errors of the past will never move beyond that error point. And the ancestors of those there were wronged will not let go.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on January 19, 2014 at 6:14 PM · Report this
raindrop 34
Not to the American people in an address, but there has been a federal apology for slavery. Bill Clinton did apologize in an African tour in 1998. See The Guardian.
Posted by raindrop on January 19, 2014 at 7:47 PM · Report this
What the hell does Murray mean by "our diversity is stagnant"? I'd honestly like to know.

1. If by "diversity" you just mean "non-white", just say that Ed. Don't be a weasel. Is Detroit's diversity "stagnant" as well?

2. What do you mean by "stagnant"? Not moving? Our diversity isn't moving? Where is it supposed to move to? To what purpose? And how fast and far?

Or do you just mean, "the percentage of white people in Seattle is still too high"? If so, why not just say that , Ed?
Posted by Billy Chav on January 20, 2014 at 10:27 AM · Report this
I would not be against calling Ballard Scandinaviatown, especially if the proposal was being seriously advanced by the historical demographic of that area. I just wonder why it seems be trotted out sarcastically as a reaction to Africatown. The Nordic Heritage Museum is a wonderful institution and I encourage people to visit and learn from it. The history of Ballard, both before and after its annexation by Seattle, is quite compelling. There was indeed a time, albeit about a century ago, when scandinavians did indeed experience some degree of discrimination in Seattle, and when even their status as white was questioned by parts of the establishment and not fully guaranteed as it seems to be today. Observe that ballard is a lowland formerly industrial area neighbored by high hills that have conspicously white anglo saxon protestant names, such as "Magnolia", "Crown", "Royal" etc. I have no doubt that the Africatown movement would be in solidarity with any progressive Ballard based movement to defend that area's heritage against gentrification. But none of this changes the statistical fact that African Americans are on the very bottom of Seattle's socio-economic ladder today, a fact that the mayor is estute to acknowledge.
Posted by Yes Indeed on January 21, 2014 at 3:04 PM · Report this
Africantown...why not African-American? I prefer African-American. Naming the CD African-American District would pay homage to those who beared the blunt of racism and segregation, and fought the fight for civil rights. Our new generations of contemporaries from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gambia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and Somalia are wonderful members of the community but it is our fore-parents who should be recognized for their immense contributions and sacrifices, and not obliterate the memory of the people who lived in the CD. Beside, African-American encompasses all Africans living in America.
Posted by BeGood on February 2, 2014 at 1:03 PM · Report this

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