Africatown-Central District featured in Seattle Magazine
Mar 6 14
An ethnic hub
One prominent member of the advisory core team is Wyking Garrett, the founding director of the Umojafest P.E.A.C.E. Center and a member of the leadership team behind the Africatown Innovation Center at the Horace Mann school building. Before coming to an agreement to leave the Horace Mann building during its renovation, the Innovation Center operated at the former school on Cherry, offering a space for youth education, technology access, African-American heritage immersion and a middle school for Muslim girls.
On a visit in October, the center was bustling: African-American youth using computers, community members creating banners against racism, young people painting a mural in a garden. Throughout the building were symbols and reminders of a proud black history.
This is one of Garrett’s visions for the Central District: a hub for African-American-centered education and learning, a safe place for youth to grow their skills. Yet in mid-November, the last holdouts occupying the school were removed, and four activists were arrested during the eviction. The Innovation Center is now looking for a new location.
The displacement does not deter Garrett. Another vision he has for the Central District is Africatown itself. “When [African-Americans] migrated from other parts of the country to make a better life here, they were forced to live in this area. As a result, it became the cultural and economic hub of people of African descent in the Pacific Northwest. Africatown represents leveraging the best of the African diaspora and making that a positive value-add to Seattle.”(Photo: Danyale Thomas Ross (at right, with customer Barbara Brown), owner of Good Hair Salon on 19th and Yesler, has been active in setting a course for the neighborhood. She was born in the Central District and graduated from Garfield High School)
Garrett’s vision is to use the model of Seattle’s Chinatown–International District to create a core area for culture, goods and food of the African diaspora in the Central District. Longtime African-American neighborhood mainstays, such as Catfish Corner and Ezell’s, are now joined by more recent East African immigrant restaurants, such as Cafe Selam and Assimba.
“[Asian-Americans] have a Chinatown–International District Preservation Authority—to preserve and develop. It’s about the past and it’s about the future. This is the only African-American community,” Garrett says. “Part of the solution Africatown represents is that this is not lower Capitol Hill, this is not west Leschi, not upper Madison Park. All these different ways they seek to ignore or marginalize, or devalue the people who have made their lives here and contributed to the richness that Seattle offers to the world.”
Much like in Seattle’s Chinatown–International District and ethnic hubs across the country, Garrett envisions Africatown as a destination for all people who value the contributions and history of African-Americans. At a January community meeting, the crowd erupted in applause when after an Africatown presentation by Garrett, the new-mayor Ed Murray said he felt the city should refer to the area as Africatown–Central District.
Gentrification or progress?
Garrett knows that his vision for the Central District is not shared by everyone, that for some, “gentrification” is not a bad word. “You have some people on the committee who want to eliminate the black presence; gentrification cannot happen fast enough for them” he says.
He wonders why in a historically black community, the right for African-Americans to have space and influence is even in question. “A lot of people ask the question, ‘Are these same type of meetings happening in Chinatown?’ Or does the pan-Asian community decide what is happening in Chinatown–International District, and why does the African-American not have the equal respect in their space?” (Photo: Neighborhood activist Wyking Garrett, outside the Horace Mann school, where the Africatown Center for Education and Innovation operated until it was shut down for building renovations late last year)
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