Planting Seeds for Building Safe Communities
Category : Blog
Planting Seeds for Building LGBTQ Safe Communties
I have been pondering how LGBTQ communities and particularly LGBTQ Allyship can help build safer LGBTQ spaces on Capitol Hill and in other neighboring communities. An opportunity arose to plant some seeds in building safer communities and on April 4th, I spent my afternoon at a community event in the Central Area organized by Union Street Business Association (USBA) and Africa Town regarding Afro-centric community-led development on the corner of 23rd and Union. The piece of land has been owned by Tom Bangasser’s family since 1941. Tom is an older white man and looking to sell the property. The day-long event was organized by African American leaders from the Central Area and the crowd consisted of mostly African American and white men and women of various ages (some of us were visibly queer).
LGBTQ Allyship’s office is across the street from the proposed development, I thought as a responsible neighbor and executive director of Allyship it is proper neighborly edict to be invested in the community we are housed in. I was also curious about their plan, the leaders who were organizing this and the type of community who would come out on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
With the growing momentum of community action around LGBTQ hate-crimes on Capitol Hill and the ongoing displacement of LGBTQ communities driven by developers and large tech companies, displacing local businesses and raising housing prices, it seemed like a good idea to connect with another marginalized community that has been quickly gentrified in their own historical and cultural neighborhood. Recognizing that LGBTQ individuals have been part of the cycle of gentrification of people of color communities across the nation and knowing that many local LGBTQ people have moved to the Central Area and south Seattle, I had hoped to explore ways our two marginalized communities could work together around safety, housing justice and cultural and community preservation. Attending this forum and meeting new activists and Central Area community members to be followed up with were the first steps to this collaborative vision.
I sat for four and a half hours learning about the proud African-American history of the Central Area presented by K. Wyking Garret from Africa Town. I met Ms. Helen, a revered African-American business owner who used to sell soul food on 23rd and Union. And to my delight it was announced that Ms. Helen will be coming out of retirement and will be accompanied by her daughter, her granddaughter and great grand-daughter as they re-open her business called ‘Ms. Helen’s Soul Bistro’ in October of 2015 at 23rd and Union. (let me tell you their food was delicious!) Dr. Sharon Sutton, an African-American professor at the UW School of Architecture, presented her student’s beautiful and inspiring Afro-centric design of how the land could be developed. Colorful and earthy buildings representing community centers, senior housing, a non-denominational sanctuary, a Jazz center for youth, store front spaces for black-owned businesses and multi-income housing were all part of this elaborate vision. She introduced the concept of ‘Material Justice’, a term that values community-driven development and encourages the creation of locally hired, living wage jobs. In order to do this, projects should be smaller to ensure local developers and builders can bid and provide local job creation.
We learned of possibilities on how to fund the purchase and development of the land through exploring Public Development Authority (allows for public governance over land and the ability to receive federal grants in developing the land) and Land Trust options (sell land to Homestead Land Trust so developers could lease the land but never sell it off at market value, ensuring the land stays community-centric). Leaders had us explore worker cooperatives as well as housing cooperatives as a vision of the kinds of tenants utilizing the buildings. It was clear that leaders from the Union Street Business Association and Africa Town had put a lot of thought into this forum and were providing us with the right information to become inspired partners in creating a community-led development project that would bring back an Afro-centric feel to the Central Area.
I was inspired to meet so many devoted and heart-felt community leaders who also expressed a deep sadness in experiencing the gentrification in their neighborhood. The loss of history, sense of home and community was shared by all who grew up in the Central Area. It brought pain to my own heart as I realized, once again, the loss I feel when I go to Capitol Hill. I have been in Seattle since 1995, and even though it doesn’t feel very queer on the hill anymore I still go to the hill to feel a sense of home. It’s like body memory, I go to the hill out of habit, comfort and an historical embodied sense of learned safety.
The resiliency of the African-American community in the Central Area, despite the waves of gentrification and cultural change was inspiring. Their determination of creating community, welcoming everyone, while firmly centering African American people and history was heartening.
I left with a sense of new beginnings and the possibility of further collaboration ensuring various marginalized communities working towards our collective prosperity.
Written by Debbie Carlsen, Executive Director, LGBTQ Allyship
*Next Central Area 23rd and Union organizing forum TBA.