The first Juneteenth may have been celebrated in 1866, but the holiday memorializing the liberation of America’s last enslaved people after the end of the Civil War, is finally beginning to rise into the prominence it deserves with the federal government and an increasing number of cities and states making it an official paid holiday for workers and hosting festivities.
Black communities in the Seattle region are also hosting more Juneteenth events than every before, with many unique celebrations taking place over the holiday weekend. The South Seattle Emerald in a particular published a thorough round up events happening in the South End that readers should check out.
When it comes to improving our cities, there is a lot of exciting work being led by Black urbanists in our region. Here is a quick overview of some organizations engaged in this work that readers should put on their radar for support and engagement.
Africatown Community Land Trust
Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT) is far from an unknown entity in Seattle, but the organization continue to be surprising with its innovation and growth. In addition to playing a key role in the creation of affordable housing at the Liberty Bank Building and future Africatown Community Plaza, ACLT is operating Benu Community Home, a low barrier enhanced shelter for single adult men offering support services that focus on “African cultural strengths to address trauma resulting from multi-generational exposure to systemic racism.” ACLT is also in the process of transforming the The William Grose Center for Cultural Innovation at the location of a historic fire station in the Central District into a hub for technological innovation and business development in Seattle’s Black community.
This month ACLT is offering an urbanism focused program series, New Models for Creating Thriving Black Communities and Inclusive Cities. Billed as a “4 part digital conversation,” the series engages thought leaders from the across in the county in discussion of topics like the history of the land trust movement and its origins in the Black freedom struggle, using affordable housing to preserve the identity of historically Black communities, the importance of supporting Black entrepreneurship as a pillar for social change, and the importance of integrating arts and culture in community development work.
The series is both a learning opportunity and fundraiser to support ACLT’s work. Find out more here. In addition to financial support, ACLT is always looking for volunteers to support their efforts. Contact them to learn more.
The Black Collective
Since 1968, the Black Collective has been meeting weekly in Tacoma to promote the interests of Black people through civic engagement. Prior to the pandemic the group met at the City Association of Colored Women’s Clubhouse on Saturday mornings, but for now meetings have continued online.
The Black Collective was founded after the Mother’s Day Disturbance of May 11, 1969 in Tacoma, in which violence broke out in Tacoma’s historically Black Hilltop neighborhood as a result of divided city politics, a lack of investment, and police brutality in the community. On the heels of that event, the group that would eventually become the Black Collective achieved Black representation on the city’s police force and an increase in services to the Hilltop neighborhood. Several of the groups leaders would go on to become major Black community and political leaders, notably Harold Moss, who was Tacoma’s first black city council member (1970), mayor (1994), and Pierce County councilmember (1997).
The Black Collective runs several strategic campaigns related to economic growth, public health, education, political representation, and social justice in Tacoma and Pierce County. Holding meetings 52 weeks a year, the Black Collective is always looking for new members to participate in their work.
Rainier Beach Action Coalition
Rainier Beach Action Coalition (RBAC) is a Black-led organization working for sustainable and equitable community development in Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood. Priorities of RBAC include affordable transportation and housing, improving neighborhood safety and vitality, ensuring access to quality education, and building community capacity.
RBAC is engaged in several innovative action items related to these priorities. One example of this work is creating a food innovation district that centers “manufacturing, technology, and food sectors around the light rail station to provide access to career-path living-wage jobs, strengthening the local economy through production rather than consumption.” Toward the effort, RBAC participated in creating a neighborhood tour laying out resources the community can build on.
The organization is also currently engaged in running a farm stand that distributed 6,000 pounds of free, fresh produce to the community last year. RBAC also operates “A Beautiful Safe Place for Youth” community activation events on Friday nights and organizes “pop up corner greeters” in high crime areas to create healing spaces. RBAC recently published an article, “Why Seattle Should Invest in Community-Led Crime Prevention Programs,” making the case for investing in these community safety efforts.
Are the community activation events making a difference? YES! Should the City of Seattle make greater investments in community-led, place-based crime prevention efforts like the Community Healing Space? YES! Would the City of Seattle save money if it made those investments? YES! Should we expand our efforts in Rainier Beach? YES, and WE ARE!Stew Bowerman, Rainier Beach Action Coalition
Viewing RBAC’s website, it’s striking how many different projects and events the organization is engaged in. There is truly something to match all talents and interests. Sign up for updates to learn more about volunteering for RBAC or donate to support their work.
The Urban Leagues of Metropolitan Seattle and Tacoma
As a national organization, the Urban League is a longtime powerhouse advocating for Black Americans and other underserved urban community members, and the local chapters in Metropolitan Seattle and Tacoma have been involved in many important efforts on the local level related to this work for decades. In fact, in Seattle the Urban League has been active for over 90 years, while the Tacoma chapter has existed for over 50 years. In Tacoma, the Urban League is current led by Washington State Senator T’wina Nobles, who was endorsed by the The Urbanist during her campaign.
During their long history, both the organizations have achieved many accomplishments. The Urban League Village in Seattle offers affordable housing, the Northwest African American Museum, an artist studio, and public park, while according to their strategic plan, the Urban League of Tacoma supports 3,000 individuals and 1,200 students of color annually.
The Urban League is engaged in many efforts related to entrepreneurship, education, health, housing, careers, political representation, and supporting families. There are many ways to support by donating, volunteering, or participating in events. Learn more about ways to support and engage with the Seattle Metropolitan and Tacoma Urban Leagues.
Wa Na Wari
Located in a fifth generation Black-owned home in Seattle’s Central District, Wa Na Wari is “an immersive community art project that reclaims Black cultural space and makes a statement about the importance of Black land ownership in gentrified communities.”
By supporting and showcasing Black artists, creating a space for community organizing, hosting free community events, and supporting vulnerable Black homeowners, Wa Na Wari aspires to be “an active model for how Black art and culture can combat gentrification and displacement.”
Visitors can drop in Fridays between 5-8 P.M. and Saturday and Sunday 11 A.M. – 5 P.M., when the space is open to the public. Visitors who do not identify as Black, African American, or as members of the African diaspora are asked to review Wa Na Wari’s community agreement before visiting.
Wa Na Wari hosts many dynamic events. Some examples include free community meals from Black and Indigenous chefs on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday available for pick up on the front porch, live musical performances on the porch, and a monthly Pan Afrikan Market Place.
Black Girls Do Bike Seattle
Black Girls Do Bike is a national organization supporting “women of color with a passion for biking,” and bike-loving Seattle has a large and active chapter. To learn more and get involved put out a request to join the group’s private Facebook page. You can also support Black Girls Do Bike through donations or shopping at their online store.
Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is a reporter and podcast host at The Urbanist. She previously served as managing editor. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.