By Chris B. Bennett
It really gets under my skin when I hear prominent and not-so prominent members of our community say that we no longer have a Black community. It’s especially disturbing when they say this out in public and/or in front of policy and decision makers in the region.
The truth of the matter is that we no longer have a Black neighborhood, but we definitely have a Black community, a strong Black community.
Gone are the days when you could walk up and down the streets of Central and Southeast Seattle and see neighborhoods full of Black children and Black families. Gone are the days when we had a large number of Black businesses that were flourishing due to the unwavering support of Black people who lived within walking distance of them.
Yes, the days of having a Black neighborhood in Seattle are gone, but don’t let it fool you because today we have much more power and influence over the region than we’ve ever had before.
Back when we had a Black neighborhood, we were able to have at least one city councilmember from our community (Sam Smith) and were even able to have two Black city councilmembers, at the same time, during the 80’s and 90’s. We also had one Black state senator (George Fleming) and at least one Black state representative.
Politically speaking we have lost some of the positions that we were accustomed to having. But we still have one Black person on the city council (Bruce Harrell) and one Black state representative (Eric Pettigrew) from within the city limits. In addition, we have one Black person (Larry Gossett) on the county council.
But let’s talk about the impact of people saying that we no longer have a Black community. If we, admittedly, no longer have a Black community then we become irrelevant in the political structure of this area that we call home. Politicians won’t see any value in even pretending to care about or addressing our issues. Government agencies will not see any reason to provide resources to our community, and they definitely will not reach out to us for contracting and employment opportunities.
If we, wrongfully admit, that we no longer have a Black community then school districts will not see a reason to provide programs like STEAM, IB, AP and quality teachers in schools that are attended primarily by Black children. If we, wrongfully suggest, that we no longer have a Black community then we will in essence become extinct in the eyes of greater society, and amount to nothing more than urban legends in the minds of decision-makers who are crafting the future landscape of the area.
That’s right, we no longer have a Black neighborhood but we have expanded our area of influence. We have a Black city councilmember in the city of Federal Way, and we have two, that’s right, two Black councilmembers in the cities of Renton, Kent and Tukwila. And while only one of these cities, Tukwila, has a Black person on the school board, it’s only a matter of time before we have at least one Black person on the school board in each of these areas. In addition to Pettigrew, we have two other Black state representatives — Kristine Reeves and John Lovick — making a name for themselves in Olympia.
Yes, many Black people have moved out of Central and Southeast Seattle. But that does not mean that we no longer have a Black community. If we worry about what used to be and what we once had, we will miss out on the opportunities that are directly in front of us today. We can’t cry over spilled milk, we can’t go back in time and re-write history. But we can embrace our history and use it as a point of reference that will enable us to build upon the great legacy of Seattle’s Black community.
So think before you speak, and stop sending the wrong message to the community at-large. We are here, we are strong and our political and economic influence has made us relevant not just in a small and neglected neighborhood in Seattle, but all over Martin Luther King, Jr. County and beyond – North, East, South and West.
Through the eyes of an ink barrel, may peace be to you!
You can follow Chris B. Bennett on Twitter @ink_barrel.