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My Speech at the Umoja PEACE Center Defense Protest

Yesterday, I wrote Mayor Murray, Sheriff Urquhart and Chief O’Toole to urge them to immediately halt the physical eviction of the Umoja PEACE Center, one of the pillars of the Central District and Seattle’s black community. Nothing demonstrates the unacceptable impacts of gentrification and de facto redlining taking place in Seattle like the eviction of the Umoja PEACE Center, Black Dot, and the other centers for culture and organizing in Seattle’s historically black Central District.

Over and over, we see the basic rights of Seattle’s working people and people of color subordinated to the greed of landowners, big developers, and Wall Street speculators. We are talking about an entire block of black cultural landmarks that have been critical spaces of art, ingenuity, and community. If we lose these spaces, how will we replace them?

The demands of the Umoja PEACE Center and Black Dot are completely reasonable. They have put years into developing a black cultural center in the heart of the Central District. The previous manager, Tom Bangasser, has expressed again and again his desire to negotiate a deal that would allow Umoja and Black Dot to stay at the table and receive partial ownership.

Africatown and its partners have submitted a bid to buy the block for inclusive community development, so that it can be developed for affordable housing and black-owned small businesses, and to preserve the iconic character of the Central District.

The owners of the property have a choice. They can go down in history as having aided the disintegration and displacement of this historical black neighborhood. Or they can earn the goodwill of this community and our movement by accepting the bid from Africatown and its partners and, hence, help the Central District’s culture to thrive.

Other Councilmembers and the Mayor should join me in demanding that the owners work with the community to make this possible.

This block – Umoja, the African American-owned businesses – represents the last vestiges of the community which have been, over decades, almost entirely displaced. Elected officials have an opportunity right now to concretely help the community buy this block. The Mayor needs to weigh in on this.

The City of Seattle can even support the affordable housing in a development like the kind Africatown and its partners have described. Over the past few weeks, the Black Community Impact Alliance approached my office to ask how to apply for the affordable housing development money available from the U-District upzone, housing levy, and the $29 million we won last year in the budget from the money the Mayor intended to build a new police bunker in the North Precinct.

At our request, the Office of Housing has agreed to meet with them to discuss how to submit those bids. If elected officials are truly interested in preventing the displacement of our black neighborhoods, they can do so. Our movement should hold elected officials accountable.

We cannot allow politicians to simply say Seattle is a sanctuary city while our communities of color are systematically being disrupted and disintegrated. In order to truly turn Seattle into a sanctuary, politicians need to actively work to fulfill the housing, education, healthcare, and cultural rights of our communities.

What we can win we will win because we are building a movement. My thanks to Omari, Wyking, all of the Africatown activists, and everybody in this movement who is fighting to keep the Umoja PEACE Center a part of our neighborhood. Let’s continue fighting.

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