Behind every successful person is a village who believed...
Being a Seattle native makes it easy to see how this city has grown. Seattle is a very unique city that has many talented individuals, a huge film scene, and a connection to the arts that people around the nation may not be aware of. As a kid I was always involved in some form of art thanks to my parents who cared enough to see to it that my interests were catered to. I remember summer camps, the church choir, talent shows, painting etc. After being exposed to so much so young my eyes were opened and I felt there wasn't anything I couldn't accomplish. I also remember there being a huge connection with the African American community. There was always something going on to positively influence our youth. Granted there was a lot of violence going on (which has not changed) the difference is there was always somewhere that we could go to escape that. For a while I thought that this was gone altogether never to be found again. Some African Americans in Seattle (and other cities where the population is predominantly Caucasian) either conform to other forms of identity (which are not their own) or they embrace their differences and strive to remain the token negro. Meaning once they find their niche they want to remain the only one on top and refuse to reach back and help the community from whence they came. I'm not saying all but some. This type of negative energy only brings more division fostering a defensive consciousness rather than a communal and unified one. This is one of the reasons I left Seattle in search of identity and community... in a search for more... I always knew there was more than this... but listen...
A change of rising themes
After leaving my city I have witnessed situations much worse than that of what I thought was poverty in the "poverty ridden" areas of Seattle. I was amazed that I thought we had it so bad when in fact that was not the case at all. We talk about our hoods but there are people who are dealing with horrifying situations much worse. Some of which I have had first hand experience with myself. Have you ever had to choose between food and transportation? No food and no government assistance to rely on for your sanity... you sit in class one day with someone and the next day they are gone too soon. I never saw so many homeless people in my life, crackheads on every corner but walk a few blocks down Georgia Avenue and you will find peace, clean roads and fancy restaurants... you'll find politicians who flash fake smiles and ask you to sign petitions and you wonder do they know about what lies beneath? They don't know and don't care about the starving and homeless people who raid the city yet they are the capitol of the nation we call The United States.
One rising theme that I do notice about all of the places that I've been is the rising theme in the African American community. When I first moved to DC (2005) the neighborhood I moved in (NorthWest) was predominantly African American and I loved it and it stayed that way for a while. Upon the last year of my college career (2009) I began to notice a "change" and I even started hearing little jokes around town about chocolate city turning into "milk chocolate city." At first I thought it was rather funny and interesting. Then one day there was a drive by shooting I remember it quite clearly. I was in the kitchen cooking breakfast when I heard a sound that seemed like a firecracker but I was quite wrong. I then heard the engine of a car become louder and louder as it approached the side of my house. I watched the car and saw a gun creep out of the passenger's window and gun shots were raided towards the projects located directly behind my house. There were a couple of Caucasian people who came out of their houses with their hands folded like they were immune from the bullets. It was rather interesting. Then I noticed an increase in cops surrounding Northwest probably due to the "new neighbors" calling in what they saw. I laughed inside and wondered where were they when it was just us "African Americans" suffering from violence... when we call in they are nowhere to be found... yet they remain the ones deemed to "PROTECT & SERVE." There were many other things that I began to notice changing in the neighborhood. I felt powerless though.... watching somewhere I called home being taken from "us" and from me. They began to threaten older people who had lived in this neighborhood for years and in my case the rent was raised at an uncompromising rate. Many of us were forced out of that neighborhood... but this is happening everywhere... yet nothing is being done about it...
The Power of Money in Manipulating our Communities
The main thing I began to notice is the power of money. It is crazy how they can make decisions that affect so many in such a negative way just because they feel like living closer to the city now. Gentrification being among one of the major rising themes in all cities where African Americans reside. This is one of the ways we as African Americans are controlled especially those who are not yet financially stable and with an economy like this one it makes it almost impossible to fight back. I really do see a direct similarity in Seattle as far as Gentrification is concerned. The Central District used to be the African American Mecca in Seattle but that is taking a drastic change. Another rising theme is that of our youth. They are being left behind and that is something that hits home every time for me no matter where I am. After coming back home to Seattle I have noticed how great the need is to intercede for, educate, protect and mentor our youth. So how do we do that? Can one person be expected to change the world? Where do we start?
Everything is changing all around us and if we continue to just talk about it and not take some type of action it will continue to remain the same. What frightens me is that it may get worse. Taking back our youth starts with getting involved in giving back what we have learned on our journey. I was introduced to a plethora of art forms at a very young age and that (along with my relationship with God) I believe is what saved me from going down the wrong path. Parents today have a hard time because for the most part both parents have to hold down a job and then if they are a single parent that is even worse. The kid may become a latch key kid. One who has a key to the house and is left alone after school in an empty house. The idle mind is the devil's playground and that is where the problem arises.
Is there hope for our community?
There is hope. We have the power to cultivate and bring change to our communities. Saturday February 27, 2010 I was fortunate to catch a conference in Seattle, WA called "The Seattle NW Hip Hop Leadership Conference" There were a multitude of workshops taking place at the Seattle Vocational Institute. Everything from Hip Hop and the Global Community to Technology was there at the fingertips of anyone who had a desire to learn. The workshop that I was drawn to was "Youth and Police Relations." There was a very positive vibe in that place and it was such a wonderful experience to see so many youth interested in these issues that are facing our community. I just couldn't let it go without capturing that moment so below is what I put together with the footage that I got that day:
UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center "A Beacon of Light"
I was taking it all in but in the back of mind I was wondering who is responsible for all of this? How come I didn't know about this before now? Then I found out about the UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center which is located in the heart of Seattle. It was started by a Mr. Wyking Garrett in 2008 and was an answer to President Obama's call to serve the community. The community came together to transform two nuisance properties into a community based youth cultural center. Since 2008 the UPC has put on numerous events such as the following:
- Seattle/NW Hip-Hop Leadership Conference
- Green Organizers Mixer & Union Street SpringFest
- We are Change Community Forums
- Malcom X Day Conference & Music Fest
- Young Voters League Candidate Forum
- The Hip Hop Congress National Conference
The center is located on 24th & Spring in Central Seattle (Central District) and hosts audio recording and video production studios, learning room, computer lab and a library/reading room. In the future the UPC plans to develop additions such as a Youth Violence Memorial and Green Retro-Fit. The mission of the center as quoted in the mission statement is the following:
to develop and implement programing initiatives and activities that
- Cultivate Positive culture in the Community
- Inspires Youth Productivity through various creative and Entrepreneurial Projects
- Encourages Empowerment through Education and advocates for PEACE based on justice
The UPC is also taking action through their "Homeless Veterans Street Outreach Support Services." They provided 1,300 bed nights, 1,500 meals, and referred a host of individuals to drug rehabilitation centers.
African American Filmmakers Unite for Positive Change
I had the fortunate opportunity this past Sunday March 21, 2010 to meet with fellow African American Filmmakers in the Seattle area all at the Peace Center. We discussed the problems that we see in the community, what we feel we need to do, and our vision for the future. I am very excited about the possibilities something great is happening in our community and that is something that we can be proud of. One thing that I continue to notice is the lack of African American women in the film industry. I believe that is one way that I can truly make a difference in my community. I was one of the few who was exposed to the many possibilities and I am going to make it a point to give that same opportunity, knowledge, and mentor ship to my fellow sisters coming up behind me. I love my brothers and sisters, I love my community and I am happy that change is alive and well in the heart of Seattle, WA.
"A beacon of light, the UmojaFest P.E.A.C.E. Center is a place to recognize and remember the struggles, successes and achievements of the past and present while providing creative opportunities for new and emerging artists, community organizers, civic leaders and entrepreneurs to grow."
Peace, LOVE and Blessings
As always remember to be "REEL" and stay on the MOVE!
"Purple Reels The Go Getter"