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Black History Month Celebrated Across City of Seattle

Black History Month celebrates many of the remarkable achievements of Black Americans, despite the systemic racism that has been perpetuated for centuries.  

2020 was a year that demanded that we do better as a city, state, and country to address systemic racism. Americans increased their awareness of disparities and discrimination experienced by Black Americans in their everyday lives – in their interactions with police and the disproportionate impact of the pandemic on Black communities.  

Our country can no longer avert its eyes to the impact of systemic racism and pretend that we all have the same opportunities, share in the same benefits, or even begin from the same starting line. Our purposeful policies from slavery to Jim Crow laws to redlining to mass incarceration have undeniably denied our Black neighbors their rightful place in the American family and access to the American dream. 

This month, departments across the city celebrated the contributions of Black Americans to our history, to recognize our City government’s role in perpetuating inequities past and present, and to work towards a more inclusive future. But so much more work happened within smaller team and individual reflections, and so much more is still to come every month of the year as we all work to fulfill are City’s Race and Social Justice commitment to eliminate racial disparities and achieve racial equity in Seattle. A few highlights include:  

Celebrating Blackness & Black Americans 

  • The Department of Finance and Administrative services highlighted their Deputy Division Director Philip Saunders, who has been inspired by the barriers his great grandfather struggled to overcome and wants to use his role to give a voice to the voiceless and advance equality.  
  • The Department of Transportation explored Black innovators in transportation, like Garrett Morgan who invented the pre-cursor to the modern traffic signal or Maya Angelou, who while better known as a prize-winning poet and author had her first job as a streetcar operator in San Francisco.  
  • Parks and Recreation explored the many Seattle Parks named for African American leaders, from the Sam Smith Park on the I-90 lid named after our City’s first African American City Councilmember in part one, to the Alice Ball Park in Greenwood named for the trail-blazing chemist who developed the most effective treatment for leprosy at the time in part two.  
  • Seattle Channel put together a powerful video series highlighting the legacy of Black Seattleites. While the Library shared a curated collection on Black culture and history in the Puget Sound. 

Acknowledging City’s Role in Inequities 

  • The Department of Transportation examined how the legacies of zoning and urban design decisions mean that even today Black people are more likely to be victims of traffic violence, to lack infrastructure, and to face environmental and air quality impacts from transportation in their communities. 
  • Seattle Channel hosted a Town Hall discussion on how the legacy of redlining (discriminatory home zoning) still impact us today, joined by the Housing Development Consortium of Seattle-King County and featured speakers. 

Charting an Inclusive Path Forward 

  • The Library offered many, many, many recommendations for Black authorsartistspoets, and local creatives whose work deserves more recognition, as well as resources to help kidsteens, and adults be anti-racism allies and activists.  
  • The Office of Economic Development launched an innovative pilot in partnership with the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle to teach Black students from Garfield High School web design skills and then pair them with Black small-business owners so students grew career skills & businesses got a boost when they needed it most. 
  • The Office of Sustainability and the Environment is investing in natural resource improvements that are led by or in deep partnership with Black communities and awarded over $400,000 in grants to groups like the African Community Housing & Development group and Black Star Farmers. 
  • The Department of Neighborhoods highlighted the work of Brothers United in Leadership Development (BUILD) a grassroots organization designed to inspire Black men to make a positive change in their community, BUILD received a Neighborhood matching Fund grant to do community events in 2021.  

2021 will be a year that the City of Seattle will focus on disparities in housing, education, policing, and much more through new investments and forging new equitable paths forward.