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Elders Discuss Preservation of Community Institutions

As the overall impacts of gentrification are felt more and more across the Central District, Africatown Media sat down with two long time Central District community members and elders, Rev. Harriett Walden of Mothers For Police Accountability and Nana Kibibi of Nu Black Arts West Theater to understand their perspective in regards to the importance of preserving existing community institutions.

This conversation around preservation is again a hot button issue as both the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place (formerly CAMP) are currently facing an uncertain future despite the Seattle City Council last year setting a deadline of March 2019 for the transfer of these city owned structures to community non-profit organizations, this is yet to occur and has caused a high level of anxiety in the Central District especially amongst elders and those most marginalized in the neighborhood.

With an incredible view that overlooks the Leschi neighborhood and Lake Washington, the Central Area Senior Center provides many services for elders including health screenings and insurance counseling, classes like Yoga, jewelry making, line dancing, and computing, as well as gardening clubs, quilting clubs, and drumming and social services such as case management and grief support. The Central Area Senior Center also serves lunch daily for those elders who are in need of a hot meal and fellowship. Additionally, the Central Area Senior Center has been a meeting place for community members young and old for decades.

According to Rev. Walden, the Central Area Senior Center has played a vital role in the lives of senior citizens in the Central District for years. Walden says decades before she classified herself as a senior, the Central Area Senior Center hosted many of Mothers For Police Accountability's events such as the annual Paul Robeson Breakfast and even her grand daughters Sweet 16 Birthday party.

Nana Kibibi, founder of Nu Black Arts West Theater expressed a more frustrated and agitated tone. The lifelong Seattle resident that grew up in Yesler Terrace expressed the anguish of living a lifetime in a city that she says never welcomed Black people and where people of color have more often than not been considered second class. Kibibi has reached a level of anger over what she describes is the indignant and systematic gentrification of Black people from the Central District as well as many of the institutions that those in the Black community have held near and dear.

"It's hurtful" says Kibibi, "when you don't have a place that is yours anymore, when someone can just come and move you out". Kibibi says that the rapid gentrification of the neighborhood is ironic at best considering that for much of Seattle's history, the Central District was the only place that Black people were able to live.

For Kibibi, the cause of keeping organizations like the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place in the community are well worth fighting for as she goes on to remind me that she has been fighting her whole life and she is not ready to start backing down now.

Councilwoman Sawant has joined the discussion regarding the preservation of the Central Area Senior Center as well as Byrd Barr Place and is hosting a press conference on Tuesday April 23 at 1:30pm on the first floor of Seattle City Hall, followed by a 2pm public meeting with the City Council Equitable Development Committee, where the discussion will cover how the community can achieve property transfers of both the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place in perpetuity.

Both Walden and Kibibi agree that the loss of the Central Area Senior Center and Byrd Barr Place would be huge loss to Seattle's African American community which has been long suffering from gentrification and displacement tactics in the neighborhood.

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