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Umoja Fest reaffirms that the regions Black Community still considers the Central District home

Buffalo Soldiers participated in this years Umoja Fest Parade.

By @Omarisal

Umoja Fest and Bubblin Brown Sugar prove that the Central District is still the epicenter of Black culture in the Pacific Northwest despite years of systemic gentrification and displacement.

We have all heard the chatter over the years, “there are no Black people in CD, “Black people don’t want to come back to the CD”. Well for those who espouse that ideology, they had a rude awakening this weekend as thousands and thousands of Black people continued a nearly 70 year tradition of celebrating Black culture at the Umoja Fest at Judkins Park.

Although Umoja Fest, which is an official Seafair event, has had several names over the decades from the East Madison Mardi Gras and later the Black Community Festival and now Umoja Fest, one thing that has not changed over the years is the coming together of Seattle’s Black Community to celebrate culture through music, food, dance, and parade. This years festival was one of the largest in recent history and has continued the incremental growth trend over the past 5 years.

The Washington Diamonds Drill Team at the Umoja Fest Parade.

At its height in the 1950’s and 1960’s the Black population of the Central District reached 84%. Today, due to the effects of systemic gentrification, much of Seattle’s legacy African American community have been displaced into South King County in cities like Kent, Renton, Burien, Des Moines, and Federal Way.

Despite the distance for many attendees, Umoja Fest has annually served as a family reunion reuniting former neighbors and community members that year after year find Umoja Fest well worth the drive. Very much proving wrong the narrative propagated by many developers that Black people have no interest in the Central District.

This year's Umoja Fest had one of the largest turnouts in recent history.

Community institutions such as Umoja Fest and Bubblin Brown Sugar serve as real time thermometers regarding the Black community’s sentiments towards the Central District. It is clear that despite the displacement that has occurred over the years that Black people seek, embrace, and support opportunities to come back to the Central District. It it’s not just major events, all you have to do is cruise past Barnett Park on any weekend and you will find parents there that have travelled up from Kent or Burien with their children so their kids can play at the same park that they did decades ago.

These trends reaffirm and reinforce the overall narrative that Africatown Seattle has been preaching for years, that despite the displacement, the Central District is very much in the DNA of the Black community not only in the Seattle area but across the Pacific Northwest and why wouldn't it be. Black people have called the Central District home for nearly 140 years when African American entrepreneur and pioneer, William Grose purchased 12 acres of land from Henry Yesler in what is now the Central District. During much of that 140 year timeline, the Central District was the only place that Black people in Seattle could live due to racist housing covenants which then rolled into redlining practices that kept Black people confined to the Central District. It is not until the relatively recent history of the Central District that there has not been a sizable Black community. It is only natural that those displaced would want to come home again, even if only to visit but some are coming back home to stay.

Participants in the Umoja Fest fashion show.

Housing developments like the Liberty Bank Building and the upcoming Africatown Plaza are reversing the trends of displacement quite literally one building at a time and as more of the legacy community returns home to the Central District, we as well see a renaissance of Black owned businesses on Union as Earls Cut and Styles is moving into the Liberty Bank Building in the coming days and That Brown Girl Cooks soul food restaurant opening in early 2020. Other Black owned businesses like The Postman, Xclusive Boutique, and Cheese Platters Butcher & Bistro all currently thriving on Union.

Umoja Fest parade.

So for those that wish that us Black folks would just give up on the Central District and move on, the developers that want to see us disappear, the politicians that actively work against our best interests, and even those of you in our community who repeat the self destructive narratives of the gentrifiers that “Black people don't want to be in the CD”, guess what? We been here for 140 years and we are not planning on going anywhere anytime soon, so basically, you can CD or SEE ME!

Make sure and come out on Saturday for Black to the Future from 11:00 AM - 7:00 PM at Washington Hall. This is a design meeting where those in attendance can learn best practice in regards to how best to design Black spaces in their community. There will be a community dinner following from 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM - Click here to reserve your free ticket.

#NoSurrender #FightingForEveryInch

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