Community Comes Together in True Spirit of Cooperative Economics
Last Saturday, local Hip Hop artist Draze, in conjunction with The Michael Bennett Foundation, human services nonprofit Centerstone, and a plethora of additional sponsors hosted Seattle’s first-ever Power Summit to Build Black Wealth.
Over 200 businesses owners, community partners, and concerned citizens attended the event, each seeking to learn the concrete, actionable steps needed to help restore and re-build Seattle’s Central District (the “CD”) – the city’s historically Black neighborhood currently battling the twin devils of gentrification and displacement – through the power of entrepreneurship.
The Power Summit also served as an introduction to Draze’s larger campaign, “Strength in Numbers” – designed to help launch 100 new Black-owned businesses in the Seattle area, within a calendar year.
The jam-packed event included workshops and speaker presentations; subjects ran the gamut – budding and established entrepreneurs learned how to create and implement successful Facebook ad campaigns, while artists and other creative professionals learned best practices for turning their art into profit.
As economics and politics often walk in lockstep, the audience was also treated to a mayoral candidates’ forum, featuring the top six candidates vying for Seattle’s number one spot: Jenny Durkan, Jessyn Farrell, Bob Hasegawa, Cary Moon, Mike McGinn, and Nikkita Oliver.
Here’s a sampling of some of the candidates’ positions on equity and access to capital, for the Black community:
- Bob Hasegawa – Provide sufficient capitalization for Blacks/African-owned businesses, as access to capital is one of the major issues Black business owners face; repeal I-200; create a big campaign to get justice and equity back into the conversation
- Cary Moon – Address the issue of capital going to people who already have it
- Jessyn Farrell – Establish a community land trust; be proactive in creating different forms of ownership; properly fund Office of Civil Rights to address discrimination in lending
- Nikkita Oliver – Create spaces where Black folks could come back and have ownership; make “equity before equality” part of Race and Social Justice Initiative
- Jenny Durkan – Boost homeownership in Black community; create ability to increase tax exemption for people who have lived in the CD/Rainier Beach area for a generation; give money to neighborhoods hardest hit by gentrification and displacement; give property tax breaks for landlords who don’t raise rents/price residents out of the area
- Mike McGinn – Find creative ways to get funding for Black-owned businesses; “soft-leverage” power to lean on banks to support community ownership; tax big corporations, use the money for public housing and foreclosure relief; simplify process for owners to maximize their property
The speaker presentations also didn’t disappoint.
Hip Hop artist Draze served double duty as both event organizer, and featured speaker. During his presentation, he pushed back against critics who accused him of using the Power Summit to promote “economic segregation.”
“If you don’t know [that there even are Black businesses], how can you even support Black businesses?” he responded.
He added, “[The focus is on Black businesses] because the CD used to be 70 percent African American; now it’s less than 20 percent Black. [The focus is on Black businesses] because the Democrats have had a monopoly on the Black vote – a party that we give to, [but get nothing from].”
He continued, “[The focus is on Black businesses] because you don’t wanna live in ‘affordable housing.’ You wanna live in a mansion.”
Draze concluded his remarks with a reminder of the sacrifice, hard work, and mindset shift required, to run a successful business.
“You can’t build while you’re a consumer, not a producer,” he said.
Community builder and Africatown Seattle CEO K. Wyking Garrett’s presentation focused on answering the question: “How do you build a legacy?”
Garrett said that building legacy meant “addressing [the] wealth extraction taking place through the [appropriation] of our cultural resources that are used to build multi-million/billion-dollar enterprises.”
Garrett used global coffee titan Starbucks as an example of this wealth extraction by pointing out to the audience many of the elements key to the company’s success had roots in the social experiences of the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony.
Garrett added that building legacy also required that Blacks claim their place in Seattle’s narrative – a narrative the CD’s been all but erased from.
“Africatown was created to answer the question ‘Where are we?’ with ‘We are here’,” he said.
Garrett concluded, “We [have to] connect the dots to improve the conditions of our people.”
If that wasn’t enough, there was also the “Shark Tank”-inspired Business Pitch competition.
Seattle-based Hip Hop is Green — an organization providing powerful, life changing programs for underserved, low income urban youth and their families in areas of health and wellness through creative media and live events — took home this year’s $2500 prize, rounding out the day-long event at Seattle Art Museum.
Though Seahawks training obligations forced him to miss most of the event, team defensive end and Power Summit co-sponsor Michael Bennett made himself available for an impromptu Q&A session with remaining attendees.
Audience questions included everything from how to properly guide Black youth seduced away from education by promises of fortune and fame, to more detailed questions about how to best build a strong Black economic infrastructure.
Bennett noted that while these are very trying times for the Black community, nationwide, an effort nonetheless must be made to balance reality with opportunity.
“I know we can do this,” he said.