The opportunity to being Seattle's Black & Tan Hall sprung out of the energy surrounding the Hillman City Collaboratory in 2015. It was that same energy that motivated me to leave Portland a couple years before that and move up to South Seattle in 2013.
There's essential context to understand that energy: on the 2010 census, the SE section of Seattle--which I'll call South Seattle from here on out--was found to be the 2nd most diverse zip code in America (1st was the Bronx). Following the shameful displacement of Duamish people by the United States, the Hillman City neighborhood, which lies in the heart of the Rainier Valley, was a community formed of immigrants. As it formed in the 1910s, Seattle began creating racial covenants that made it illegal to sell homes to black folks unless they lived in the Central District (about a mile north of Hillman City). This is called red-lining, and is part of the Northwest's version of racism that is still reverberating today.
Slowly, the white folks realized they had screwed up--not because they created the policy of redlining--but by giving the black folks such choice real estate. Slowly, racism and capitalism pushed the black population south as--not being afforded the same economic and educational opportunities due to other forms of racism--they sold their homes and moved to more affordable places down in the Rainier Valley.
This infuriating trend continues today, and it's very rare to meet black folks who grew up in Seattle and still live there. But there are a few of them, like Tarik Abdullah:
Tarik's father was an entrepreneur who raised his family in the Central District, and would make his own sausages and sell them at local stores. Tarik is now a nationally recognized Chef, and he started teaching cooking classes at the Hillman City Collaboratory soon after it opened. Those classes, our all-ages jam sessions and concerts, and the other sweet events happening at the Collaboratory led a nearby landlord to approach another Collab member, Rodney Herold (who's been active in the Rainier Valley Community for 40 years) and say, "Hey, I don't want to sell my building to developers, I'd rather it became something cool like the Collaboratory."
Rodney immediately approached Tarik and Ben (who I assume you know), and said, "You fellas helped make the Collaboratory what it is, would you be interested in developing this building across the street?"
Ben, never lacking for enthusiasm, spent the winter drafting a business plan, and approached about a dozen of us to create a new version of a for-profit cooperative. We took our name from the old Black & Tan Club that existed in the Central District from 1919 - 1967, and was a place owned and run by black folks, but where folks of every background could hang out late at night and ignore the dictates of segregation. Reviving that spirit, we incorporated as an LLC in 2016, aiming to open by the end of the year.
But, slowly, as we brought another 30 people onboard as investors, we learned that the building hadn't been inspected by the city since 1992. It had a balcony that had never been permitted, and it was not safe to open in the eyes of the city until we reinforced the balcony and installed a sprinkler system. And so, for well over 2 years, we have been meeting every week, working on the building, and mostly just trying anything we can think of to get the doors open.
Somehow, the partners (There are currently 38 of us. I think.) have managed to all chip in and pay rent THIS WHOLE TIME. Early last year I sat down with Ben, Karen, and Kirsten (two of the most amazing people I've ever met, more on them later) and we wrote grants to get the damn doors open, and it looks like we'll really get there by the end of this year! Seattle's Equitable Development Initiative awarded us $370,000 and the city's Cultural Facilities Fund awarded an additional $80,000.
The core proposition of the first grant was that we would create a Good Jobs Fellowship--where the youth being trained by the Rhapsody Project, Tarik Abdullah, and other partners would be given opportunities to develop bankable skills in the entertainment and service industries by apprenticing themselves at the Hall. We will train them as youth, eventually provide them with summer jobs, and then, ultimately, give them the opportunity to become partners at the Hall.
By giving these opportunities to young folks whose families are being pushed out of Seattle, perhaps we can give them a foothold to remain here, and at the same time address the lack of cultural space owned and operated by people of color.
Some of us assumed that, you know, the name being "BLACK & TAN HALL" and all, the partners involved would grasp that this company was meant to be lead by black and indigenous people of color. But, amazingly, that was not intuitive for some, and so we have also formed a White Caucus within the partnership which meets regularly to discuss issues of systemic injustice, racism, bias and so forth. I am delighted to report that this has had a real and positive effect on some of us as we work to become better allies for the folks our society is constantly persecuting.
So, even though the doors aren't open yet, it's been an amazing journey. We are making serious progress, may open (in some capacity) by the end of this year, and in any case it's been incredibly educational. I work as a sort of secretary there, facilitating manager's meetings, trying to take good notes, leading our Revenue Circle, and trying to get more folks engaged with the White Caucus. It's a joy and a struggle by turns, but the folks I've become friends with have been worth a lot of the stress and headaches of paying rent every month.
That's some of what's going on with the Black & Tan--I hope it's clear that your support here helps me make time (anywhere from 2 - 10 hours / week, usually) to keep pushing forward on the project. Thank you!