Historic Seattle’s mission is saving meaningful places to foster lively communities. Inclusivity lies at the heart of that mission, but for decades it has not been the center of our work. As a field, historic preservation grapples with procedures, practices, and standards that have prevented equal representation in landmarking, storytelling, and historic property restoration/ownership.
Following the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and other Black people in 2020, Historic Seattle’s staff and leadership began to analyze our place and participation within a society that is predicated upon the sustained disenfranchisement of others. At the time, we publicly stated a commitment to addressing racism within our organization and making tangible progress in resolving our organization’s lack of diversity in our staffing, governance, and storytelling. Since then, we have expanded this commitment to include all areas of our work and organization’s structure.
What has Historic Seattle done as a part of this commitment?
We began with building a collective understanding of racism, inequity, and injustice, through guided readings of “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo and “How to be an Anti-Racist” by Ibram Kendi.
During book group discussions, we came to a consensus that we needed help to make change in our organization and formed a diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility (DEIA) committee to identify a consultant who could guide our work.
After many months of interviews, the committee selected RISE LWP, a firm owned by Desiree Wilkins Finch. Desiree’s work is layered into all areas of our strategic plan.
Historic Seattle’s Working Equity Action Statement
Historic Seattle is committed to becoming an anti-racist organization and to implementing an equity lens in all of our areas of work. To advance this commitment, we have retained the services of RISE LWP, which brings equitable solutions to fast-paced, constantly shifting economic and political landscapes.
In partnership with RISE LWP, we are learning the nature of change agency and its impact on individuals as well as companies and organizations. We collectively believe that equity is an ardent journey toward well-being as defined by the affected. We collectively know that equity demands sacrifice and redistribution of power and resources in order to break systems of oppression, heal continuing wounds, and realize justice.
To achieve equity and social justice in economic and political landscapes, we must first root out deeply entrenched systems of racism. This lies at the root of our work with Rise LWP, which works to build strong foundations of agency, disrupt systems of oppression, and guide clients through discomfort, with the goal of creating the bold restoration that equity brings. This work is fundamental to the community we want to build. Rise LWP is committed to striving for equity in all of its work, including in partnership with Historic Seattle.
What’s Happening Now & What’s Next?
Since affirming this commitment, we have broadened inclusion and representation in our public programming. In 2021, approximately 40% of our public events were representative of BIPOC history and/or featured BIPOC speakers (compared with 5% in 2020).
We have focused on diversity and inclusion in our governance and staffing through increased outreach when openings become available and a thorough review of our policies and procedures to ensure equitable practices. As of the summer of 2022, BIPOC representation is 35% in our governance and 29% in our staffing (up from 18% in governance and 7% in staffing in 2019).
In the spring of 2022, we announced a partnership with the Black Heritage Society of Washington State to help address a major inequity: less than 2% of landmarks in Seattle are connected to Black history. In 2022, we raised an initial $26,009 to increase representation in preservation by funding landmark nominations for Black historic sites and advocacy skill-building programs with Black community members. More details to come in 2023!
In the summer of 2022, RISE LWP worked with us to guide the community engagement process for the Garden House on Beacon Hill.
We have a number of trainings and workshops planned throughout the remainder of the year, focused on racial capitalism; board development; the intersection of preservation, equity, and sustainability; and DEIA work plan development for all areas of our organization.
Historic Seattle knows that our properties and programs occupy the unceded traditional Territories of the Coast Salish peoples. This acknowledgment is not a substitute for developing relationships with indigenous communities, or for honoring indigenous stories as we share our collective history, but is the first step in recognizing the people whose land we occupy.