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Seattle’s Full Story | October 2020

Wa Na Wari

“This dream is our home.

Our home is the ember.

The ember is the idea.

The idea is endurance.

The endurance of

Black dreaming

Black family

Black song

Black stories

Black embraces

Black smiles

Black memories

Black tears

Black imagination

Black solution

Black logic

Black love

Black futures.

Wa Na Wari is the home built on a foundation of red clay dreams.

It is the living whisper of our ancestors,

the surviving ember of a watery dream,

an overture of the living for the unborn.”

In this film (originally recorded at Ampersand Live in 2019), Wa Na Wari’s co-founder Inye Wokoma shares its origin story. Wa Na Wari recently received Historic Seattle’s 2020 Community Advocacy Award.

To support the organization’s work to create space for Black ownership, possibility, and belonging through art, historic preservation, and connection, join the WA NA WARI VIRTUAL HOUSE PARTY on Wednesday, October 28. This fundraiser features a cooking tutorial with Chef Tarik Abdullah, an art activity with Perri Rhoden, DJ sets with Jusmoni and Larry Mizell, music by Pink Lotion, and curated films by Amir George. Register here: https://www.wanawari.org/house-party-2020.html

Seattle’s Full Story | September 2020

An Interview with Georgio Brown, conducted by 206 Zulu’s Kitty Wu

“I am happy to share with Historic Seattle readers an interview with one of our beloved community members, Georgio Brown. Georgio is a documentary filmmaker born in Harlem and has been in Seattle since 1990 documenting the Northwest’s Hip Hop scene. He currently sits on the board of 206 Zulu, a non-profit Hip Hop organization located at Washington Hall, as well as SeaDoc – Seattle’s Documentary Association. His seminal work, The Coolout Network, was a weekly television program originally seen on Seattle’s Public Access channel 29/77. The 30-minute weekly program was focused primarily on regional artists and is one of the longest-running Hip-Hop television programs in the nation capturing the rich musical history that the Pacific Northwest has to offer for nearly 30 years.

As an elder in the Hip Hop community, Georgio Brown is many things. He is a leader, a motivator, an empath that feels deeply the importance of artists and their contributions to the world. He is a listener that asks the important questions. He is the butterfly on the wall capturing what would otherwise be a memory.

Since 1991, Georgio Brown, creator and director of Coolout has created more than 700 episodes. Over the years he has filmed artists at their start, from Mary J. Blige, Busta Rhymes, Mix-a-Lot, to Specs, Laura Piece Kelly, Jonathan Moore, Macklemore and hundreds more. This video vault, along with more than 70 hours of new interviews comprise his most recent project, The Coolout Legacy, a historic retrospective of the first decade of the Coolout Network 1991-2001 and was the featured presentation at the inaugural Seattle Hip Hop Film Festival in 2019.” – Kitty Wu

Kitty: Georgio, take us back to 1991. When you started Coolout the internet did not exist. You had a television show on SCAN that was a platform to show folks what was going on in the city. Can you talk a little bit about what the Seattle Hip Hop community was like back then.

Georgio Brown: What the hip hop community was like back then was really organic.  It was a mixture of the era that came before, that had the bands and the live instrumentation and it was combined with the turntable. It had more of the live element. I like the way it felt, I like how people was doing it from the heart and I remember the first time I heard Seattle Hip-Hop was on KFOX with Nasty Nes when I first got here. I remember hearing a track called Union Street Hustlers by this guy named Ice Cold Mode who ended up being an emcee named Merciful. When I came up here was after the Mix-A-Lot era. There was a time when NastyMix records in the 80s was the Seattle record company in Seattle and Mix was the representation, the only one I heard about when I was in New York. Shows were polished man, they used to do shows at the Langston and that’s where I got a chance to meet people like Isaiah Anderson Jr. and Felicia Loud, Rico Bembry and Steve Sneed who used to put on shows there and they used to create a space for the community to come together. That’s where I got a chance to meet the black community one on one. Ghetto Children, Sensimilla, Tribal, all of those were the hot groups that I was seeing. I met Roc Phizzle and Funk Daddy up in Renton. It was a different mix of music and musical styles coming out of Seattle at the time. Some of it had an East Coast influence, some of it had a West Coast influence but it seemed like people in Seattle, they would take a little bit of each area and create their own sound. It was thought provoking, it was very musical, it was a different organic feel.

KW: Why was it so important for you to film these shows? 

GB: The feeling that you get when you go to a live show is like no other because you are doing this energy exchange with an artist and they are sharing a special part of their creative energy with us. So I wanted to share that with people that wasn’t in the room and I wanted to show it to the artist to show them what they were giving us. So when I say that I’m saying the artists are up there on stage and they are performing and they may get the applause, we are exchanging energy, but they don’t have any idea of what we felt when they were there, so I started filming them and showing them what we saw and showing them what we felt by showing them doing their art. That was always special to me because it was my way of showing them that we appreciated them.  A lot of artists go unnoticed. So as long as Coolout was there, there’s a chance that more people could see you. That was my mission, show the artist how dope they were, give them fuel to keep going and share something that I saw that felt good. 

KW: You talked about Langston Hughes, what other places were in Seattle at the time?

GB: Langston Hughes was the space, there was no other place that was really open to Hip-Hop because remember at that time gangster rap was making its signature on Hip Hop. So the city was hesitant as far as letting Hip Hop into the public venues. That’s when the Langston staff, Steve Sneed and Reco Bembry created a musical program that gave kids a creative option to gangs and crime. That was the heart of what ended up to be the Seattle hip-hop scene. 

KW: Over the years you’ve used a wide range of analog and digital technology to produce your programs, can you tell the people your ethos about filmmaking? 

GB: (laughs) My ethos, right. It’s never the camera, it’s the eye.  It’s not the device, it’s the story.  It’s taking what you have to tell a story. Using what you have to capture it. I say this because I’m 30 years in, so I remember cameras with big VHS tapes.  It was the content and the feeling I was choosing to showcase. I wanted to share this feeling that I was having with the world. It’s all about what you capture…the technology just makes it a lot easier.

KW: You and I, the whole world, have been dealing with COVID-19. As an artist, what is it like for you working in the midst of all of this?

GB: In a time of COVID, who knows how long it’s gonna be before we get to be in one room vibing together. See right now we’re in this new-new.  We are figuring out what that is and how we can still stay connected because the world works on energy, we are energy. We need a way to exchange that with each other, you know, exchange that and share it in the form of  positive affirmations, mutual admiration and self respect.

I miss the energy exchange. I miss being around creatives together in one space sharing creative ideas and building together. Right now in COVID we are stuck in the house or glued to  our phones and stuck on our screens. There was a time when we were interacting with each other face to face looking in people’s eyes. I mean, that’s a really important thing, COVID just pushed our isolation to a whole new level. As far as what I miss most, I miss feeling the energy of an artist performing, I miss the energy exchange of the applause, dancing and the interaction between the community. COVID has us all in boxes. We got to figure out a way to think Outside the Box to create a safe way for us to gather and enjoy the energy exchange while still social distancing. So the new-new is the future. That’s what we have to figure out. 

KW:  Speaking of the future, talk a little about the Coolout Academy.

GB: The Coolout Academy is an after-school program that we have been wanting to do for years, man. It’s taking the knowledge that we have gained over the past three decades and sharing that with the young people we work with at 206 Zulu. Right now more than ever, with the issues we all are facing this is an outlet for them to talk about the stories that matter to them. Captivating stories. I want to know about all of the students’ ideas and help them make videos that display their life and what’s special, I want to see things, what’s special about people. 

KW: Congratulations G, that is really exciting and a testament to your lovework. Any last words?

GB: I’m probably going to have a lot more to say when this is done, it always happens that way.  Coolout Network is 30 Years in April 2021. I still can’t believe that I’m still sitting in a place like Washington Hall where my original Coolout banner is on display. You know?  That is real special to me. I got to see the evolution of the music scene from Sir Mix-A-Lot to Grammy award winning Macklemore and all the groups in between. I got a chance to see the Seahawks win the Super Bowl. I got a chance to see a whole bunch of cool stuff that happened over 30 years in Seattle. This is the land of Boeing, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks. We start worldwide trends here. The world is watching our growth and evolution looking at what we are gonna be doing moving forward. Last words…I love the music scene here. Everyone that I film, I call them Coolout Fam for Life because we all shared in this evolution and their talent didn’t go unnoticed and was appreciated. Coolout Fam for Life.

Video Link: The Coolout Legacy Episode 1

Coolout aired weekly for 16 years on Seattle’s Public Access before going digital.  In April 2021, The Coolout Network celebrates 30 years of music and art in Seattle.

Photo by Shooter in the Town

Seattle’s Full Story | August 2020

Will the Last…Black Woman Leaving Seattle, Tell Seattle’s Full Story?

Written by Anonymous

“It is a difficult place to live (for a Black person),” said a Black person to me in response to hearing me, a Black person, say that I recently moved from Seattle. Side note: Weeks before the current pandemic shut down my new “hometown,” I arrived to start my next chapter, which is a whole other story!

Another think piece about Seattle’s problem with race, you say? Yes, I say! And, a few disclaimers before we get started …

Disclaimer 1: “If it doesn’t apply, let it fly.” Hi! To the White people reading this blog post, before continuing on this literary journey with me, if at any point you are offended by the words I transmit, if the words do not describe the way you live your life, then they do not apply to you – let it fly. However, perhaps evaluate why you felt judged by the lived experience of a Black person, a Seattle expatriate. Observe what comes up for you, if you feel pain in your body as you read and identify where it is, and find a way to move it out of your body through movement. Find a way to process this discomfort, for we cannot move forward until we face the full story of our lives, all the parts, not just the warm and fuzzies. A great resource is My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem. 

Disclaimer 2: In an effort to enlighten White people that they are a race – White – thus supporting the dismantling of white supremacy and our collective healing, I capitalize “White” in the phrase “White people.” We cannot transcend race until we all, especially White people, talk about race and acknowledge that being White is a thing … it’s been a very popular thing for centuries. The denial of its existence is especially problematic in a White majority city like Seattle. In particular, we need more White people to actually admit they are White and to understand what it means to be a White person, and how the idea of being a White person has caused, and continues to cause harm and trauma, for White people and people of color, especially Black people. We can’t solve a problem without understanding it – basic math word problem solving 101. And, step one of a 12-step recovery program – acknowledge that the problem / addiction exists.

Disclaimer 3: With the emotional pain of writing / speaking about race in the US as a Black person, comes the joy of release, of not intentionally silencing myself, as is customary to make White people feel comfortable, which is especially the case in a predominantly White city like Seattle. Yet, with the release, comes a bit of risk. In order to protect my life and livelihood, I am writing under “Anonymous.” I, unlike a White woman, do not have the same freedom and protection to speak freely about race and be awarded as an “ally.” Instead, I risk potential condemnation for being an “angry, Black woman,” risk employment, and my financial health. Every Black person in the US needs more grace than we receive in the world. Thanks to race, our relationships with White people can be complicated, for there is a tendency for White people to exorcise their anti-Blackness through our Black bodies, to prove they are a “good person,” not a “racist.” This anti-Black exorcism is especially in Seattle, where the chances of being the only Black person in a setting makes this racial complex inevitable and difficult to create trusting relationships with White people. Seattle is a difficult place to live, for a Black person.

What is Seattle’s full story? Well, it’s not one of a progressive, liberal city. It is the county seat of King County, the first namesake being William Rufus de Vane King, a pro-slavery U.S. Senator from Alabama and former U.S. Vice President.* In 1986, the King County Council changed the full name of the County to honor Dr. Martin Luther King. But, progressive Seattle? That moniker, at times, feels like a myth, an aspiration, good marketing, though, just like the supremacy of White people: what they like, where they live, what they produce, history that centers the White experience, buildings and structures associated with this experience, their opinions, etc., etc., i.e., white supremacy. This myth hides the white fragility that lurks in offices, places of business, and on the sidewalks of this majority-White city. It is no coincidence that the author of White Fragility lives in Seattle – it is a book that could be titled White Fragility: Seattle’s Full Story. I have first-hand experience with the pathology of white fragility, nearly line by line from Dr. DiAngelo’s book, from a one-hour business meeting, with a seasoned, White female senior executive in Seattle in 2019. The “Seattle Freeze” or “Seattle Nice?” Perhaps, in the context of race and some experiences of Black people in Seattle, these Seattle euphemisms are versions of gaslighting. And now, a reminder – “If it doesn’t apply, let it fly.”

Like most cities, Seattle is a city that Europeans established through violence and trauma – the displacement of Indigenous Peoples and Nations, and terrestrial and aquatic life. And, the trauma continued well into the modern world. Did you know that for years, that White people banned Indigenous people from visiting Alki Beach, the place where their ancestors once lived?

To tell the full story about Seattle or any city, institution, human experience, is to speak honestly about it. The glamorous parts, and, more importantly, the painful parts – the full story integrates the two parts to create a whole, full story. It’s not easy because the process includes examining trauma, a story that connects Black and White people alike. Trauma is a continuum. White people arrived to the US, the “New World,” as traumatized Europeans who not only traumatized each other – the Salem Witches for example – but also traumatized Indigenous Peoples and Nations and Black people through genocide, chattel slavery, and beyond. Thus, our trauma and subsequent healing are all connected. We can’t heal, what we don’t face.

One take on Seattle’s full story is that there are White people and other non-BIPOC people in your office harassing the one Black employee through a series of microaggressions that collectively become macroaggressions and slowly erode at the Black employee’s mental, physical, and emotional health. These are the same White and non-BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) employees that are your friends outside of work, that “pre-game” with you in Pioneer Square before a Sounders or Seahawks game. They, the Black employee, are too afraid to speak up, lest they risk their financial health or your friendship or business camaraderie. The full story is that your White friends and non-BIPOC friends are not the friends of your Black friend – they do not treat your Black friend, trust your Black friend the same way that they trust and treat you. Seattle is a difficult place to live for a Black person.

No one knows their biases, their true feelings about Black people until they are in the presence of a Black person. And, it is especially difficult to know your biases in Seattle, if the majority of the people around you are of the same race as you, if the only interaction with a Black person is with a public transit operator or a Black person experiencing homelessness or tangentially when volunteering in service to Black people as charity. Or, in a professional setting with the one Black person, the pressure is on them to defy the negative stereotypes of their race in a sea of White faces, and at the same time, be themselves – a game of conscious or unconscious mental gymnastics. In a city like Seattle, of overwhelming White majority, this is especially true, with a grand illusion of progressiveness that actually gaslights the not so comfortable experiences of Black people who call the city, the state of Washington home. Telling the full story about Seattle means telling everything about everyone’s experience in the city, and a part of that story includes understanding what it means to be a White person, and for the non-BIPOC, understanding how their anti-Blackness manifests from their proximity to whiteness.

So what, now what? To tell the full story of any city like Seattle, is to heal problematic perceptions like anti-Blackness, on an institutional and individual level. Perhaps, at an institutional level, integrate the not so pretty parts in history with the glamorous. It’s as little as Historic Seattle including a tidbit about redlining during their Capitol Hill Apartment Tour. It’s as little as the Southwest Historical Society and West Seattle Bike Connections mentioning on the 2017 “Log House to Long House” West Seattle Bike Tour that Indigenous people “were not allowed at Alki Beach.” But, telling an even fuller story, with the active voice is, “White people denied Indigenous people, such as the Duwamish, access to Alki Beach. Even though the Duwamish helped Europeans in battle against other Indigenous nations, the European inhabitants of Seattle banished the Duwamish from living in Seattle in the 1865 Indian Exclusion Ordinance, a law inconsistently enforced among European inhabitants of Seattle in the late 19th Century.”* A mouthful, but the full story about one of the best places in Seattle.

At a personal level, believe your Black friends and colleagues when they say that your friends are not their friends, that they do not feel as comfortable speaking candidly in the workplace, with your mutual manager or with the owner of the company, in the same way, that you do. Ask them why they feel the way they feel, and listen. Transcend superficial “nice” to deep connection, to, as W.E.B. DuBois said, understand the “Souls of Black Folk” – it’s a privilege to know it. Unlike the streets and other public spaces, there are no cameras in the boardroom or other places of business where cameras are not the norm to provide evidence of lived, painful experiences of being Black. For Seattle, being “progressive” must be more than a label, it must be a verb. And, why not? The word progress, a word that insinuates motion is in the word. So, the 2020 call to action for Seattle and other cities is to transcend the norm.

And again, if nothing in the paragraphs above applied to you, then let it fly … like a Seahawk – this is integral to taking good care of yourself. But, in a city like Seattle, that is majority White, that believes its own hype of being progressive and liberal, the problem is, is that anti-Blackness has been flying under the veil of “progressive” and “liberal” for too long. And, equally important is to admit when the uncomfortable reflection does apply, when the reflection presented above hurts. Find someone you trust to talk to about what came up for you as you read this, journal, seek additional resources about healing from racial trauma. And, if you see something, say something. Even being a bystander to hate and abuse, intentional or not, hurts, too. If you are a Black person and the above applied to you, may this grant you the courage to … be, simply be, and breathe, simply breathe. Be well. May we all have the courage to tell the full story, for why lie when the truth speaks. And, it will, for telling the truth leads to healing, and healing is the inevitable next step after pain. Take good care of yourselves. May all beings be at peace.

*Citation: Walk, Richard. “King County Council Remembers 1865 Exclusion of Native Americans.” Indian Country Today, 10 February 2015. indiancountrytoday.com/archive/king-county-council-remembers-1865-exclusion-of-native-americans-I5hcpWZ3v0C7FztJkbCHiQ.

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Will the Last…Black Woman Leaving Seattle, Tell Seattle’s Full Story?” is the August feature in Historic Seattle’s Seattle’s Full Story recurring blog series, contributed by an anonymous author. Submissions for features are accepted on a rolling basis – for more information: https://historicseattle.org/resources/sfs/

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